WDTPRS 7th Ordinary Sunday “active participation”

Let us look at the Collect for the upcoming 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Praesta, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut, semper rationabilia meditantes,
quae tibi sunt placita, et dictis exsequamur et factis
.

Note the spiffy separation of et dictis…et factis by the verb.  Rationabilis is an adjective meaning “reasonable, rational”.

A Biblical source for part of the oration could be John 8:28-29:

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me.  And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him (quae placita sunt ei, facio semper).

SLAVISHLY LITERAL VERSION:
Grant, we beg, Almighty God,
that we, meditating always on rational things,
may fulfill those things which are pleasing to You
by both words and deeds
.

I chose “rational” partly because of an association I made with a prayer attributed to St Thomas Aquinas which we students, trying to be serious and rational beings (cf. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 1,13 ), recited before philosophy classes:

Concede mihi, miséricors Deus, quae tibi sunt plácita, ardenter concupíscere, prudenter investigáre, veráciter agnóscere, et perfecte adimplére ad laudem et gloriam Nominis tui.  Amen. … Grant me, O merciful God, to desire eagerly, to investigate prudently, to acknowledge sincerely, and perfectly to fulfill those things which are pleasing to Thee, to the praise and glory of Thy Name.  Amen.

When we submit to God’s will and pursue what is good and true and beautiful, we are as God wants us to be.

OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Father,
keep before us the wisdom and love
you have revealed in your Son.
Help us to be like him
in word and deed
.

Dreadful.  Good riddance.

NEW CORRECTED ICEL (2011):
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, always pondering spiritual things,
we may carry out in both word and deed
that which is pleasing to you
.

I chose “rational things” for rationabilia.  The new, corrected ICEL has “spiritual things”, which is certainly defensible.  The French language dictionary of liturgical Latin by Albert Blaise revised by Antoine Dumas, for rationabilis, gives us “spirituel”. Blaise/Dumas also cites the ancient version of the very Collect we are looking at today, identifying it for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany in the 8th century Gregorian Sacramentary.

We are creatures made in the image and likeness of God.  We are made to act like God acts, using the gifts and powers of intellect and will He gave us.  These faculties are wounded because of Original Sin, but they still separate us from irrational animals.  Thus, we can distinguish between “acts of humans” (such as breathing and digesting) that are not much different than what brute animals do except that a human does them, and human acts (like painting, repairing a car, conversing, choosing to love) which involve the use of the higher faculties.  We must be interiorly engaged and focused with mind and will on the action we, as agents in God’s image, are carrying out.

This is important for understanding “active participation” in the liturgy.

Many people think “active participation” means carrying things around, clapping, singing, etc.  We can do all those things and actually be thinking about the grocery list or wondering what the score of the game is.  We all have the experience of catching ourselves whistling without realizing we were doing it, reading and not remembering what we just read.  We are doing something, but we are not acting as “humanly” as we ought.

That is not the kind of participation we need at Mass.

We must be actively receptive to what is taking place in the sacred action of the liturgy.  Watching carefully and quietly, actively receptive listening to the spoken Word or to sacred music, can be far more active than carrying things around, and so forth.  Active receptivity requires concentration and desire, mind and will.  It looks passive, but it isn’t.  We actively submit to Christ, the true actor in the Mass, and we actively receive from Christ.  He gives us what we need, not as if to passive animals, but as to His actively receptive and engaged images.

Inner participation leads to outward expression. The outward can also spark the inward.  The former, however, has logical priority over the latter.

Participation at Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form can help us recover a deeper, fuller, more conscious and proper active participation in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  This is also why our priests must always be faithful to the official texts and rubrics.

Oh… one more thing.  The most perfect form of active participation is the reception of Holy Communion in the state of grace.

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25 Responses to WDTPRS 7th Ordinary Sunday “active participation”

  1. asperges says:

    The concept of “active participation” was pushed in the 70s until, unless you were saying, doing or singing something (usually banal), you were wasting everyone’s time. Its effect on liturgy is well known. To this day the compulsory silence (usually of about 60 secs) such as after the sermon, when the celebrant sits and looks dyspeptic, is an example of misplaced and misunderstood modern scripting to achieve what was there before naturally. [Moreover, note that the silence follows the sermon rather than the Gospel, the priest's insights rather than the Word of God.]

