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Liturgy: Sacraments of Mission — We’re all in this together!

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Among our seven designated Catholic sacraments, in the past two articles we have examined the role of the assembly in the Sacraments of Initiation —Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist — and in the Sacraments of Healing — pastoral care of the sick: anointing and viaticum, and penance. The remaining two sacraments are the Sacraments of Mission-Matrimony and Holy Orders. These rituals, too, are community celebrations, not private moments of prayer. Each of these sacraments continue the mission of the church, and require the full conscious and active participation of the assembly.

In the new Order for Celebrating Matrimony (OCM) — which became effective as of Dec. 30, 2016, in the United States — the biggest challenge for implementation is catechizing the difference in approach and meaning between weddings celebrated in secular society, and celebrating matrimony as a Catholic sacrament. We have been challenged with this difference for many years, but the occasion of the issuing of this new wedding rite provides us with an opportunity to strengthen the way we celebrate the sacrament.

In a Catholic wedding, the couple themselves are the main actors, not the priest or deacon. The priest or deacon simply receives the consent of the couple on behalf of the community, and the assembly acts as witness. The primary role of the assembly as full participants in the ceremony can be enacted in several ways. Members of the parish liturgical ministries can serve in their designated roles at the wedding. It is best that those who serve at the ceremony be parish liturgical ministers, rather than family members who are not likely prepared in the ministries, especially in the proclamation of God’s Word.

Members of the parish lector ministry who are trained and experienced in proclamation can serve in this role at weddings. Parish musicians, Eucharistic ministers (if both the bride and groom are Catholic and the wedding is celebrated within the context of Mass) and greeters can also serve in their designated roles at weddings. These ministers all serve as connecting points between the couple marrying and the liturgical life of the parish.

Joining in song is the predominant way humanity expresses unity of meaning and purpose. Beginning the wedding liturgy with a hymn sung by everyone, either during or after the opening procession, gives the assembly an immediate participatory role. Another important sung moment is when the assembly stands as witness to the consent given by the couple to one another. In the new OCM, the assembly’s role is strengthened by a sung acclamation following the Consent. Having a trained and effective parish cantor lead the singing will encourage participation.

There are many other sung moments in the ritual: the Responsorial Psalm, Gospel Acclamation, assembly song after the exchange of rings or other cultural ritual, the Eucharistic Acclamations and communion processional chant (if the wedding is celebrated within the context of Mass). The dominant musical experience at weddings, therefore, should be like that of Sunday Mass. The sound of the singing assembly dominates the experience and helps to define the role of the assembly as full participants, manifesting the mission of the church. (Sung solo moments are not necessary at a Catholic wedding. They can enhance the ceremony, especially if cultural rituals are included, but the singing offered by a soloist should never overwhelm the ritual.)

The other Sacrament of Mission is Holy Orders. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) No. 1572 states: “Given the importance that the ordination of a bishop, a priest or a deacon has for the life of the particular Church, its celebration calls for as many of the faithful as possible to take part.” Those ordained among us remind us of the responsibility we all have, as individuals and as a community, to carry on the mission of Christ in the world today. In the sacrament of Holy Orders, we all reaffirm our commitment to serve in the name of Christ, and our participation as a full, conscious and active assembly in the sacramental ritual embodies and expresses the mission of the church. We’re all in this together!

“The ritual actions that we carry out in the sacraments are always communal actions. … A sacrament is the action of the church, and its meaning and effects are not limited to those around whom we celebrate. … Each sacrament, in its own way, strengthens us to carry on the mission of Christ in the world today. Sacraments, then, are necessary to the life of the community and the furtherance of its mission. They make the church what Christ intends it to be, and they make each of us what Christ intends us to be.” (p. 4-5, Lawrence E. Mick, Understanding the Sacraments: Holy Orders, Liturgical Press, 2007)

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