Non Solum: Praying with Liturgical Ministers

Today’s question: Praying with Liturgical Ministers

Do liturgical ministers in your community pray together before liturgy? How? Who leads it? Does the celebrant bring everyone together for this before the procession?

Do you pray before or after choir rehearsals? Or training sessions for liturgical ministers? What type or style of prayer? Are there published resources for this you recommend?

Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!

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19 comments

  1. I lead (or ask someone to lead) a short group prayer before choir rehearsal every week. In my opinion, every meeting of church people ought to begin in prayer.

    As for liturgical ministers right before liturgy. This is, of course, in theory a good idea. But I have too often heard a prayer like this conclude with someone making a showbiz or sporting reference. “Break a leg.” “Play ball.” “Action!” I find this 100% inappropriate.

    Perhaps a short Introibo ad Altare Dei would be a better way to go.

  2. Altar server captains lead their team in prayer before and after Mass. They recite traditional prayers posted in their vesting area before a crucifix.

  3. Here are the prayers that our servers and readers say, with the celebrant, in the sacristy before the most solemn Mass on a Sunday. It’s a Jesuit parish, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, hence some of the references.

    Nobody knows exactly where the prayers came from. They are typed on rather well-worn cards that were assembled several generations ago. I am retyping them from memory, but what follows is pretty close to what gets said.

    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.

    V. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

    R. And you shall renew the face of the earth.

    God our Father, you graciously accept our ministry and allow us to share in the service of your altar. Grant us the love, dedication and witness of St Stephen, who on the day of his martyrdom saw your Son Jesus standing at your side in glory; Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit is God, forever and ever. Amen.

    Blessed be the holy and immaculate conception of our blessed Lady.

    V. St Stephen,

    R. Pray for us.

    V. St Ignatius of Loyola,

    R. Pray for us.

    V. All saints of the Society of Jesus,

    R. Pray for us.

  4. The rector of my Episcopal parish offers a prayer with the deacon, verger, Eucharistic ministers, and acolytes before the entrance procession.

    All meetings in the parish open and close with prayer. I don’t attended a choir practice, but I expect the pattern proves true there as well.

  5. Interesting question, as I had an “aha!” moment.
    At my former parish, all the ministers gathered around the font by the main entrance to say a prayer before Mass, but it was in a church that had no gathering space, and so the church had a lot of pre-Mass chatting, but it was a prayerful place, so the prayer seemed to “fit.” Also, EVERY minister processed in (e.g. Eucharistic ministers, etc.).

    In my current (brand new) parish, with a large, but loud gathering space, it would seem “odd” have such a prayer, and fewer people process in. Most ministers never get to the sacristy. I’ll have to ponder this.

    Thanks for asking this question!

  6. I’ve sort of resisted anything formal in the parish, as I try to stress to everyone from presiders to servers that we all prepare for the liturgy together by the introductory rites. We listen to the introductions and announcements, greet those around us, and then begin with the entrance song, sign of the cross, greetings, penitential act, gloria, &c &C. To do something else formally seems like a reinstatement of the prayers at the foot of the altar, which were intentionally deleted from the RC liturgy as accretions, and sets up an (unnecessary) we-them cadre in the ministry at the altar. Informal, personal preparation is another thing, but I have to say that the same rubric applies, for me anyway.

  7. I begin music ministry rehearsals with a reading of the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel and a brief discussion. Our servers, lectors, and clergy do a prayer (before Mass) in the vesting sacristy, which I rarely join. I find the need to pray before praying (the Mass) redundant. Once or twice when I’ve been asked to join, I replied “we’re about to pray for the next hour – I’m good”. Once or twice I’ve joined, but the “hands in” sports team style is not really me.

  8. I have felt the same redundancy – praying to prepare for the prayer. Also, could such local customs have been the origins of the prayers in the sacristy recited by priest or bishop before the old Latin liturgy? These included psalms, reflections and orations, as well as the prayers to be said as each vestment was put on. These preparatory prayers were around for the better part of a thousand years, but finally Vatican II reforms included these “pre-prayers” among the other medieval accretions.

  9. Jonathan, your prayer is derived from the Archconfraternity of St Stephen, the altar servers’ guild in the UK, prefaced and concluded with Jesuit traditional dialogues and also including a local reference to the dedication of the church at Farm Street.

    Rory and Rick, I agree with you. In particular, a group of ministers praying together in a kind of rugby scrum before a service sets up an impression of exclusion of the rest of the community by those who are meant to be serving it, especially when the scrum is visible to the whole congregation (e.g. at the back of the church). But even a group praying in the sacristy before Mass seems to make nonsense of the notion of the gathering of the entire assembly to hear the Word of God and respond to it in Eucharist.

