LITURGY MATTERS: Celebrants or Consumers? It matters!

The ‘liturgical cafeteria’ opened for business in a new and expanded form at the same time businesses, jobs, shops, theatres, parks, sport and a range of other activities closed.

The menu of streamed masses is enormous. You can watch Pope Francis celebrate mass, bishops in any diocese and priests in many parishes in this country and beyond. I hear people talk about watching one mass after the other.  I hear people comparing homilies and music and camera angles. It seems people are searching to find the mass that suits them.

I have to confess to being mystified by this. The notion of finding the mass that you like is one thing. Watching one mass after the other, or parts of many, mystifies me even more. It raises the age-old question we have been considering in Liturgy Matters all these months: What do we think we are doing when we celebrate mass?

In the last Liturgy Matters, I referred to the avalanche of theological writing that has emerged as we continue to reflect on the experience of live streamed mass. Some of this writing is coalescing around the question posed in today’s title. When we celebrate mass, do we understand ourselves to be celebrants or consumers? Our answer to that question is critical.  It is one of those questions to which there is a right answer.  

The liturgy is a primary source of theology, the first place we look to understand better some aspect of our faith. Does the liturgy treat us and refer to us as celebrants or consumers? For the next few weeks Liturgy Matters will invite you to engage in a little ‘mystagogical reflection’ on the liturgy – its prayers and documents – to explore what is revealed about this question, particularly relating to the ‘Liturgy of the Eucharist’.

Mystagogical Reflection isn’t about explaining things.  Rather it invites us into the mystery of God, searching ever more deeply for what God is revealing to us in this place, at this time, in these circumstances. Mystagogical Reflection opens us to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Each time you read a text and pray with it, you are invited to consider three questions:

  • What did you notice?
  • What does it reveal to you/us (about God, Christ, the church, the liturgy …)?
  • What does it ask of you … of us?

So let’s begin to pray and reflect, beginning firstly with the overall structure of mass. 

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states in a. 28

The Mass consists in some sense of two parts, namely the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, these being so closely interconnected that they form but one single act of worship. For in the Mass is spread the table both of God’s Word and of the Body of Christ, and from it the faithful are to be instructed and refreshed. There are also certain rites that open and conclude the celebration.

The Church – that’s us – believes that the Liturgy of the Word is as important as the ‘Liturgy of the Eucharist’. Indeed ‘The Liturgy of the Eucharist’ cannot be celebrated except as a response to hearing the Word of God. We can’t ‘do’ eucharist until we’ve listened to the Word. 

This is why the Book of the Gospels is bought in during the entrance procession and placed upon the altar. Word and Sacrament together forming ‘one single act of worship’.

This is why at the end of the first and second readings the minister says, ‘The word of the Lord’, and at the end of the Gospel, ‘The Gospel of the Lord’. This dialogue intentionally mirrors the communion dialogue when the minister says to each one of us, ‘The Body of Christ’ and ‘The Blood of Christ’. Word and Sacrament together ‘from which the faithful are instructed and refreshed’.

How does our personal participation in mass, and the way we celebrate as a community, embody this belief? As ‘celebrants’ our participation in the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ is as full conscious and active as our participation in the ‘Liturgy of the Eucharist.’ In the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ we open ourselves to be changed by the Word so that we become a living Word of God. As ‘consumers’ the Word is a preamble to me getting what I came for – communion.

Are we celebrants or consumers?  The answer matters.

Hopefully our reflection together will provide us with insight and shape our faith so that we will return to the public celebration of mass as celebrants participating fully, actively and consciously in the one single act of worship comprising Word and Sacrament. Imagine what the Church community would be like if we were all celebrants!  Our world and our society need us to be celebrants.  

In the next Liturgy Matters we will begin to reflect on the ‘Liturgy of the Eucharist’.

You might like to read an article by Thomas O’Loughlin, We are celebrants not consumers. Fr O’Loughlin was in Australia recently.  He is a theologian who writes extensively on liturgy.  My current favourite that I recommend is a little book called, Washing Feet: Imitating the Example of Jesus in the Liturgy Today.  


GIRM references are from the English Translation of the Roman Missal © 2010 International Committee on English in the Liturgy Inc. (ICEL). All rights reserved. 

Image by Peggy CCI from Pixabay  Supermarket aisle.  All rights reserved.

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.