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The liturgical life of the Church revolves around the sacraments, with the Eucharist at the center (National Directory for Catechesis, #35). At Mass, we are fed by the Word and nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ. We believe that the Risen Jesus is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not a sign or symbol of Jesus; rather we receive Jesus himself in and through the Eucharistic species. The priest, through the power of his ordination and the action of the Holy Spirit, transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. This is called transubstantiation.
By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity. (CCC 1413)
The New Covenant
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; …Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and…remains in me and I in him. (John 6:51, 54, 56)
In the gospels we read that the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper. This is the fulfilment of the covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Last Supper narratives, Jesus took, broke and gave bread and wine to his disciples. In the blessing of the cup of wine, Jesus calls it “the blood of the covenant” (Matthew and Mark) and the “new covenant in my blood” (Luke).
This reminds us of the blood ritual with which the covenant was ratified at Sinai (Ex 24) -- the sprinkled the blood of sacrificed animals united God and Israel in one relationship, so now the shed blood of Jesus on the cross is the bond of union between new covenant partners -- God the Father, Jesus and the Christian Church. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, all the baptized are in relationship with God.
The Catechism teaches that all Catholics who have received their First Holy Communion are welcome to receive Eucharist at Mass unless sin a state of mortal sin.
Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance. (CCC 1415)
The Church warmly recommends that the faithful receive Holy Communion when they participate in the celebration of the Eucharist; she obliges them to do so at least once a year. (CCC 1417)
Receiving the Eucharist changes us. It signifies and affects the unity of the community and serves to strengthen the Body of Christ.
Understanding the Mass
The central act of worship in the Catholic Church is the Mass. It is in the liturgy that the saving death and resurrection of Jesus once for all is made present again in all its fullness and promise – and we are privileged to share in His Body and Blood, fulfilling his command as we proclaim his death and resurrection until He comes again. It is in the liturgy that our communal prayers unite us into the Body of Christ. It is in the liturgy that we most fully live out our Christian faith.
The liturgical celebration is divided into two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. First we hear the Word of God proclaimed in the scriptures and respond by singing God’s own Word in the Psalm. Next that Word is broken open in the homily. We respond by professing our faith publicly. Our communal prayers are offered for all the living and the dead in the Creed. Along with the Presider, we offer in our own way, the gifts of bread and wine and are given a share in the Body and Blood of the Lord, broken and poured out for us. We receive the Eucharist, Christ’s real and true presence, and we renew our commitment to Jesus. Finally, we are sent forth to proclaim the Good News!
The Role of Lay Ministers in the Liturgical Life of the Church “Servers, lectors, commentators, and members of the choir also exercise a genuine liturgical function. They ought, therefore, to discharge their office with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by so exalted a ministry and rightly expected of them by God’s people. Consequently, they must all be deeply imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, each in his own measure, and they must be trained to perform their functions in a correct and orderly manner” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 29).
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass
In every celebration of the Eucharist, there should be a sufficient number of ministers of Holy Communion so that it may be distributed in a reverent and orderly manner. Bishops, priests and deacons distribute Holy Communion in virtue of their office as ordinary ministers of the Body and Blood of the Lord. (1) When the size of the congregation or the incapacity of the bishop, priest, or deacon requires it, the celebrant may be assisted by other bishops, priests, or deacons. If such ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are not present, "the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, i.e., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may also depute suitable faithful for this single occasion (GIRM 162)."
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should receive sufficient spiritual, theological, and practical preparation to fulfill their role with knowledge and reverence. In all matters they should follow the guidance of the diocesan bishop ( Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds for the Dioceses of the United States of America, NDRHC, no. 28). When recourse is had to Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, especially in the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds, their number should not be increased beyond what is required for the orderly and reverent distribution of the Body and Blood of the Lord. In all matters such Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should follow the guidance of the diocesan bishop (IBID).
All ministers of Holy Communion should show the greatest reverence for the Most Holy Eucharist by their demeanor, their attire, and the manner in which they handle the consecrated bread or wine. Should there be any mishap--as when, for example, the consecrated wine is spilled from the chalice--then the affected "area . . . should be washed and the water poured into the sacrarium [ GIRM, 280]." (NDRHC, 29).