    Anyone observing old rite liturgy will note an entirely different, natural rhythm and the need for far greater attention.The prayers, the readings, the ritual demand not passivity but concentration and effort to participate in one’s heart. In the past, carelessness in such matters led Pope’s and others to lament a failure to appreciate the Church’s liturgy sufficiently. Vatican II often properly stated a need or truth but then subsequent failed utterly in its actions to resolve it.

  2. TomD says:

    Father, thank you for this post. I have always tended to think of active participation as “doing something,” especially something physically or bodily. However, I always knew that this was too simplistic, that something more fundamental was missing, but I could never quite put it into words. Your concise and faithful explanation helped to clarity that, in fact, active participation must originate in an act of the will . . . “[w]hen we submit to God’s will and pursue what is good and true and beautiful, we are as God wants us to be.” We are active participants when we go where God wants us to be.

    And I was reminded of Christ’s teachings and exhortations to the Sadducees and the Pharisees . . . who were active with their bodies and their outward actions, but not truly, and beautifully, active with their hearts.

  3. FrCharles says:

    Thanks, Fr. Z, for these encouragements to pray the Sunday orations well. Your reflection, especially with reference to active participation, also makes me think of Jerome’s translation of Romans 12:2: …ut exhibeatis corpora vestra hostiam viventem sanctam Deo placentem rationabile obsequium vestrum. The supreme activity of consenting that the Sacrifice participate in us.

  4. NoTambourines says:

    Rational! I like that even better. In its many shades of meaning, it is an antidote to those on both sides of the continuum who have severed faith and reason from one another. Particularly those who have chased reason out of the faith as cold, calculating, and frankly, masculine. (As a female, I can say that and cause slightly less politically correct outrage.) And those who have declared war on masculinity in religion have made a caricature of femininity in the process. The other major casualty, of course, is imagery of battle, warfare, and of Jesus as commander and King.

    But chasing reason out of the equation disarms (war imagery! uh-oh!) Catholics from the capacity to discuss their faith articulately and defend it. It sets them up to be surprised and possibly swayed by proselytizers for other religions who do have a very detailed and elaborate argument prepared, and talking points in order.

    A heresy, it is said, is a half-truth masquerading as the whole. Catholics can thus be lured away with flawed appeals to reason when they have not cultivated their own rational, factual understanding of the faith. I have seen many a former classmate fall away, to any number of religions, or no belief at all. It is a failure of catechesis — of not “meditating on rational things.”

  5. John Nolan says:

    Yes, Father, the 1973 version is truly dreadful and yet there are those who seem to think the light has gone out of their religious lives when such things were replaced last year. I was born in 1951, and so baptized and confirmed in what is now regarded as the Old Rite, and served it at the age of eight, having memorized the Latin responses although it was another three years before I began studying Latin at school. As a teenager I was quite frankly appalled at what was happening to the liturgy and had it not been for centres of excellence such as the London Oratory I would have ceased to practise, as many did at the time. Even as a very young child, I was not bored with the Mass, I was utterly transfixed by it, even though I did not understand everything that was going on. Today I see no profit in attending a Sunday service that is by turns irritating and embarrassing, and no amount of sanctimonious waffling from the bishops about Sunday obligation is going to make me likely to to attend one; my late father never missed Mass although he usually found it depressing -”it’s an obligation”, he used to say, whereupon I would suggest that mortification of the flesh should not be the reason for attending Mass.

    Unfortunately, things will not improve any time soon. I am experienced in Gregorian Chant and could easily form a small schola which could contribute to the liturgy in any local parish. But there is no interest (those that might agree keep quiet) and the 1960s and 70s dinosaurs who run things will probably outlive me. Sad but true.

  6. asperges says:

    @John Nolan: Assuming you are still in or near London, there are any numbers of EF Masses in London and the South. I am in the Midlands and I travel every Sunday to arrange or attend EF Masses. If you can’t get it on the doorstep, travel if at all possible. It’s always worth it.

