The Party Line
Elsewhere in Mass Class, we’ve talked about the Mass as a celebration. Now, for small celebrations-especially religious ones-all you need is some pizza and a few fine, religious movies, like “Office Space” or “The Bourne Identity.” However, if it’s a bigger party for something really important, you’re going to need a lot of help from some specialized sources: you’ll need a caterer, musicians, a few people who agree to speak, a host, good food, and, well, alcohol. Mass-especially Sunday Mass-is a lot like this party. It’s a big deal, and so, while you could just celebrate with just you, Jesus, and a 40, it’s a lot better if you’ve got people to help you.
The Starting Lineup
First off, you need a Priest, who is called the presider. He leads us through the ritual, the consecration of the Eucharist, reads the Gospel, and often delivers the homily or sermon. If there is a deacon at the mass, he will sometimes give the homily.
A deacon, by the way, is a man who, like a priest, is ordained, but, unlike a priest, cannot administer all the sacraments a priest can do. He can, however, be married. There are essentially two kinds of deacons: those who are on their way to becoming priests and those who have decided to become deacons without the intention of becoming priests-this latter kind can be married, if they’re married already. Deacons will often read the Gospel and give the homily, and they assist the priest at other parts of the Mass as well.
Apart from the Presider, lectors read the first two bible readings. These men and women read the first reading, which comes from the Hebrew Scriptures, a psalm (though this is sometimes sung by the cantor), and then a reading from the Christian Scriptures (as long as it’s not from the Gospel).
Another important form of ministry available to the lay-men and women of the church is that of Extra-ordinary Minister of the Eucharist (EME). EME’s are called extra-ordinary because ordinarily the priests and deacons are supposed to pass out the Eucharistic bread and wine to the congregation. However, since there are usually far more people at Mass than there are priests and deacons, things go a bit easier with EMEs’ help. An EME presents members of the congregation with the most intense part of their faith, so it’s usually helpful if they’re pretty nice folks and have decent breath. When Catholics come up to receive the bread and wine, the EME’s say, “The Body of Christ.” When Catholics respond, “Amen”, they mean they really believe this bread and wine has become The Body and Blood of Christ. Please take this seriously: it’s very important to us Catholics that those who receive the Body and Blood of our Lord are Catholics and that they really believe this stuff. After all, you wouldn’t want someone taking care of your little brother who didn’t believe he was a real kid.
In many parishes there are altar servers, once called acolytes or altar boys, although parishes also allow girls to serve in this way. They assist the presider in the various parts of the ritual.
Also helping the mass flow smoothly are those who are commentators and ushers. The commentators usually read the parish announcements at the end of mass or give the welcome at the beginning of mass. The ushers welcome people as they walk in and help seat people. They also help facilitate movement during communion, and are usually those who take up the collection.
And about collection: while the ushers usually look more like your friendly Uncle Lou than mob enforcers, the Church is usually pretty insistent about giving 10 percent of your income to the Church. While many Catholics interpret this to meaning any sort of charitable giving, and thus don’t give all of that to their parish, we’re still encouraged to give something to the parish where we celebrate Mass. Don’t be one of those guys who goes to the party, drinks the beer, and then doesn’t pay. After all, this is more than just beer, chips, and pizza we’re talking about. A parish not only provides the sacraments to its parishioners; it also provides countless services to its community, from work for the poor to schools. It’s worth paying for!
No party is complete without decorations, and most parishes have decorators or an environment committee to see to the atmosphere of the church. Theirs is not an easy task! They’ve got to design a place that both commemorates the sacrifice of Jesus and provides those gathered at Church with a chance to celebrate his life and the life of His Church. Imagine trying to decorate a funeral, birthday party, and, well, welcome-back-from-the-dead-and-thanks-for-saving-the-world party all at once. It’s quite the trick.
Of course, if you want to have a real party, you need musicians. A whole lot of the Mass can be sung, and, in fact, it’s supposed to be. The priest can sing a lot of the prayers during the second half of the Mass, and a cantor, who leads the community in song, can also lead the congregation in singing many responses in the Mass. Most parishes have a music minister who coordinates the music for the liturgy, and often there are several different types of music groups for the different masses of the day. Check out your local Church to find out of if there’s a Mass with folk music or medieval chant, R&B or even reggae. It’s really important to sing your heart out at Mass! Just think of the community feel you get whenever your friends and you sing “American Pie” or other songs at a sing-a-long or karaoke. It’s the same deal at Mass: singing together brings community and a sense of togetherness.
The sacristan gets you what you need. This person, mostly behind-the-scenes, puts out all the stuff that is necessary for a Mass. But the brains for this outfit? That would have to be the liturgist, the person who coordinates the various parts and people in the liturgy. This may be a person or a committee of folks, depending on the parish. The liturgist makes sure everything runs smooth and easy, so the parishioners and priests can concentrate on more important things than finding someone, five minutes before Mass, who knows all the verses to “Lord of the Dance.”
HOW TO JOIN THE CAST AND CREW
Any of these positions sound exciting to you? If you’d like to help out with any of these tasks, talk to your local parish priest. Parishes are always looking for help in nearly all of these areas, so if you’d like to share your talents at a Church, then do it! If you can read well, you could be a lector. Good people person? Be an usher! Love to coordinate things? Work in one of the parish councils. By just going to Mass, you help the Mass happen, but you can help make it easier for other people by taking on one of these roles.