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Liturgical Roles In the Eucharistic Celebration | Francis Cardinal Arinze | From
Celebrating the Holy Eucharist
The sacred liturgy is the public prayer of the whole Church. The chief person
acting in every liturgical celebration is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
himself, the one perfect Mediator between God and man.
But Christ associates the Church with himself in every liturgical act. Many
liturgical acts are hierarchically ordered: with a role for the Bishop and
priest, for the deacon, for those lay people who are assigned a liturgical role
as defined by the Church, and for all the people of God. The Church in the
diocese manifests herself in the most visible way when the Bishop celebrates
the Eucharistic Sacrifice in his cathedral church, with the concelebration of
his priests, the assistance of the deacons, and the participation of the
faithful (cf. SC 41).
Lay Liturgical Roles
For proper celebration of the sacred liturgy and fruitful participation in it
by all Christ's faithful, it is important to understand the roles proper to the
ministerial or ordained priest and those proper to the lay faithful. Christ is
the priest, the High Priest. He gives all baptized people a share in this role
of offering God gifts. The common priesthood of all the baptized gives people
the capacity to offer Christian worship, to offer Christ to the Eternal Father
through the hands of the ordained priest at the Eucharistic celebration, to
receive the sacraments, and to live holy lives, and by self-denial and active
charity to make of their entire lives a sacrifice.
The ministerial priest, on the other hand, is a man chosen from among the
baptized and ordained by the Bishop in the sacrament of Holy Orders. He alone
can consecrate bread into the Body of Christ and wine into the Blood of Christ
and offer them to the Eternal Father in the name of Christ and the whole
Christian people.  It is clear that though they differ from one another in
essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of all the baptized and
the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are closely related (see LG 10).
The major challenge is to help the lay faithful appreciate their dignity as
baptized persons. On this follows their role at the Eucharistic Sacrifice and
other liturgical acts. They are the people of God. They are insiders. Their
role as readers of lessons, as leaders of song, and as the people offering with
and through the priest is based on Baptism. The high point is when they
communicate at the Eucharistic table. This crowns their participation at the
There should be no attempt to clericalize the laity. This could happen when,
for example, lay people chosen as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion no
longer see this role as being called on to help when the ordinary ministers
(bishop, priest, and deacon) are not available in sufficient numbers to cope
with the high number of communicants. When the extraordinary ministers see
their role as a power display to show that what the priest can do, the lay
faithful can do too, then we have a problem. How else can we explain the sad
error of the lay faithful struggling around the altar to open the tabernacle or
to grab the sacred vessels -- all against sane liturgical norms and pure good
We have also the opposite mistake of trying to laicize the clergy. When the
priest no longer wishes to bless the people with the formula "May Almighty
God bless you", but prefers the seemingly democratic wording, "May
Almighty God bless us", then we have a confusion of roles. The same thing
happens when some priests think they should not concelebrate a Mass but should
just participate as lay people in order to show more solidarity with the lay
faithful. "In liturgical celebrations", says Sacrosanctum
Concilium, "whether as a minister or as one of the faithful,
each person should perform his role by doing solely and totally what the nature
of things and liturgical norms require of him" (SC 28).
A task always to be attended to is the theological, liturgical, and spiritual
formation of extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist, of catechists, of
other pastoral agents, and of the lay faithful in general. Often mistakes are
due, not to bad will, but to lack of knowledge. It is then that the political
models of power sharing and power struggle begin to infiltrate the sanctuary.
Members of diocesan and national liturgical commissions are to be thanked and
encouraged for all they do to bring in more light and, therefore, more harmony.
Chapter 12 ["The Importance of Liturgical Formation"] of this book will go into
greater detail on liturgical formation.
The Role of the Diocesan Bishop
The Bishop is endowed with the fullness of the priesthood, of the sacrament of
Holy Orders. It is he who ordains priests as cooperators of the episcopal order
and deacons for service. The Bishop is the high priest of his flock. "In a
certain sense it is from him that the faithful who are under his care derive
and maintain their life in Christ" (SC 41). "People should think of
us as Christ's servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God" (1
Cor 4:1), says Saint Paul. Indeed, the Bishop should see his offices of teacher
and shepherd as ordered toward his office of sanctifier (see LG 26; CD Is;
DPMB, no. 76).
It follows that it should be a primary concern of the Bishop that he and his
local Church cultivate the worship of God and thus enable the diocese to
fulfill its office as the new people of God, a holy nation, a priestly people
(see 1 Pet 2: 4-10; LG 10). This is exercised in a special way in liturgical
acts, with the Holy Eucharist at the apex. That is where the Bishop is at the
height of his service, vocation, sacred power, dignity, and sanctifying role
(see LG 21).
