WDTPRS – 6th Sunday remaining after Epiphany: true “active participation” at Mass

Jesus mustard seedAs we approach the end of another liturgical year, an odd thing happens in the Church’s traditional, pre-Conciliar calendar. The Sundays left over after Epiphany, after Christmas, are finally dusted off and prayed until the liturgical year is concluded.  This has to do with the vagaries of your Moon and shifting date of Easter, and therefore Ash Wednesday and Pentecost.  In some years the Sundays after Pentecost don’t take us all the way to Advent.  Thus, we pray the texts for the Sundays that we didn’t get to before Ash Wednesday.  Get it?

This week we use the 6th Sunday after Epiphany. This Collect happened to survive the snipping and cutting of the Consilium under the late Annibale Bugnini to live on in the Novus Ordo editions of the Missale Romanum as the Collect on the 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).


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.


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.


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.  It has the harder elements of deprivation which lead to that indispensable apophatic encounter with Mystery.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. UncleBlobb says:

    Fr. Z.,

    Pardon me, but wouldn’t this time be “lesser meatloaf”?

  2. jameeka says:

    I have become a convert to the extraordinary form these past few months. When you say “deprivation” Father Z, I have to chuckle. It is a most welcome deprivation.

    Of course, I don’t have little kids anymore to try to keep still during Mass, so that helps….but I have found, like so many of your readers, that it is hard to go back, except at the quietest, most reverential OF masses, when no one is calling attention to themselves, yet people are praying together with one mind and heart.

    It really helps (regardless the form) when at homilies, church teachings and doctrine are clearly explained, to me sometimes for the first time in DECADES. But the nonverbal art, music, and gestures also inform.

    Thank you very much.

  3. Gerard Plourde says:

    “Watching carefully and quietly, actively receptive listening to the spoken Word or to sacred music”

    This is exactly what the movement in liturgical reform begun by St. Pius X and Ven. Pius XII and completed by the Council Fathers and Bl. Paul VI sought to instill. They were seeking to counteract the then-prevalent practice by the laity to engage in private, unrelated devotions during the Holy Sacrifice, praying the Rosary or privately praying a novena, for example. These practices are obviously laudable, but performing them during Mass removed the focus from the Sacrifice taking place.

  4. tgarcia2 says:

    Fr. Jim, [For those who are wondering, I had deleted frjim’s comment because it was simply inflammatory, not to mention a bit intellectually insulting, and designed to derail the topic. However, I am leaving this comment up because it has some good points.] with all due respect, there is more to that then what you put. I for one reject that my prayers and meditation (mental exercise) is due to the fact that my faith is somehow “dumbed down”

    “27. It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasi-private.

    This applies with especial force to the celebration of Mass and the administration of the sacraments, even though every Mass has of itself a public and social nature.”

    As far as it goes for active participation, please tell me how those who attend the Extraordinary Form do not participate actively as laid out below:

    30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.

  5. robtbrown says:

    Gerald Plourde,

    1. The liturgical movement did not begin with Pius X. It was begun years before by Dom Prosper Gueranger, the first abbot of Solesmes.

    2. I certainly agree with your comments about active (actuosa) participation and the TLM, but that situation mainly existed only with the public low mass. With high masses it might be said to have existed with polyphonic choirs, whose singing, though beautiful, often excluded the participation of those in the pews. The push from Dom Gueranger was to have those in the pews sing the commons of the mass in Greg Chant along with a choir.

    3. Unfortunately, even before the liturgical movement was hijacked by those who wanted to Protestantize the liturgy (and the priesthood)–and gave us vernacular liturgy with masses said versus populum. There are several Vat II texts that manifest this.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    Dom Gueranger is also one of the “Fathers” of the newish monastery at Clear Creek in Oklahoma, where I was priviledged to go to Mass daily for two months, either in the nuns’ priory or in the monastery itself.

    Those of us who are older, in schools, were trained to sing the Gregorian Chant coming out of Solesmes. For a brief while, there was a great burgeoning of lay participation. Sadly, some rabid trads do not accept Gueranger’s ideas, which flourished before and a bit after the changes of the NO.

    And, the highjacking started way before Vatican II, even as earlier as the 1930s when innovations were witnessed and pushed in Europe.

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