Monday, August 11, 2008

“Active Participation”

“Active Participation”

The guiding principle of the liturgical reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council was the “full, conscious, and active participation” of all the faithful.[1] In order to understand what the Council meant by this, it is necessary determine the context of the expression.

As the Constitution was written in Latin, the actual expression used was “plenam… consciam atque actuosam… participationem”. The distinction between actuosam and activam is an important one: by “active participation” is not meant a merely external or showy participation, but an actual participation which is first internal and subsequently external. It is not a participation characterized by “activity” but by its inherent reality. This participation is rooted in our baptism, which is our first participation in the sacraments of the Church, the Body of Christ.

The phrase “active participation” (actuosa participatio) already had an established meaning. Pope St. Pius X used it in 1903 in his Instruction on sacred music Tra le sollecitudini:

[W]e deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church. … Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times.[2]

This statement was in the context of the Holy Father’s regulations for sacred music. This was confirmed by Pope Pius XI in 1928 in his Apostolic Constitution Divini Cultus:

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. … In order that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let them be made once more to sing the Gregorian Chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it.[3]

It was embellished by Pope Pius XII in 1947; in addition to quoting Divini Cultus,[4] he explained that this participation is sacramental in nature:

For though, speaking generally, Christ reconciled by His painful death the whole human race with the Father, He wished that all should approach and be drawn to His cross, especially by means of the sacraments and the eucharistic sacrifice, to obtain the salutary fruits produced by Him upon it. Through this active and individual participation, the members of the Mystical Body not only become daily more like to their divine Head, but the life flowing from the Head is imparted to the members … [T]hey 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. … Try in every way, with the means and helps that your prudence deems best, that the clergy and people become one in mind and heart, and that the Christian people take such an active part in the liturgy that it becomes a truly sacred action of due worship to the eternal Lord in which the priest, chiefly responsible for the souls of his parish, and the ordinary faithful are united together.[5]

The same sentiment is found in the two instructions on sacred music in the liturgy promulgated by the Sacred Congregation for Rites in 1958 (before Vatican II) and in 1967 (after Vatican II). De Musica Sacra, the earlier and longer of these two documents, is particularly concerned with the manner of participation by the faithful at Mass:

By its very nature, the Mass requires that all present take part in it, each having a particular function.

a) Interior participation is the most important; this consists in paying devout attention, and in lifting up the heart to God in prayer. …

b) The participation of the congregation becomes more complete, however, when, in addition to this interior disposition, exterior participation is manifested by external acts, such as bodily position (kneeling, standing, sitting), ceremonial signs, and especially responses, prayers, and singing. … When the papal documents treat of “active participation” they are speaking of this general participation, of which the outstanding example is the priest, and his ministers who serve at the altar with the proper interior dispositions, and carefully observe the rubrics, and ceremonies.

c) Active participation is perfect when “sacramental” participation is included. In this way “the people receive the Holy Eucharist not only by spiritual desire, but also sacramentally, and thus obtain greater benefit from this most holy Sacrifice”.

d) … adequate instruction is necessary before the faithful can intelligently and actively participate in the Mass…[6]

The instruction was deeply concerned with the faithful paying close attention to the Mass, even if they were not externally participating (by making responses):

The first way the faithful can participate in the low Mass is for each one, on his own initiative, to pay devout attention to the more important parts of the Mass (interior participation), or by following the approved customs in various localities (exterior participation).

Those who use a small missal, suitable to their own understanding, and pray with priest in the very words of the Church, are worthy of special praise. But all are not equally capable of correctly understanding the rites, and liturgical formulas; nor does everyone possess the same spiritual needs; nor do these needs remain constant in the same individual. Therefore, these people may find a more suitable or easier method of participation in the Mass when “they meditate devoutly on the mysteries of Jesus Christ, or perform other devotional exercises, and offer prayers which, though different in form from those of the sacred rites, are in essential harmony with them”.[7]

The second document, Musicam Sacram, was promulgated as a solution to problems that had arisen since the release of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “the new norms concerning the arrangement of the sacred rites and the active participation of the faithful have given rise to several problems regarding sacred music and its ministerial role.”[8] Here is the picture painted by this instruction on the role of sacred music in the Mass:

Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when it is celebrated in song, with the ministers of each degree fulfilling their ministry and the people participating in it.

