An unknown African author of the sixth century wrote ‘they spoke in every tongue. It was God’s will to demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit at that moment by enabling those who had received him to speak in every tongue.’ This author adds, ‘Now the love of God was to gather together the Church all over the world. Consequently, while a single man, if he received the Holy Spirit, could speak in every tongue, now the one Church in its unity, which is established by the Holy Spirit, speaks in every tongue.
And so if anyone says to one of us: ‘You have received the Holy Spirit; why do you not speak in tongues?’, he should reply: I do speak in every tongue. For I am in the Body of Christ, the Church, which speaks in every tongue. For what did God signify by the presence of the Holy Spirit if it was not that his Church would speak in every tongue.’ [Divine Office, Eastertide, wk7 Saturday]
We are ‘the Body of Christ’, and by reason of that gift/privilege, God gives us the dignity of acting for the truth in his name. Through the power and the gift of the Holy Spirit, all of us are missionaries both to each other in our individual communities and to all those we may meet. Through our reception into the Body of Christ, all of us have been given gifts to be shared with the Body of Christ for its benefit and the glory of God. Therefore, all of us are ministers in the Ministry of Mission, and that mission is to serve our fellow man in the manner Jesus, God the Son, served and continues to serve us.
The fire of love which energises every single one us as it did the Apostles, is visible in every parish community, and our parish is no exception. So what are these gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been and continue to be shared in our community. There are two words which stand out in my experience and they are personal involvement in ‘Liturgy’ and ‘Catechesis’. Today, I’m going to reflect on ‘Liturgy’.
What is Liturgy? It is the way we pray and express our faith in community. The first ministry I received as a seminarian towards the end of my first year in training was that of ‘Lector’. As you know, immediately following the Penitential Rite at the beginning of every mass, those gathered listen to the Word of God, the Liturgy of the Word. The Word of God is sacred, and those who have the gift of proclaiming the ‘Word’ are ‘Ministers of the Word’, it is a ministry! The proclamation of the word is so important that during the inaugural fortnight prior to the start of the first semester at the seminary I attended, each new student was given personal tuition in how to proclaim the sacred words of scripture: that was and is the importance that is given to the proclamation of the word. Three days were set aside for this purpose, and the lady whose onerous task it was to help students learn to open their mouths, breathe correctly, enunciate clearly and stop muttering through sewn-up lips was one, if not the, most patient person I have ever met. Her name was Tish Nicol, and she came to the seminary twice a year to help students for the priesthood develop the skills necessary for this most important aspect of the liturgy. Her background was her training as an opera singer, and she was well aware of how obdurate some clergy can be, as she produced and directed the ‘Clergy Review’, [a Variety Show displaying the theatrical gifts of the clergy …. or not as the case may be]. The last show was at least ten years ago as the number of priests available to demonstrate their musical abilities on the stage has made the production a non-starter. Those who enjoy a visit to the theatre expect to be able to hear what the actors are saying, and that expectation of clarity of the spoken word applies to those who proclaim the word of God. An actor rehearses his script, a Minister of the Word also should make conscientious preparation.
The second ministry I received was that of Acolyte, and the celebration of this ministry was conferred on the candidate during the second year. This ministry has nothing to do with the carrying of candles! It is the gift of sharing/distributing the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass. It was for this ministry that candidates wore an Alb for the first time. It was a significant step in priestly formation, as in reality, one became a Eucharistic Minister for life, that is without the need for annual/biennial renewal of promises that Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are asked to take. The ministries of Lector and Acolyte are key elements in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and it seems only right that ministers should reflect the dignity of their ministry by careful preparation.
Next week I’ll continue this look at ministries which also are essential aspects of parish communal life, because as ‘lockdown’ eases, the importance of shared involvement in how we celebrate our faith will be obvious. With that in mind, at the beginning of last week, an instruction from the Bishops Conference said that Home Visits can now take place by priests, deacons and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and other volunteers. The document goes on to say how important it is that the Government Guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people’s homes is followed. Within the next few weeks a gathering will be arranged for all Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion when we can discuss how best to celebrate the Blessed Sacrament in our liturgy, but also with those in our community who are housebound.