Altar Servers and Readers
In the absence of instituted acolytes and/or lectors, lay men and women may take on their functions as altar servers and readers. Altar servers assist the priest and deacon; they “carry the cross, the candles, the thurible, the bread, the wine, and the water,” and some may even be deputed as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], no. 100). Likewise, lay readers who are “truly suited… and carefully prepared” proclaim the word of God to the gathered assembly (GIRM, no. 101). Readers are encouraged to continually meditate on Sacred Scripture, so that their faithful proclamation of the readings at Mass will in turn inspire the faithful to turn to God through his word.
Within the music ministry of a parish, a psalmist is the “cantor of the psalm” that occurs after the First Reading. He or she must carefully meditate on the Psalms and be able to sing them “with clarity, conviction, and sensitivity to the text, the musical setting, and those who are listening.” When necessary, the psalmist may also sing the Gospel acclamation and verse (Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship [STL], nos. 34-35; see GIRM, no. 102). In current practice, it is usually the cantor who also assumes the duties of the psalmist. Nonetheless, it may be useful for parish choirs to have one of its members devote himself or herself to contemplating the literary, theological, and musical aspects of the Psalms, in order to truly bring out the beauty of those texts to the gathered faithful at Mass. The psalmist may also be useful at other liturgical celebrations, including the Liturgy of the Hours or other rites.
Choir, Pastoral Musicians, and Cantor
“Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, its place being to take care that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different genres of chant, are properly carried out and to foster the active participation of the faithful by means of the singing” (GIRM, no. 103). The USCCB’s guidelines on liturgical music provide additional clarity on the choir’s supporting role: The choir must not minimize the musical participation of the faithful. The congregation commonly sings unison melodies, which are more suitable for generally unrehearsed community singing. This is the primary song of the Liturgy. Choirs and ensembles, on the other hand, comprise persons drawn from the community who possess the requisite musical skills and a commitment to the established schedule of rehearsals and Liturgies. Thus, they are able to enrich 3 the celebration by adding musical elements beyond the capabilities of the congregation alone. (STL, no. 28) Liturgical documents during and after the Second Vatican Council affirm the primacy of the gathered faithful in their singing the liturgy. Choirs support the people and give added beauty to liturgical celebrations. When choral pieces are sung, the faithful “unite themselves interiorly to what the ministers or choir sing, so that by listening to them they may raise their minds to God” (Musicam Sacram, no. 15). The organist and other instrumentalists likewise assist the choir and the faithful through their respective instruments, “without dominating or overpowering them” (STL, no. 41). A key member of the choir is the cantor. He or she supports the singing done by the faithful, but does not overpower their collective voice, nor that of the choir. In the absence of a choir, the cantor directs the singing of the various hymns and chants, while allowing the people to sing their proper parts as well. He or she may also serve as the psalmist when none is available, as noted above (see GIRM, no. 104; STL, nos. 37-40). The cantor may exercise his or her ministry from a conveniently located stand, but the ambo should only be used by the cantor if leading the singing of the Responsorial Psalm (see GIRM, no. 61; STL, nos. 36 and 40).
The sacristan is a lay person who “diligently arranges the liturgical books, the vestments, and other things that are necessary for the celebration of Mass” (GIRM, no. 105a). Working from the sacristy, he or she should be welltrained in the complexities of the liturgical actions, as well as those of special Masses or those of greater solemnity, so as to make appropriate provisions. Some parishes organize the sacristans and their assistants into “altar societies.” These groups are dedicated to the maintenance of the vestments, altar linens, and sacred vessels; they also occasionally help the parish in making or purchasing replacements.
Ushers, Greeters, and Collections Staff
“A liturgical function is also exercised by… [t]hose who take up the collections in the church; [t]hose who, in some regions, welcome the faithful at the church doors, seat them appropriately, and marshal them in processions” (GIRM, no. 105c-d). As the priest and other ministers prepare for Mass in the sacristy, lay persons have a valuable role to play in welcoming their brothers and sisters to the church and ensuring that all have a place to sit. These apostolates are related to hospitality, an important aspect of the New Evangelization.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
201 NE Chandler, Topeka, KS 66616, United States