Indeed, through this form, prayer is expressed in a more attractive way, the mystery of the Liturgy, with its hierarchical and community nature, is more openly shown, the unity of hearts is more profoundly achieved by the union of voices, minds are more easily raised to heavenly things by the beauty of the sacred rites, and the whole celebration more clearly prefigures that heavenly Liturgy which is enacted in the holy city of Jerusalem.

Pastors of souls will therefore do all they can to achieve this form of celebration. … Above all one must take particular care that … the active participation of the people is encouraged.[9]

Music is not an addition to the Mass, but it is part of the Mass, and participation in the singing of the Mass – in additional to sacramental participation by receiving Holy Communion – was the goal of the liturgical reform mandated by the Council. Musicam Sacram defines these two levels of participation, the internal and the external:

The faithful fulfil their liturgical role by making that full, conscious and active participation which is demanded by the nature of the Liturgy itself and which is, by reason of baptism, the right and duty of the Christian people. This participation

(a) Should be above all internal, in the sense that by it the faithful join their mind to what they pronounce or hear, and cooperate with heavenly grace,

(b) Must be, on the other hand, external also, that is, such as to show the internal participation by gestures and bodily attitudes, by the acclamations, responses and singing.

The faithful should also be taught to unite themselves interiorly to what the ministers or choir sing, so that by listening to them they may raise their minds to God.[10]

Here it is made clear that full, conscious, and active participation includes silence and listening on the part of the faithful! In this active listening, the faithful are to unite themselves to what they hear. This is no small feat: the instruction reminds pastors that the faithful need to be taught to do this. Part of the liturgical problem facing the Church of today is that, in place of the necessary instruction, there has either been simplification to the point of banality, or artificial means of participation invented to make up for the lack of actuosa participatio.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, from Vatican II, had this to say about participation by the laity in the Mass:

Liturgical services … pertain to the whole body of the Church; they manifest it and have effects upon it; but they concern the individual members of the Church in different ways, according to their differing rank, office, and actual participation.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved.[14]

That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest's communion, receive the Lord's body from the same sacrifice, is strongly commended.[15]

The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. … [B]ishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs…[16]

[W]hen churches are to be built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful.[17]

Placing Sacrosanctum Concilium in the context of the previous documents, a clear picture emerges:

  1. While Vatican II called for greater external participation, it was merely re-affirming what previous documents had said; this was not a new concept. In other words, participation of the laity in the Mass existed prior to the liturgical reform following the Council.
  2. Vatican II respected the existing notion of participation, whereby the laity are not merely “going through the motions” but are devoutly involved in the Mass in a manner proper to them, which is not identical to the participation required of the clergy.
  3. The Council made explicit mention of receiving Holy Communion at Mass as the “more perfect form of participation”, not simply because it requires external participation by means of movement, but because it is the height of participation in the internal sense.
  4. Participation of the faithful includes the singing of the sacred music of the Church. This treasury of sacred music includes, in the first place, Gregorian chant. In other words, the singing of Latin chants is proper to the participation of the laity.
  5. Finally, the architecture of the church building should allow for the full participation of everyone present. Since posture is included in participation, a church should not prohibit or even discourage kneeling by removing (or never installing) kneelers.

In 1974, five years after the promulgation of the new Roman Missal, Pope Paul VI presented a booklet of Gregorian chant entitled Jubilate Deo (which can be translated as both “Sing to God” and “Rejoice in God”) to the Bishops of the world, accompanied by a letter from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship. This letter, Voluntati Obsequens, states that the booklet of chant was provided to fulfill the desires of the Pope “that all the faithful should know at least some Latin Gregorian chants”. It was a minimal repertoire of chant, and the Bishops were asked to perform “a new service for the Church in the domain of liturgical renewal” of “teaching the faithful the Latin chants [in the booklet] and of having them sing them”. However, it does not appear today that this new service was thoroughly carried out.