  10. The cathedral choir I was in used to pray that “what we sing with our lips may we believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts may we show forth in our lives ….” before services.

  11. Some of the comments lodged against the ministers praying together strike me as theories swimming upstream against practice. If formal prayers for the ministers were eliminated from the Mass in the reforms, and yet far and wide people persist in the practice, this indicates to me that we should at least go back and think again.

    Maybe it’s just a sign that despite the reforms people misunderstand the true nature of liturgy, or it might indicate that since ministers function in the liturgy in a way different from the rest of the assembly , they might need to prepare in a somewhat different way.

  12. I think it plays a practical role: bringing the group in the sacristy together for a quiet moment before they go into the church.

    The group virtually always includes the readers, who join the entry procession and then step into their pews while the servers and priest(s) continue into the sanctuary — I’m betting there is another non solum debate there!

    It includes the sacristan. Sometimes others who happen to be in the sacristy before Mass will join in. It typically doesn’t include extraordinary ministers, though, when we have them. It’s not “excluisive”; and it isn’t visible to the assembled faithful in the pews.

    I wish we could maintain an atmosphere of reflective silence in the sacristy. We endeavour to do so. But inevitably people come through to ask about lost and found items, schedules, rotas, and, sometimes to chat.

    Twenty seconds or so of prayer create a moment of recollection and readiness for the Mass, a transition from buzz to quiet focus. Hardly an exclusive rugby scrum.

    By the way, on return to the sacristy the servers say the Gloria Patri, usually in English, sometimes in Latin. Again, a moment of quiet before they turn to prepare the church for the next Mass.

    Paul, thanks for the background on the archconfraternity of St Stephen. I was broadly aware of this; what we really don’t know is who at Farm Street first put these prayers together, or when. They are part of “the way we do things here.”

  13. The entire liturgical party, including the acolytes, choir, led by the celebrant, pray before going out and after coming back into the sacristy at my parish. The clergy then remove the chausable/dalmatic and stole and go to the back of the church to greet the people.

  14. “Measure twice, cut once.” The old handy-person dictum can also be applied here. The proper spiritual preparation of the core team in no way diminishes the corporate prayer dimensions of the liturgy. Since the members of the assembly can be on wildly divergent places on the spiritual map it is imperative that the liturgical leaders (to lesser or greater extents) be prepared for their very serious responsibilities.

  15. The musicians pray quietly between rehearsal and Mass – similar in format to that used in Jonathan Day’s parish (we are Augustinian, so it’s St. Augustine and our parochial patroness Our Mother of Good Counsel we invoke).

    If we take seriously the injunction to pray at all times, the ministers ought to be praying in the sacristy (or the narthex or the doorway or..), no?

  16. Sister taught us to say our prayers before and after Mass at a time when the perception of Mass as a prayer in which we all participate was not widespread. The entrance or gathering rites exist to prepare us to attend to the Liturgy of the Word and the latter serves as a preparation for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When punctuated with periods of silent prayer, the songs and prayers of the Mass are surely all that we need to come before the Throne of Grace with humble and contrite hearts, ready to receive all that God has for us in order to go in peace to glorify Him with out lives.

  17. I always pray with my schola. Usually a chanted ave maria, and a quick recto-tono litany to a handful of appropriate saints, such as gregory, the parish patron, any saints commemorated in the Mass, etc.

  18. I’m in a different parish almost every week so I see a variety of things happening. I simply don’t find the arguments against some sort of preparatory prayer very convincing. Of course the assembly is as important as the celebrant, the deacon, the acolyte, or whatever, but as celebrant I do have things to worry about that they don’t–so having some kind of moment to prepare and put on my “game face” makes all sorts of sense. I would say there’s a parallel thing going on with the servers and such. I do think sometimes this gets a little silly, however. I’ve been in places where every usher, extraordinary minister, hospitality person, and even the coffee and donuts people (no joke) come up to the sacristy to pray with the celebrant before Mass. Again, these jobs are all important, but they’re not all the same thing and so don’t require the same sort of preparation.

    One solution that I’ve found to the noisy sacristy situation is simply to start saying the vesting prayers aloud–not too loud, but enough that people take the hint that Father’s doing something and they should be quiet. Is it a little passive aggressive? Perhaps. But again, when you’re a visiting priest and you don’t have time or the opportunity to do proper formation with the people then you make whatever little contributions you can. Are some people annoyed with it; surely. Sometimes I overshoot and somebody is actually trying to get something ready for the liturgy. Other times it’s just people who would be annoyed with something like vesting prayers to begin with. Mostly though, it’s people who think the sacristy is a cool place to hang out and talk before liturgy–busybodies–I think St. Paul said something about that 😉

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