Msgr. Guido Marini on liturgical issues: active participation

I am pleased to link you to the site of NLM which has posted the full text of a presentation by the papal MC Msgr. Guido Marini delivered to the wonderful clergy conference for the Year of the Priest taking place in Rome.

The text is pretty long and I won’t give it all here.  You can find it at NLM.  

But I will over the next couple days pull out a few sections in different entries and comment on them. 

For example, here is Msgr. Marini on an issue we have dealt with many times on WDTPRS, namely, "active participation".

My emphases and comments.

4. Active Participation.

It was really the saints who have celebrated and lived the liturgical act by participating actively. [And those who desire to be.] Holiness, as the result of their lives, [As a result of grace….] is the most beautiful testimony of a participation truthfully active in the liturgy of the Church.

Rightly, then, and by divine providence did the second Vatican Council insist so much on the necessity of promoting an authentic participation on the part of the faithful during the celebration of the holy mysteries, at the same time when it reminded the Church of the universal call to holiness. This authoritative direction from the council has been confirmed and proposed again and again by so many successive documents of the magisterium down to the present day.

Nevertheless, there has not always been a correct understanding of the concept of “active participation”, [Say it isn’t so!  Okay.. he is using litotes here.] according to how the Church teaches it and exhorts the faithful to live it. To be sure, there is active participation when, [NB] during the course of the liturgical celebration, one fulfills his proper service; [He is probably referring to the priest, sacred ministers, those in the sanctuary at this point.] there is active participation too when one has a better comprehension of God’s word when it is heard or of the prayers when they are said; [That pertains to listening, being actively receptive, which isn’t always easy.] there is also active participation when one unites his own voice to that of the others in song [Outward physical expression.] ….All this, however, would not signify a participation truthfully active if it did not lead to adoration of the mystery of salvation in Christ Jesus, who for our sake died and is risen. This is because only he who adores the mystery, welcoming it into his life, demonstrates that he has comprehended what is being celebrated, and so is truly participating in the grace of the liturgical act. [How many times have I bashed away on this blog about mystery?]

As confirmation and support for what has just been asserted, let us listen once again to the words of a passage by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, from his fundamental study “The Spirit of the Liturgy”: “What does this active participation come down to? What does it mean that we have to do? Unfortunately the word was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people as possible, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action. However, the word ‘part-icipation’ refers to a principal action in which everyone has a ‘part’[Not everyone’s actions as individuals, even if they are doing things in a coordinated way.  Remember: there is one true Actor in the sacred action.] By the actio of the liturgy the sources mean the Eucharistic prayer. The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is the oratio….This oratio—the Eucharistic Prayer, the “Canon”—is really more than speech; it is actio in the highest sense of the word.” (pp. 171-2) [And that is not a moment in which the congregation, for example, traditionally has an outwardly active role expect to kneel at the proper place and rise at the end.  I will leave aside the problematic issue of the "acclamation" after the consecration.] Christ is made present in all of his salvific work, and for this reason the human actio becomes secondary and makes room for the divine actio, to God’s work.  [Right.  The true Actor in the sacred action is Christ the High Priest.]

Thus the true action which is carried out in the liturgy is the action of God Himself, his saving work in Christ, in which we participate. This is, among other things, the true novelty of the Christian liturgy with respect to every other act of worship: God Himself acts and accomplishes that which is essential, whilst man is called to open himself to the activity of God, in order to be left transformed. [Again, we must be actively receptive to what God wants to give us and be transformed in our encounter with mystery.] Consequently, the essential aspect of active participation is to overcome the difference between God’s act and our own, that we might become one with Christ. [We can control our own disposition, by fasting and confession, and engaging our minds and wills, but God is the true Actor.] This is why, that I might stress what has been said up to now, it is not possible to participate without adoration. [I tend to stress the issue of having that encounter with mystery.  I think that the way the liturgy is carried out bears a great burden in this.] Let us listen to another passage from Sacrosanctum Concilium: “The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.” (n. 48)