  7. John Nolan says:

    @ asperges

    Absolutely. Until a year and a half ago I was in the Nottingham diocese and had the opportunity of singing at the EF every week at different parishes. When I moved I wanted to make a difference at parish level – and was prepared to compromise to the extent of doing chant in English – but the PP who originally was prepared to back me was suborned by the 4-hymn sandwich merchants, and I was unceremoniously sacked by e-mail.

    I am aware that the liturgical provision in the south of England, London included, is quite good; the experience of the London Oratory in the otherwise dark days of the 1970s kept me a practising Catholic. One might have thought that an experienced Gregorianist would be welcomed in any parish – sadly it is not so. I don’t want to preach to the converted, and despite the deficiencies of the Novus Ordo, I would like to help Benedict XVI’s Reform of the Reform. But few are interested.

  8. Luvadoxi says:

    Mass as mortification….that really hits home for me. When I converted to the Catholic faith in 2003 from a Presbyterian/Lutheran background, I was full of joy about the Mass. I knew nothing of recent Catholic history–new mass, old mass, etc., so at first all was well. But I gradually became aware of an attitude I can only describe as “childish”–a certain forcing of emotion, and people intruding on my space (shoving a hymnal in my ribs while I was kneeling, forcing their hand into my clasped hands to get me to hold hands)–if it weren’t for this atmosphere, I probably wouldn’t have minded the “novus Ordo”–it wasn’t all that different from what I’d been used to. But Presbyterians and Lutherans feel no need to force artificial emotions out of people in the name of “active participation.” It got so bad that honestly, the Lord’s command to attend Mass weekly has often been the only reason I go. Christ’s Church knows what it’s doing. But it doesn’t make it easy.

  9. John Nolan says:

    @ Luvadoxi

    Do not despair. The Catholic Church did not spring up, fully armed, from the Second Vatican Council. That being said, I railed against my father’s generation for acquiescing in the revolution of the 1960s, not realizing that with papal authority it could not be easily withstood. Things have now moved on, and it behoves us to understand the real meaning of participatio actuosa and face down those, clerical and lay, who are too timid, brainwashed, idle or simply bloody-minded to see which way things are going. Do not put up with mediocrity and liturgical abuse. Walk out at the first note of ‘Gather Us In’; it’s an indication that whatever follows is going to be dire and to stay would be an occasion of sin (in this case, anger). And be prepared to speak up. The obligation to attend Mass made sense when the Mass was more or less the same everywhere – it hardly applies now and the bishops should be made aware of this. I have tried all my adult life to come to terms with the status quo and I now know I have been wasting my time.

  10. asperges says:

    @John Nolan: Leicester is now the “capital” of Nottingham diocese with the (EF) Dominican Rite +every day+ at Holy Cross. It was me you sang with before you moved!

    @luvadoxi: A convert is in a very privileged position and often sees things which a cradle Catholic misses. The enforced participations sounds rather un-British to me – we are just not minded that way – the big “community” thing was another post Vat II invention particularly in the US I believe. True community, like participation, shouldn’t need artificial aids, it should form in Charity and love of neighbour.

    No-one will poke you in the ribs in an EF Mass. If you want spiritual and personal space, seek those Masses. The most beautiful Masses I attend, when I can, are early morning EF rite and mostly silent. Heaven and earth meet and you have time to contemplate this and pray – this is what true liturgy is. Noise is not a Godly virtue.

  11. Luvadoxi says:

    Kinda a mea culpa:
    I was sitting in church before Mass tonight, looking at the tabernacle, and I felt the Lord say basically, “Really, my Real Presence isn’t a good enough reason?”
    oops….

    It’s probably true that someone new to the Church does see things that people who’ve been there their whole lives don’t see. I’m even aware of that now that I’ve been Catholic 8 years….I’m getting a little too used to things….it’s good we had a new translation to make us think about the words of Mass, and it’s good that Lent is coming up soon!

  12. Luvadoxi says:

    Asperges and John Nolan–thank you for your supportive words! Gather Us In is truly dreadful!

