The Bishop: The General Instruction notes that “the diocesan bishop is the chief steward of the mysteries of God in the particular church entrusted to his care; he is the moderator, promoter and guardian of its liturgical life” (GIRM 22). As a result of this preeminent role, the bishop holds a special responsibility to ensure that all present “grasp interiorly a sense of the liturgical texts and rites, and thereby are led to an active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist” (GIRM 22). The revised General Instruction introduces two ritual changes affecting the bishop. He now enjoys the option of blessing the people with the Book of the Gospels after its proclamation (GIRM 175) and more specific wording is provided for the intercession for the bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer (GIRM 149).
The Priest: The priesthood of Christ which is fully possessed by the bishop is also possessed through him by the priest who offers sacrifice in the person of Christ and thus “stands at the head of the faithful people gathered together, presides over its prayer, proclaims the message of salvation, joins the people to himself in offering the sacrifice to God the Father through Christ in the Spirit, gives his brothers and sisters the bread of eternal life and shares in it with them” (GIRM 93). Because of this responsibility, the priest should carry out his role with “dignity and humility” communicating “a sense of the living presence of Christ” by his bearing and by the way he recites the words of the liturgy (GIRM 93). Several aspects of the priest’s role at Mass are described in the revised General Instruction. A common confusion is addressed with regard to the Penitential Rite, with the statement that the absolution at the conclusion of this rite “lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance” (GIRM 51). The homily may be given by the priest celebrant, by a concelebrating priest, or even by a deacon, “but never by a lay person” (GIRM 66). Homilies are required on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and a homily may not be omitted except for a grave reason in any Mass celebrated with a congregation (GIRM 66). In order to avoid a disruption to the rite, the priest celebrant may exchange the sign of peace only with others in the sanctuary (GIRM 154). In the dioceses of the United States, for a good reason, on special occasions (for example, in the case of a funeral, wedding, or when civic leaders are present), the priest may offer the sign of peace to a few of the faithful near the sanctuary (GIRM 154, USA Adaptations). Similarly, the assembly should retain its visible character of being one body in Christ and not be disrupted by excessive movement. Thus, “it is suitable that each person offer the sign of peace only to those nearby and in a dignified manner” (GIRM 82).
The Deacon: Among those who minister at the altar, after the priest, the first in rank is the deacon, whose order has been held in honor from the time of the Apostles (GIRM 94). One of the principal functions of the deacon at Mass is the proclamation of the Gospel. The deacon may also preach the homily and lead the General Intercessions. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands slightly back from the altar and “as a rule” kneels from the epiclesis to the elevation of the chalice (GIRM 179). The deacon also assists in showing the chalice to the faithful at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer. The deacon is an ordinary minister of Holy Communion. Therefore, he receives Communion under both species from the priest celebrant and assists him in distributing Communion to the faithful. If Communion is given under both species, the deacon ministers the chalice. After Mass, the deacon or priest or instituted acolyte or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion is to purify the sacred vessels. The deacon also dismisses the faithful once the priest imparts the final blessing at the conclusion of the Mass.
The Reader: The role of the reader is to read the Scriptures in the liturgy, with the exception of the Gospel; in the absence of a cantor, to sing or proclaim the responsorial psalm; and to announce the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful in the absence of a deacon (GIRM 99). In the absence of a deacon, a reader may carry the Book of the Gospels in the entrance procession (GIRM 194). At the conclusion of the Mass, however, the reader does not process with the Book of the Gospels. The Lectionary is never carried in procession. The readings are always to be read from the ambo in Masses with a congregation (GIRM 58). The order of readings is to be strictly adhered to (GIRM 357) and non-Biblical readings may never be substituted for the Lectionary texts (GIRM 57), nor may the readings be divided into parts, with the exception of the Passion of the Lord.
The Acolyte: In the absence of an instituted acolyte, lay ministers may serve at the altar, assisting the priest or deacon. “They may carry the cross, candles, ashes, censer, bread, wine and water” and may serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (GIRM 100). The diocesan bishop has the right to issue norms concerning the function of such altar servers (GIRM 107).
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion: In every celebration of the Eucharist, there should be a sufficient number of ministers of Holy Communion so that the Blessed Sacrament may be distributed in a reverent and orderly manner. If enough ordinary ministers (bishops, priests, and deacons) are not present, the priest celebrant “may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him” (GIRM 162). All ministers of Holy Communion should show the greatest reverence for the Most Holy Eucharist by their demeanor, their attire and the manner in which they handle the consecrated species. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion do not participate in the entrance procession. They should sit among the assembly and come forth from within it to exercise their ministry (see GIRM 120). After the celebrant has received Communion, he distributes Communion to the deacon (if there is one) and to the extraordinary ministers. Neither deacons nor lay ministers may ever receive Holy Communion in the manner of a concelebrating priest. The practice of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion waiting to receive Communion until after the assembly itself has received is not in accord with liturgical law (This Holy and Living Sacrifice 39; see GIRM 160). Extraordinary ministers may assist in the purification of the sacred vessels after Mass, and if Communion is given under both species, they may consume what remains of the Precious Blood from their chalice.
All of these various roles and ministries exercised during the Mass manifest and express our oneness as a holy people gathered together and ordered under the bishop and his priests. In the celebration of the Mass, all have their own active part to play in the celebration, whether we fulfill a particular ministry or not, so that the Mass may truly be an action of praise and thanksgiving to God the Father, offered by the whole Church joined to Christ our Lord in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
(Fr. deLadurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)