The Parish Liturgical Committee: The Ministry of Formation and the Work of Assessment
Throughout the twentieth century, the Holy See has consistently called for the organization of commissions to assist the bishop in his oversight of the liturgical life of his diocese. The Second Vatican Council, in particular, asked that these commissions should also promote and regulate sacred music and art under the direction of the bishop (Sacrosanctum concilium, 44-46). Following the Council, many parishes erected analogous committees to oversee the various aspects of the liturgical life of the parish under the guidance of the pastor.
It has been noted in recent years that many parishes no longer have liturgical committees. Many commentators have suggested that this phenomenon is perhaps due to the lack of a clearly defined mission for these groups. At the same time, it has been recognized that parish liturgy committees can be very helpful to pastors in providing feedback, ongoing support, and a well-informed assessment as to how the liturgical life of the parish can be enhanced. With this in mind, pastors and pastoral staff members may wish to consider and discuss the many benefits which a liturgical committee can provide to a parish community, particularly if this group is not currently active or already a part of the parish structure.
If a parish does not currently have a liturgy committee, the first question which may arise is, who should be invited to participate in this group? Certainly, the pastor, assisting clergy, parish music director, RCIA coordinator, Director of Religious Education, sacristan, and the coordinators of the various liturgical ministries (e.g., lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers) are persons who might initially be asked to be part of the parish liturgy committee. As well, other interested parishioners who are well-versed in the Church’s liturgy may be invited to serve. Although the population of the liturgy committee will be different for each parish depending on need, it would be important for committee members to recognize the distinction between their role and the ministries of those who regularly prepare liturgies, especially the priest-celebrant and the parish music director. That is, experience has shown that parish liturgy committees work best when they understand their role as assisting the pastor in assessing the needs of the worshipping community, while leaving the actual preparing and execution of liturgies to those who are entrusted with doing so by virtue of their particular role within the parish. Relatedly, parish liturgy committee members should understand that the liturgy of the Church is, in most respects, already planned and described in detail by the Church’s official liturgical books.
When beginning or reinitiating a parish liturgy committee, pastors may discover that some of the group’s members need additional formation in the theology of the liturgy and the Church’s liturgical documents. To that end, committee members could be invited to engage in a joint study of resources, such as the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Introduction to the Lectionary, Redemptionis Sacramentum, the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, and Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. Following this study, the group may then be in a position to assess the current liturgical life of the parish in light of the principles outlined in these documents. This process of assessment could include a study and discussion of:
- the celebration of Sunday Mass;
- preparation for the various liturgical seasons;
- the liturgical environment;
- the training of liturgical ministers;
- the celebration of the RCIA;
- school liturgies;
- the celebration of baptisms, first communions, confirmations, funerals, and weddings;
- the music program; and,
- the ministry of hospitality and welcome.
To assist parishes in this work of assessment, the Office of Liturgy has recently published an online, comprehensive tool which covers many of the aforementioned areas. Pastors may wish to use this tool as is or adapt it depending on the needs of their particular parish. As well, the Liturgy Office has in its library a number of practical resources for parishes interested in starting liturgy committees. Pastors are invited to contact the Office for additional information.