    I think it is a very American thing to have the “busybodiness” of participation, now that you mention it. Good that the British haven’t given in–stiff upper lip and all that. :) Partly it’s my age–growing up in the 50s and 60s–mainline Protestantism was more “British” in its manner. I do have to say though, that while my previous Presbyterian church has gotten very eco-friendly and liberal, they do worship “decently and in good order” as Presbyterians should! I was just so used to this. I need to develop a stronger backbone and not care so much if other people are thinking that I’m not participating in the right way. There’s some personal hypocrisy involved too–if I feel like hugging a friend or talking after Mass I tend to forget it’s not about what *I* want. But I feel very free to judge others who are doing it! And back in my early conversion days I was so joyful in the Real Presence that I teasingly asked my friend, “Can we throw confetti at the Consecration?” (He said, “No.” lol!) But these were my strong feelings about it…..so I need to develop compassion for those caught up in the heady days of post-Vatican II–there were some since Catholics who genuinely loved the Lord. And many were told by their priests that ABC was ok–I know that from talking to personally to such a Catholic, very devout young mother and devoted to the Blessed Mother back in 1977.

    I do strongly believe in inner, passive “participation” as being very real, though, and American Catholics just don’t seem to get it. The discrimination against introverts!

    There are so many opportunities for sanctity in this situation, though–John, don’t despair either–I think we really do have to go to Mass, but I recognize the dilemma; I’ve been there. When you’re in serious anger, it’s dangerous for the soul. I just finished Immaculee’s book “Left to Tell” which I highly recommend to everyone. Her faith and hope and ability to forgive put me in awe–I’m just not there yet. But the lesson I learned–she prayed constantly and felt the enemy’s temptations to hate every step of the way. This sort of puts paid to my old Protestant beliefs of faith alone…..coming to Christ involves serious work….which I need to do more of….but the Lord never abandons us when we try. Sorry for all the random thoughts. I really do recommend that book, though–forgiving one’s enemies is a constant challenge for me.

    So John, forgive my “busybodiness” but you need to go to Mass weekly….go to the EF! And there are traps there, too–the ever-present pride and self-righteousness. Whew! The Christian life ain’t for wimps, is it?

    Sorry for the long post, but thanks for listening!

  13. Luvadoxi says:

    sincere….not since. I really need to read before posting!

  14. mamajen says:

    Father, I completely understand and agree with your definition of participation. In my case, a lack of understanding of Latin and my hearing impairment make it almost impossible for me to properly participate at an EF mass. That’s why I choose to attend a NO mass even though the EF is easily available where I live. I know the language, and even though I might not hear well, I know what is being said because I memorized it when I was younger. I hope eventually I can learn enough Latin and get hearing aids so that I can enjoy and participate in the EF. What I don’t understand is why there can’t be a English translation of the EF? Why did they need to change the mass so drastically instead of simply translating it? I really wish that were an option.

  15. mamajen says:

    @John Nolan

    I don’t believe that taste in music or failure to reign in one’s emotions are valid reasons for skipping out on the obligation to attend Sunday mass. I truly hope you are joking. The abuse would need to be quite extreme in order for me to walk out on Jesus.

  16. Michelle F says:

    Luvadoxi, John Nolan:

    I also have wrestled with the problem of Sunday Mass Obligation vs. Sunday Mass Shenanigans. Catholics used to use the phrase “Offer it up” to express what one should do when he has to go through something he doesn’t like. One can “offer up” one’s suffering as reparation for one’s sins, or simply as an act of obedience (the Sunday obligation being rooted in the 3rd Commandment). When I have to attend a Mass that is depressing because it is not celebrated properly (tweaking the texts, holding hands, etc.), I just “offer it up.”

    I have always promised myself that I would leave a Mass that turns heretical because I think that would be more pleasing to the Lord than to sit there and pretend to go along with it, but almost every time it has happened (4 times over 14 1/2 years of attending Mass), I have been too shocked to leave. Once, I had enough of my wits left that I could have left, but I found myself blocked into the pew. That time I just offered up prayers of reparation for the sins being committed in front of me.

    I suppose all of those are ways of “actively participating” in Mass, but they’re not my preferred methods of participation!

