Summary: In our worship, we are all equal in dignity, but, as Jesus gave different ministries to his disciples, in and out of worship, we differ in function and service; that is the meaning of hierarchy.

Solemnity of Peter and Paul

June 29, 2009

The readings for this solemnity help us to understand how it is that Christ left us–as a gift–a hierarchical Church. I was reading some fairly recent articles in Pastoral Music recently, and came across a rather angry one from a nun who was complaining that the Church gives antiphonal songs for the entrance rite and communion. Her complaint is that we are all equal in Christ, but the music the Church recommends sets up different roles for the choir, cantor and congregation. She thinks that we should all sing everything together, to symbolize our unity.

The Church today reminds us that we are all equal in dignity, and equal in the call to holiness. But we differ in function. The priest signs forth Christ the head. We don’t all say “this is our body,” although some hymns seem to imply that. The priest stands as Christ to say “this is my body.” The deacon signs forth the servant Christ. That’s why part of my role is, in kitchen terms, to clean up the dishes. Some things, like the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, we all sing together. Others we sing antiphonally. Equal in dignity, diverse in function, just like the parts of the human body. It was to St. Peter, who was certainly not the holiest, or most cautious, or best liked of the apostles, that Jesus entrusted leadership of the Church. It was to St. Paul, another passionate lover of God, that he entrusted the mission to the Gentiles. Thus in work and in worship we sign forth the Church that Jesus intended, the one He founded, a hierarchical Church.

The Holy Father says “The beauty and the harmony of the liturgy find eloquent expression in the order by which everyone is called to participate actively. This entails an acknowledgment of the distinct hierarchical roles involved in the celebration. It is helpful to recall that active participation is not per se equivalent to the exercise of a specific ministry. The active participation of the laity does not benefit from the confusion arising from an inability to distinguish, within the Church’s communion, the different functions proper to each one.” He then goes on to distinguish the special functions of the priest, and to remind us that "Every celebration of the Eucharist, in fact, is led by the Bishop, "either in person or through priests who are his helpers."(160) He is helped by a deacon, who has specific duties during the celebration: he prepares the altar, assists the priest, proclaims the Gospel, preaches the homily from time to time, reads the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful, and distributes the Eucharist to the faithful. (161) Associated with these ministries linked to the sacrament of Holy Orders, there are also other ministries of liturgical service which can be carried out in a praiseworthy manner by religious and properly trained laity.”

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