As recently as 2003 and 2007 there has been papal confirmation of the necessity for sacred music and its relation to the participation of the faithful in Mass. On the centenary of Pope St. Pius X’s encyclical, Pope John Paul II released an chirograph (a papal decree circulated among the Roman Curia) praising his predecessor’s “juridical code of sacred music”.[18] In his affirmation, he wrote:

The centenary of the Document gives me the opportunity to recall the important role of sacred music, which St. Pius X presented both as a means of lifting up the spirit to God and as a precious aid for the faithful in their “active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church”. The holy Pontiff recalls that the special attention which sacred music rightly deserves stems from the fact that, “being an integral part of the solemn Liturgy, [it] participates in the general purpose of the Liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful”. Since it interprets and expresses the deep meaning of the sacred text to which it is intimately linked, it must be able “to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be... better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries”.[19]

He even went so far as to say:

… I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: “The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple”.[20]

Then in 2007, in response to the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Church’s life, Pope Benedict XVI released his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis in which he made the following observations:

The primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi [art of proper celebration] is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio. The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness…[21]

As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.[22]

[W]e must not overlook the fact that some misunderstanding has occasionally arisen concerning the precise meaning of this [active, full and fruitful] participation. It should be made clear that the word “participation” does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration. In fact, the active participation called for by the Council must be understood in more substantial terms, on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life.[23]

Active participation in the Eucharistic liturgy can hardly be expected if one approaches it superficially, without an examination of his or her life. This inner disposition can be fostered, for example, by recollection and silence for at least a few moments before the beginning of the liturgy, by fasting and, when necessary, by sacramental confession. … The faithful need to be reminded that there can be no actuosa participatio in the sacred mysteries without an accompanying effort to participate actively in the life of the Church as a whole, including a missionary commitment to bring Christ's love into the life of society. Clearly, full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful approach the altar in person to receive communion. Yet true as this is, care must be taken lest they conclude that the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist. Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. In such circumstances it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion[24]

Given the vital importance of this personal and conscious participatio, what methods of formation are needed? The Synod Fathers unanimously indicated, in this regard, a mystagogical approach to catechesis, which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated. In particular, given the close relationship between the ars celebrandi and an actuosa participatio, it must first be said that “the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well.”[25]

With this in mind, the need for an understanding of the profound depths of the Mass is the first step to knowing how to participate fully, consciously, and actively. Gestures made without knowledge of their meaning; words spoken without appreciation for their importance in salvation history; sights, sounds, and smells mistaken for entertainment: this is the antithesis of actuosa participatio.

[1] Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 14

[2] Tra le sollecitudini, Introduction and n. 3 (emphasis added)

[3] Divini Cultus, nn. 5, 17 (emphasis added)

[4] Cf. Mediator Dei, n. 192

[5] Mediator Dei, nn. 78, 105, 199 (emphasis added)

[6] De Musica Sacra, n. 22 (emphasis added)

[7] Ibid., n. 29 (emphasis added)

[8] Musicam Sacram, n. 2

[9] Ibid., n. 5 (emphasis added)

[10] Ibid., n. 15 (emphasis added)

[11] Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 26 (emphasis added)

[12] Ibid., n. 27 (emphasis added)

[13] Ibid., n. 30 (emphasis added)

[14] Ibid., n. 50 (emphasis added)

[15] Ibid., n. 55 (emphasis added)

[16] Ibid., n. 114 (emphasis added)

[17] Ibid., n. 124 (emphasis added)

[18] Chirograph on the centenary of Tra le sollecitudini, n. 1

[19] Ibid., n. 1 (emphasis added)

[20] Ibid., n. 12

[21] Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 38 (emphasis added)

[22] Ibid., n. 42 (emphasis added)

[23] Ibid., n. 52 (emphasis added)

[24] Ibid., n. 55 (emphasis added)

[25] Ibid., n. 64 (emphasis added)

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