  17. John Nolan says:

    @ Luvadoxi

    I attended Mass this morning in what is actually the nearest Catholic church. Last week it had no music and the priest basically said the black and did the red, except for the normal liturgical abuse in the UK which has extraordinary monsters performing the ablutions. This morning there was a middle-aged woman sitting at an electronic keyboard who rehearsed the congregation in a dire 1970s-style setting of the Gloria which consisted of the first line set to something remarkably inferior to your average advertising jingle and then repeated. The rest was missing. Looking at the rest of the leaflet, which she is in no doubt keen to promote, the same threadbare tune is to be used for everything else, with the text of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei altered to fit the same banal melody. I felt like asking “what’s wrong with the Missal chants?” until I realized that I would be wasting my time. Even intelligent Catholics have become so used to a dumbed-down kindergarten liturgy that they assume it to be normative.

  18. John Nolan says:

    @ mamajen

    The late Hans Keller said “art has nothing to do with taste”. However, the connection between the Latin liturgy and Gregorian Chant is so close that they cannot be separated, and to suggest that a predilection for chant is simply a matter of musical taste is quite absurd. The expression ‘ceteris paribus’ in SC and the GIRM reinforces this, and although Renaissance polyphony or later compositions should not be denigrated, the fact remains that the liturgy is self-sufficient without them.

    All the same, I would like to hear Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis performed liturgically in the context of the Solemn Pontifical Mass for which it was composed.

  19. mamajen,

    I really don’t think your understanding of Latin (or lack thereor) has much bearing on your actual prayerful participation in the EF Mass. I participated fully when I first became a Catholic long ago, not knowing a word of Latin. As do the majority of these not understanding Latin, because with a Latin-English hand missal they can follow the priest’s action and prayer at the altar, uniting their own prayers in English with his in Latin–which is what Pope Pius X meant when he introduced the now famous term participatio actuosa, urging that everyone “pray the Mass” (rather than simply pray at Mass).

  20. mamajen says:

    @John Nolan

    You are the one who suggested that a particular song choice is adequate reason to leave mass. I find your comments reckless and reprehensible, but I will leave it between you and God. I just hope you haven’t misguided any others with your questionable assertions regarding our Catholic obligation to attend mass.

  21. mamajen says:

    @Henry Edwards

    Forgive my ignorance, but I didn’t realize that there are missals which translate the Latin mass! That would certainly be helpful, and I can see how one could participate without understanding (or hearing) the language in that case. I will have to look into this. When the EF was introduced in our area we had no missals at all, so the experience was basically listening to a foreign language spoken quietly. I didn’t feel as though I got anything at all from it. There was a contingent of people who were already familiar with the EF, and they enjoyed it, but better preparation would have helped in bringing new people like myself on board. In all fairness to the priest, though, I know that he was up against a great deal of adversity both on the parish and diocesan level, and I’m sure he did the best he could.

  22. John Nolan says:

    @ mamajen

    “A particular song choice”. Can you explain to me how this relates to the liturgy of the western Church as understood for a millennium and a half? Or are you someone who believes there was no church until about 1965 when tin pan alley was regarded as an acceptable accompaniment to worship? Have you no idea how many have been driven from the church from the 1960s onwards as a result of the dumbing-down of the liturgy of which you seem to approve? “A particular song choice” . If that is what the liturgy means to you I am quite proud to be castigated as reprehensible and reckless, but rest assured that I have no intention of abandoning the Mass or the Church. “A particular song choice.” This speaks volumes about your understanding or lack of it regarding liturgy or music.

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  24. NoTambourines says:

    It’s not January 6, but I had a small epiphany today while finding myself in the vast minority of people around me who were actually singing along with the hymns:

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

    And one can wreckovate the church and tweak and tinker with the liturgy on a whim in the name of “active participation,” but there will still be the same fundamental issues and obstacles to “active participation” as before one “fixed” what ain’t broke:

    At the heart of the matter as much as before is that need for inner participation. There needs to be activity on the inside, or nothing will happen on the outside.

  25. John Nolan says:

    @ NoTamborines

    Musica Sacra (1967) might have Novus Ordo written all over it (it was the musical blueprint for the Bugnini reform) but it still made it clear that participatio was above all experienced interiorly. I sometimes wonder why all this mess had to happen in my lifetime and since I was already 11 years old and an altar server at the time of Vatican II I am under no illusions regarding what was lost. The fact that young people (clerical and lay) are interested enough to want to recover it is the most encouraging development of recent times.