A great deal has been said about paragraph #14 in the Second Vatican Council document regarding the “full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful at the sacred liturgy. Some in the Church have used the text to justify a great many innovations in the liturgy – some legitimate, others not – that, in their minds, would lead to greater participation of the faithful at Mass. The list would include such things as lay lectors and extraordinary ministers of the , , , liturgical dance, and a host of other practices. Further, the use of the within the liturgy and other musical settings apart from Gregorian Chant have also been advanced as additional means to fulfill the Council’s aim at full, conscious, and active participation.
Reaction to post conciliar practices rightly pointed out the continual encouragement of the use of the Latin tongue and Gregorian Chant – two items completely lacking in almost every parish liturgical celebration since the Council. The retention of those practices while also allowing forand other musical settings would have provided greater continuity to Church practice and protected a sense of the sacred and transcendent in the Roman liturgy.
However, some of the reaction against post conciliar practices wrongly attacked the Council’s intention to instill full, conscious, and active participation. These reactions correctly point to the internal disposition and participation as an important factor for the faithful at holy Mass. Yet, the internal cannot be pitted against the external to create a dualism within the human person that is categorically non-sacramental. Theby definition are outward signs, visible actions, and physical objects that point to invisible realities and future fulfillments in the heavenlyJerusalem. Hence, the full text of paragraph 14 in captures the full import of the Church’s sacramental theology:
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensible source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
Earlier in, the council fathers reminded pastors of the opposite danger to internalism – the slavish attention to the minimum of external requirement:
The problem addressed by the council fathers was the formalism of going through the motions of the externals of the rite without any attention to the need of the faithful for an enriching experience of the celebration that truly conveys meaning to the faithful.
Later inthe council fathers reiterate their call for full, conscious, and active participation by reminding us of the fundamental purpose of the sacramental rites:
Sacramental celebrations are not merely about imparting grace, and hence not focused solely on the spiritual and interior effects. The external is also essential as they are the fundamental way in which we respond to grace and the promptings of God within. The external actions of our singing, responding, and gesturing are the manner in which wethe spiritual reality that exists within us individually and communally. A symbiotic relationship exists between the internal and external, between the spiritual and physical. On the one hand our external participation flows from our interior dispositions and the life of faith within our heart and soul. On the other hand, our interior dispositions are helped tremendously by appropriate external aides that fill the liturgy through symbol, gesture, word, sights, smells, and sounds. We must pay respect and nourish both in order to have effective liturgy and authentic Christian living.
Other articles in this series
- Altar Rails and the Holy Mass – the significance of. (December 8, 2011)
- It’s beginning to look a lot like… Sanity. (December 10, 2011)
- Rings and Wings in the Holy Mass (January 23, 2012)
- Did Vatican II Remove Latin from the Mass? (March 6, 2012)
- When The Priest Faces The Altar (March 20, 2012)
- Participation at Mass – Active, Passive, or Middle Voice (This post) (June 3, 2012)
- Behind the Altar (June 7, 2012)