I discovered on CNA a interesting feature. Louie Verrecchio writes a column called Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II. One of his columns concerns active participation in the liturgy.
WDTPRS has been working to spread a correct understand of active participation for a long time and combat the madness that has corroded our identity through a distorted understanding.
Let’s see what Mr. Verrecchio has to say, with my emphases and comments.
July 23, 2009
Active Participation: Doing liturgy and becoming church
By Louie Verrecchio
I don’t remember the first time I encountered the phrases "doing liturgy" and "becoming church," nor do I recall my specific reaction. [I remember. The US seminary I was in, and out of. And I felt sick.] Regular readers of this column, however, can pretty much imagine what that might have been, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
I’d like to share with you a snapshot of my home parish, which I suspect is probably not unlike most others.
My parish of record is a warm and inviting place. It’s my home-base community within the Church Universal; a place where I have worshipped and celebrated and mourned with family and friends for many years.
I have a great deal of affection for my parish’s pastor. He is a kind and genuinely loving caretaker of souls who has offered me and others who are dear to me priestly ministry and good counsel on more than one occasion.
Why then over the last twenty months or so have I been traveling more than thirty miles out of my way to participate in Sunday Mass at a different parish? Simply put, because my home parish has unfortunately become overly enamored with the idea of "doing liturgy" and "becoming church." [Anyone else had this experience? Stop! STOP! Don’t trample… okay… I get it!]
To that end, my parish has a "Liturgy Committee" whose mission statement – taken almost verbatim from the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy – reads, "Our goal is to enable the People of God to engage in full, conscious, and active participation in the celebration of the sacred liturgy." [A good goal… provided they have a correct understanding of what that means.]
The result of their effort is a Mass that is increasingly nuanced by what appears to be the self-imposed pressure to constantly inject new forms of creativity into the liturgy. In practice this means that liturgical prayers and procedures are altered; liturgical roles are assigned to as many lay persons as possible, individuals are singled out during the Mass for special recognition and applause, and music for the Mass is apparently selected more for the catchiness of its tune than for the meaning of its content. [Anyone else had this … no wait… STOP already!]
I have no doubt that the Liturgy Committee means well, but I wonder how many its members have actually read Sacrosanctum Concilium; the aforementioned conciliar document to which they attribute their stated mission?
Those who have explored the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy would know that the Council’s idea of "active participation" has nothing whatsoever to do with turning the Mass into a production with an ever increasing number of lay cast members, much less its entertainment value.
Before we examine the Council’s thoughts more closely, it’s important to consider that the desire for liturgical participation on the part of a well-formed laity was not invented in the 1960’s.
In 1947 Pope Pius XII lauded and encouraged the laity’s active participation in the liturgy – yes, the Traditional Latin Liturgy – saying:
"Therefore, they are to be praised who, with the idea of getting the Christian people to take part more easily and more fruitfully in the Mass, strive to make them familiar with the ‘Roman Missal,’ so that the faithful, united with the priest, may pray together in the very words and sentiments of the Church. They also are to be commended who strive to make the liturgy even in an external way a sacred act in which all who are present may share. This can be done in more than one way, when, for instance, the whole congregation, in accordance with the rules of the liturgy, either answer the priest in an orderly and fitting manner, or sing hymns suitable to the different parts of the Mass, or do both, or finally in high Masses when they answer the prayers of the minister of Jesus Christ and also sing the liturgical chant." (Mediator Dei – 105)
Pope Pius XI some two decades earlier had offered similar encouragement saying, "The faithful come to church in order to derive piety from its chief source, by taking an active part in the venerated mysteries and the public solemn prayers of the Church." (Divini Cultus – 1928)
Neither of these examples represent "out of the box" thinking, mind you; on the contrary. Active participation in the liturgy is as old as the Church itself as indicated by St. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians, a letter written sometime in the mid-first century, in which he underscored the importance of proper disposition when participating in the Body and Blood of Christ. (cf 1 Cor. 11:23-34)
So [here is the big question] what does active participation in the context of the Mass as we know it actually mean, and what did the Council have in mind? For clarity of the matter, let us turn directly to one of the Council Fathers, Pope John Paul II.
In his Ad Limina Address to the Bishops of the United States in 1988, the Holy Father saw fit to expound upon some of the misunderstandings that lead to "abuses, polarization, and sometimes even grave scandal" in the liturgy.
"Full participation does not mean that everyone does everything, since this would lead to a clericalizing of the laity and a laicizing of the priesthood; and this was not what the Council had in mind," the Holy Father said.
"Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive," he said, honing in on the most overlooked point of all. "Active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it." [Get that?]
The Council Fathers notion of how authentic participation is achieved is indicated in the very title to Chapter II of Sacrosanctum Concilium, "The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation."
You see, "instruction," according to the mind of the Council, is the essential key to "participation;" one cannot possibly hope to penetrate the sacred Mysteries in such way as to actively participate in them without first comprehending, to the extent that it is possible, what is taking place. [He is correct. And that phrase "to the extent that it is possible" is important by the fact that we are dealing with an encounter with mystery. The point of worship is an encounter with mystery. Our understanding, opened by what we can learn and comprehend, edges us a little close to that chink in the rock through which we peer at the God who passes by.]
To the Council Fathers, fostering active participation among the laity meant providing the "liturgical instruction" necessary in order for the "faithful to take part in the sacred liturgy fully aware of what they are doing." (cf SC 11) [Perhaps a bit too optimistic, unless we mean that we come to understand that we don’t understand. What we know helps us to know what we don’t know.]
The Mass itself is a teacher, [well… yes… okay… well… Mass is not a didactic moment. Mass is not a teaching experience. Yes, we learn things through the texts and other elements, but the purpose of Holy Mass is not for "learning".] according to the Council Fathers, [?] and they envisioned a revised liturgy that might more effectively communicate our belief that "every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others." (SC 7) [I don’t think SC 7 supports the claim that "Mass itself is a teacher". Yes, we can learn things from perceptible signs. But this is not the point of Mass.]
"Liturgy," in other words, is not so much something we "do" as it is a gift we are privileged to receive along with the invitation to unite ourselves to the Lord’s sacred action. [EXACTLY. A constant theme here at WDTPRS has been that the core of a proper understanding of active participation is interiorly active receptivity. Our active participation begins with our interior character, our baptismal character which makes us members of Christ and allows us to receive the other graces offered through the sacraments. We must strive to unite ourselves to the liturgical action, which is really being enacted by the true Actor, Christ the Priest. Our interior receptivity becomes outward expression at the appropriate times and in the appropriate ways indicated in the liturgical rites.] Likewise, "church" is not so much something we "become" as it is that which we already are by virtue of our incorporation into Christ’s Body through Baptism; the gateway to fully conscious and active participation in the sacred liturgy. [After years of writing this in my columns and on the blog, I sense that progress has been made.]
A focus on "doing liturgy" and "becoming church" has brought us to the unfortunate point where Mass in many places, including my parish, all too often obscures the inherent sacredness of the action as much as it communicates it.
Though I admit to being somewhat apprehensive, I will one day "bite the bullet" and respectfully share some of these thoughts with my pastor in the hope that by the grace of God I may be able to repay him well for the good counsel that he’s so freely given to me over the years.
Louie Verrecchio is the author of Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II; a highly acclaimed adult faith formation tool – endorsed by George Cardinal Pell – that has been helping parish based study groups and individuals worldwide to faithfully explore the documents of the Second Vatican Council since 2004. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com
WDTPRS kudos to Mr. Verrecchio for getting it right!