The central role of the Bishop is shown especially in what the Council says of
him with reference to the Eucharistic celebration. "Every legitimate
celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the Bishop, to whom is committed
the office of offering the worship of Christian religion to the divine Majesty
and of administering it in accordance with the Lord's commandments and with the
Church's laws, as further defined by his particular judgment for his
diocese" (LG 26; see also EE 47-52).
The diocesan Bishop is the first steward of the mysteries of God in the
particular Church or diocese entrusted to him. He is the moderator, the
promoter, and the guardian of the liturgical life of the Church in his diocese.
It is he who offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice, or causes it to be offered, so
that the Church continually lives and grows (see CD 15; SC 41; CIC can. 387; RS
In his diocese, the Bishop, with due respect for universal Church norms, sees
to the regulation, direction, and encouragement of good liturgical
celebrations. It is also his duty to explain the reasons for due observance of
liturgical norms and to see that the sacred functions are celebrated according
to the approved books and that the people are protected from arbitrary
innovations. It is therefore his duty to offer correction when necessary.
The diocesan Bishop will find assistance in liturgical com- missions if the
members are chosen for their proven competence and love for the Church. While
he can make specific liturgical norms in his diocese, he should "take care
not to allow the removal of that liberty foreseen by the norms of the
liturgical books" (RS 21).
In the Latin Church, the Conference of Bishops has a role to play in some
liturgical decisions, as recognized by Canon Law and liturgical norms. For
example, the Conference may set up regional or national liturgical commissions,
arrange for the translation of liturgical texts from the Latin original to the
vernacular, submit such texts to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments for recognitio, and undertake
inculturation in understanding with this Congregation (see RM, GIRM 388-99; RS
26-28; VL 31-32).
The Role of the Celebrating Priest
Priests as capable, prudent, and indispensable co-workers of the order of
Bishops,  are called to the service of the people of God. They constitute one
presbyterate around the diocesan Bishop and share one priesthood (sacerdotium)
with him, though charged with differing offices. They make the Bishop present
in a certain way in each local congregation of the faithful.
A major part of the ministry of the priest refers to how he celebrates the
Eucharistic Sacrifice and relates to the Most Blessed Sacrament in the various
forms of Eucharistic worship outside Mass.
We all know that the Chief Priest at every Mass is Christ himself. But it is
Christ who has decided to make use of the ministry of the ordained priest. It
matters very much to the Church, universal and local, how each priest
celebrates the Eucharistic Sacrifice. If the priest is obviously full of faith
in the Eucharistic mystery, if he is recollected and prayerful, if he handles
the Body and Blood of Christ with transparent reverence, and if he respects the
liturgical norms of the Church, then blessed is that local community with whom
and for whom he offers this sacrifice.
Every priest should be aware that he is part of a glorious tradition. The early
Church "remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the
brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2:42). The
Eucharist is "the principal and central raison d'Ítre of the sacrament of the priesthood" (EE 31). The
priest is at the height of his calling when he celebrates Mass (see DC 2),
because he does so in persona Christi.
The Mass is not something we invent, something we put together, something the
parish liturgical team fixes up each week! No! The Eucharistic Sacrifice is
something we receive in faith, reverence, and thanksgiving. The universal
Church is involved in every Mass. The priest is therefore expected to celebrate
the sacred rites faithfully according to the approved books and in such a way
that his devout celebration manifests the faith of the Church and nourishes the
faithful. It follows that he has no authority to add to, or to subtract from,
the established rites (see SC 22).
That the priest may carry out creditably his ministry as celebrant of the
Eucharist, it follows that he should engage in ongoing study of this mystery so
that he can better share with the people "the supreme advantage of knowing
Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:8). His personal devotion to Jesus in the tabernacle
should be unmistakable. Then every Eucharistic celebration he conducts will be
for himself and for the people an experience of faith that is confessed and
communicated, of hope that is confirmed, and of charity that is enkindled and spread.
 Cf. Council of Trent, On Ecclesiastical Hierarchy and Ordination 4, in DS 1767-70.
 See P0 7; Pontificale Romanum, "De Ordinatione Presbyterorum", Praenotanda, 101.
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Francis Cardinal Arinze grew up in Nigeria and became the youngest bishop in the world and the first African cardinal
to head a Vatican office. He is currently the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. His
biographical interview, God's
Invisible Hand, was recently published by Ignatius Press (read an excerpt).
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
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