In Faith Magazine there is an article about active participation in the liturgy. Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.
‘With hearts and hands and voices’
full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy
by Rita Thiron [Who is, I believe, in charge of the liturgy office for the Diocese of Lansing.]
On Dec.4, 1963, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the bishops of the world passed the first of 16 documents that would be promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was one of the four “constitutions” which defined vital issues of church teachings and practice. [I believe the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible too. But the Holy Spirit didn’t write the Bible. The Holy Spirit was surely involved in the Council and also in conclaves, but to what degree all the decisions are guided is hard to say. At the very least (though I don’t want to place improper limits) the Holy Spirit certainly guides us away from utter disasters.]
This constitution called for a reform of the liturgy. It did not mandate innovations, [The Council Fathers actually imposed that no changes be made unless they were truely for the good of the people.] but restored ancient practices. [Sadly some of the things scholars thought were ancient practices weren’t actually true.] It urged that “the rites be revised carefully in light of sound tradition and that they be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.” (SC 4)
The constitution began with a theological review of the nature of liturgy and its role in the life of the church. (1-13) It called for the improved liturgical formation of the clergy and the faithful (15-19) and carefully detailed the principles which would guide the reform. (21-46) The chapters that followed gave specific norms for the reform of the Mass, the sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, the liturgical year, and more.
And in all these important efforts, what was given highest priority? What was the goal to be considered before all else? It was the full, conscious and active participation of the people in the pews!
The church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations, called for by the very nature of the liturgy. Such a participation by the Christian people … is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the reform and promotion of the liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else. For it is the primary and indispensible source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit …. (SC 14, …)
Indeed, that phrase, “full, conscious and active participation,” appeared no less than 31 times in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. What does this phrase imply? The council envisioned that we would be participating in the liturgy with our whole mind, heart and bodies!
… Pastors must therefore realize that when the liturgy is celebrated something more is required than the mere observance of the laws governing valid and lawful celebration; it is also their duty to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects. (11)
For centuries, the faithful “attended” or “heard” Mass in Latin. They devoutly listened as the priest recited texts in Latin. Only in the early 20th century were personal missals published to provide translations. And language was not the only barrier to participation. Frequently, the architecture itself separated us from the altar by great distances or communion rails. Often, the faithful simultaneously prayed the rosary or other devotions while Mass was being celebrated and they hungered for familiar clues like the ringing of bells.
How did the Second Vatican Council bring about our greater participation?
First, it encouraged “liturgical formation with zeal and patience.” (19) The bishops knew that we would better participate if we understood the depth of the mystery being celebrated, [I am glad for the reference to mystery, though I think we can’t really can’t understand the "depth of the mystery". What we really need to understand is that there is mystery.] the structure of the Mass, and the richness of the traditions behind our current practices. [Understanding…. That was not just promoted by the Second Vatican Council. Those hand-missals were part of this, from the time of the Liturgical Movement.]
Second, they reminded us that liturgies are never private functions – they involve the whole body of the church, near and far, visible and invisible. (26) The liturgy is public and communal by its very nature, but it also concerns individual members in different orders and offices who exercise a variety of liturgical roles – bishops, priests, deacons, lectors, cantors and more. [for example, lay people in the congregation.]
Third, the liturgical books themselves were reformed to promote active participation. The people were given more “speaking parts” and encouraged to take part in acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs. (30-31) Music, especially, allowed us to give fuller expression to our prayer.
And the texts of these books were to be marked by “noble simplicity.” [A concept which lead to some real disasters when misapplied.] They were to be “short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; [Something else that was abused, since repetition is a key element of liturgical prayer.] they [were to be] written within the people’s power of comprehension and, as a rule, not require much explanation.” (34) Most importantly, the liturgical books were to be translated into the vernacular so that the people could pray in their own language, just as they had for centuries before Trent. These translations were to be approved by each country’s conference of bishops and the Holy See. [Interesting. No citation for that. The fact is that the Council required that Latin be maintained as the language of the liturgy while granting that in some instances some use of the vernacular could be helpful. The Council also required, for the sake of active participation, that we retain Gregorian chant and that pastors make sure they flocks could both sing and speak in both Latin and their mother tongue. Cf. SC 54]
Fourth, since we pray with our whole bodies, we participate fully, consciously and actively with postures and gestures. We kneel, we sit, we stand, we process, we bow our head, we make the sign of the cross. These common postures and gestures are a sign of our unity when we are gathered for the Sacred Liturgy – they both express and foster our intention and spiritual attitude. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 42) [Catholics did all those things before the Council as well.]
Silence, too, is a means of participation. [I am glad silence was included.] In silence, we recollect our sins and gather our prayers in the Introductory Rites. In silence, we reflect on the readings. In silence (or in song), we reflect on the great gift of Holy Communion. (GIRM 45)
We participate, too, simply by listening attentively to the readings and the prayers and then responding to them with “Thanks be to God” or “Amen” or other acclamations. [Again, the writer does very well to include this. I would say that our first instance of active participation is through listening. That includes listening to the sacred music which should really be settings of sacred texts of the Mass itself.]
Too often, some will complain that they “don’t get much out of Mass.” The obvious response is “What did you put into it?” We never come to liturgy to be entertained, or worse yet, to judge the music or the homily. [Well… of course we are going to judge those things…. if we are actively participating and paying attention. Am I wrong?] We are not there as strangers or silent spectators. [Nor were Catholics merely silent spectators before the Council. And many who come to the newer form of Mass are just silent spectators.] We come together as a Christian community to encounter the living God.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (48) best describes our participation. We are “instructed by God’s word and nourished at the table of the Lord’s body, we give thanks to God by offering the immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him. We offer ourselves as well, through Christ the Mediator, so that we may be formed day by day into an ever more perfect unity with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.”
A good effort, all in all. I was pleased that silence and listening were included.
One of the things I think we need to stress is that the rite itself is neither going to assure active participation nor block it. Many who attend the older form of Holy Mass today participate far more deeply and actively than many who attend the Novus Ordo.
We need a sound liturgical catechesis for both forms of Mass and we need a sound ars celebrandi of both forms as well.