There seems to be many stirrings around the Church about the return of the Mass of Blessed John XXIII. Seemingly, the desire to celebrate this liturgy is spreading in the Catholic world. Maybe now is the best opportunity for the Church to declare a renovation moratorium on all of the Catholic Churches in the world, so an effective study of current liturgical design and the implementation of the Mass of Blessed John XXIII might be best integrated.

Since the end of the Second Vatican Council, the Church worldwide has been involved in extensive projects that have modified our Holy places of the ability to celebrate the ordinary and the extraordinary rites of the celebration of the Eucharist conveniently in one place. As was the practice, the former altar was removed in most cases, and a freestanding altar was the replacement. At the time, there was no indication that the liturgy prior to the changes of the Second Vatican Council would be restored on a universal level. Well, the permission for this rite of liturgical worship is here, and we need to make our Catholic Churches once again acceptable for the celebration of both forms of the Sacred Liturgy.

A freestanding altar offers the best opportunity for the celebration of either of these forms, because the celebrant is able to adapt the posture ad populum or ad orientem for the liturgical celebration. There are more points as well that need to be included, such as the capability of the reception of Holy Communion with an altar rail and in the kneeling posture and a reappreciation of the sacred space of the sanctuary as part of the ritual observation. With this reevaluation, there is also another point worth considering, and that is the continued use of non-ordained extraordinary ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, and even the practice of Communion in the hand to be more deeply considered.

The rite of the celebration of the Eucharist according to John XXIII did not offer the possibility of the reception of Holy Communion in the hand, nor did it envision the usage of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. One discussion that rightly needs consideration is the further consideration by the Holy See and the Bishop’s Conferences are the need to truly implement the teachings of Paul VI and provide for a stable ministry of instituted acolytes and instituted readers in our parish communities.

This author is instituted to both the Ministry of Reader and the Ministry of Acolyte and experience regularly the confusion most parishes have regarding the “stable” nature of these obligations, and the lack of appreciation for each as a specific ministry in the Universal Church. If indeed, the local parishes were able to designate specific men to the ministry of acolyte provisions would then be accomplished for the proper distribution of Holy Communion according to the intended goals of the Second Vatican Council.

The abolition of the minor orders and the restoration of the “lay ministries” of Reader and Acolyte are significant because the Council provided another form of participation for the laity, right down to a parochial level in regards to the proclamation of the Sacred Word, and the distribution of the Holy Eucharist. Unfortunately, these ministries are often considered as obligations and offices…picked up on the way to deaconate and priesthood. However, the stable exercise of the ministries of reader and acolyte in this authors own experiences have provided me with greater responsibility and understanding of the importance of specific roles in the ministry of the Church.

One misconception that needs to be clearly corrected is the notion that everyone has the right to participate in the Church’s ministry. This is perhaps the strongest and most erroneous interpretation of Christian rights and responsibilities since Vatican II. No one person or group of persons has the right to participate in any ministry in the Church without proper catechesis and most importantly the permission of the Bishop. The local ordinary, the Bishop is the true priest in any diocese and all functions associated with sacramental and liturgical worship emanate from his Holy Orders. That is specifically why, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council specifically called for a restoration of the permanent diaconate, to manifest the three distinct orders that are contained in Holy Orders, namely Bishop, Deacon and Priest.

As we develop a more consistent parish structure that involves the presence of just one priest in each community, the responsibility to participate in the Bishop’s ministry will increasingly fall upon deacons and of course the parish community to assist in the parish life. A greater catechesis and understanding on the essential importance of the order of deacons is essential to the development of the Church’s liturgical and pastoral life in the 21st century.

In the same manner, a deeper consideration on the roles and responsibilities of laypersons in the sacramental and pastoral life of the Church is critical to the Church’s survival. Instituted Acolytes and Readers present the opportunity for men of the parish community to provide service in real and important ministries that provide unique obligations and responsibilities through the ministries in the development of the parish life of communio.

As we begin to examine our evolving liturgical life in the modern Church, clearly the need to examine not only our liturgical space is overdue, but the need to implement the directives of the Second Vatican Council more fully is overdue as well. While we examine the externals that constitute our sacred liturgical spaces, as a worshipping community we also need to coexist with the celebration of two rites as possible in our own Latin Church. If indeed we make provisions in the design and implementation of our liturgical buildings, we can accommodate the ritual needs of both the ordinary and extraordinary forms with a keen appreciation of each rites requirements and sensitivities.
While we are on this project of self examination the time is right to consider the proper development and appreciation of the roles each person plays in our liturgical and pastoral practice of Catholicism. If we examine and study the teachings of the Second Vatican Council more closely we might discover a new consistency in our beliefs and how they adequately apply to both ministry and service for all of the baptized in Christ’s Church.
Starting with an appreciation of our sacred and liturgical space, we can then provide a proper implementation of liturgical norms and ministries that compliments and enhances each ritual celebration with pastoral service and liturgical dignity. 

Hugh McNichol is a freelance Catholic author. He writes on Catholic topics on a daily basis @ and

He welcomes comments @

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