Compared to this, everything else is secondary[It is hard to deny after "God.. all in all", that everything else is secondary.] I am referring in particular to external actions, granted they be important and necessary, and foreseen above all during the Liturgy of the Word. I mention the external actions because, should they become the essential preoccupation and the liturgy is reduced to a generic act, in that case the authentic spirit of the liturgy has been misunderstood. [not to mention "active participation" has been misunderstood.] It follows that an authentic education in the liturgy cannot consist simply in learning and practicing exterior actions, but in an introduction to the essential action, which is God’s own, the paschal mystery of Christ, whom we must allow to meet us, to involve us, to transform us. Let not the mere execution of external gestures be confused with the correct involvement of our bodies in the liturgical act. Without taking anything away from the meaning and importance of the external action which accompanies the interior act, the Liturgy demands a lot more from the human body. It requires, in fact, its total and renewed effort in the daily actions of this life. This is what the Holy Father, Benedict XVI calls “Eucharistic coherence”. Properly speaking, it is the timely and faithful exercise of such a coherence or consistency [one might even say "continuity"] which is the most authentic expression of participation, even bodily, in the liturgical act, the salvific action of Christ.  [I wonder if "verification" might not be better to introduce.  Hmmm.]

I wish to discuss this point further. [NB…] Are we truly certain that the promotion of an active participation consists in rendering everything to the greatest extent possible immediately comprehensible? [WHAT?  You mean that it could be okay to have hard words?  Hard music?  Complex ritual?] May it not be the case that entering into God’s mystery [There is that encounter with mystery, that which is tremendum et fascinans again…] might be facilitated [Yes!  The liturgy bears much of the burden.] and, sometimes, even better accompanied by that which touches principally the reasons of the heart? Is it not often the case that a disproportionate amount of space is given over to empty and trite speech, [Such as banal translations?] forgetting that both dialogue and silence belong in the liturgy, congregational singing and choral music, images, symbols, gestures? Do not, perhaps, also the Latin language, Gregorian chant, and sacred polyphony belong to this manifold language which conducts us to the center of the mystery? [Which is another way of speaking of "encounter with mystery".]

Very well done. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. In my humble estimation, this talk should be “must reading” for every seminarian and priest. And it could very well be the outline of a course for seminarians/deacons/lay faithful.
    Absolutely excellent!

  2. Melania says:

    Fabulous! Refreshing and heartening to read.

  3. mdillon says:

    nazareth priest said:
    “In my humble estimation, this talk should be “must reading” for every seminarian and priest. And it could very well be the outline of a course for seminarians/deacons/lay faithful.
    Absolutely excellent!”

    Sir, I second that!

  4. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    That was no small misstatement regarding litotical constructions….;)

  5. Beautiful…I third this….

  6. How wonderfully timely!

    I’ll be including this for my upcoming presentation to the choristers and the directors of religious education at the parishes I’m now serving as music director.

  7. chironomo says:

    I don’t think it would be an overstatement that this complete lecture is something of a “manifesto” for the Benedictine reform.

    Latin Language
    Ad Orientem
    Gregorian Chant
    Understanding through Continuity

    It’s all there, with supporting arguments from Pope Benedict himself. There is a lot to take in here…

  8. Hans-Georg says:

    speaking of Latin, the text says not “participatio activa”, but “participatio actuosa”. Actuous participation would probably mean a participation full of prayer acts. Whether spoken or not silent.

  9. gloriainexcelsis says:

    This will be forwarded to some Catholic friends and family, post haste. Another “AMEN.”

  10. Sid says:

    Rudolf Otto and Odo Casel must be praying for us!

  11. “And now, before we begin, please turn to the people sitting next to you and introduce yourself.”

  12. California Girl 21 says:

    AND an “ineffable” sighting–in section 3, “Adoration and Union with God”:

    “Before the ineffable beauty of God’s charity, which takes form in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, who for our sake has died and is risen, and which finds its sacramental manifestation in the liturgy, there is nothing left for us but to be left in adoration.”

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