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.

If you desire to participate at Holy Mass and other liturgical rites with full, conscious and actual, active participation, then…


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I went to confession last Sunday. It involved an hour-long trip downtown and I had to swap the dignified music of my own parish for 70’s ditties, but that didn’t matter because when I entered the church there was the green light shining above TWO confessionals. I felt like a prospector who has at last struck gold…to find confessionals occupied by confessors rather than (say) old brooms. I went in there and had my soul swept clean. Wish every parish was like that. God bless the priests there..I forgive them the hippy music.

  2. Prayerful says:

    Fr used the Collect for the Resumed Sixth Sunday after Epiphany as the basis for his sermon, opening with the comment that no one really knows why a Collect is so called, that there are different opinions, but the core point he makes using the Collect is that teachings of the Church on topics like abortion can be arrived at by the exercise of reason.

  3. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    Got a very good Confession in on Tuesday.

    Read the Old Testament, and you’ll notice that God wants people to Confess their Sins! What does God want from Adam and Eve? He wants them to admit to eating the fruit! The one thing they were told not to do, they did, all God wants is for them to admit they made a mistake and that they were sorry. Adam ducks out, and says Eve made him do it. Eve deflects it back to the Serpent. (Genesis 3:8–13)

    Look at King David and Nathan. Nathan comes to King David and tells him the tale of the rich man and the poor man, and how the rich man took the poor man’s lamb. Nathan was giving King David a chance TO CONFESS! (You only get a finite number of chances to Confess in this life, just sayin’…) Read 2 Samuel 12 for the full story.

  4. terentiaj63 says:

    I had a conversation with a co-worker in which she said, “if Jesus returns, he will just get crucified again.” I knew she was a weekly Mass attendee so I asked her about the creed: will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.” She laughed and said,”I say it, doesn’t mean I listen.” At least she was honest.
    Thank you, Father, for this post. This week, my RCIA group will be learning about the Mass and I will definitely be using some of this wonderful encouragement of real “active participation.”

  5. priest up north says:

    Great post. Your words confirm me in something I have prayed, pondered, and even taught: that the Blessed Virgin Mary (who is perfectly receptive and ready to respond to God’s will) is a model of active participation – and that devotion to her aids us in learning to participate.

  6. Legisperitus says:

    Another good reason for priests to turn towards the Lord while saying Mass– that way they’re not tempted to make rash judgments about whether the apparently-passive congregation is actively participating.

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