This article, appearing in the Winter 1987 (114.4) issue of Sacred Music by Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, is particularly helpful not only in distinguishing participatio activa and participatio actuosa (two things which, 26 years later are still a source of confusion for many parishes and the cause of many deformations of the Roman rite), but also for the clear line it draws on the topic all the way from Pope Pius X to the Second Vatican Council.
With the constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, issued in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council, everyone became very conscious of personal participation in the sacred liturgy, particularly in the Mass.
But active participation in the liturgy was not a concept created by the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, even the very words actuosa participatio can be found in the writings of the popes for the past one hundred years. Pope Pius X called for it in his motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini, published in 1903, when he said that "the faithful assemble to draw that spirit from its primary and indispensable source, that is, from active participation in the sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church."
Pope Pius XI in his apostolic constitution, Divini cultus, wrote in 1928, that the restoration of Gregorian chant for the use of the people would provide the means whereby "the faithful may participate in divine worship more actively." Such participation was to be achieved both by singing and by an appreciation of the beauty of the liturgy which stirs the heart of the worshiper, who thereby enters into the sacred mysteries.
In his encyclicals, Mystici corporis in 1943, and Mediator Dei in 1947, Pope Pius XII used the term but carefully insisted that true participation was not merely external but consisted in a baptismal union with Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church.
In 1958, the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued the instruction, De musica sacra, which distinguished several qualities of participation:
The Mass of its nature requires that all those present participate in it, in the fashion proper to each.
This participation must primarily be interior (i.e., union with Christ the Priest; offering with and through Him).
b) But the participation of those present becomes fuller (plenior) if to internal attention is joined external participation, expressed, that is to say, by external actions such as the position of the body (genuflecting, standing, sitting), ceremonial gestures, or, in particular, the responses, prayers and singing. . .
It is this harmonious form of participation that is referred to in pontifical documents when they speak of active participation (participatio actuosa), the principal example of which is found in the celebrating priest and his ministers who, with due interior devotion and exact observance of the rubrics and ceremonies, minister at the altar.
c) Perfect participatio actuosa of the faithful, finally, is obtained when there is added sacramental participation (by communion).
d) Deliberate participatio actuosa of the faithful is not possible without their adequate instruction.
It is made clear that it is the baptismal character that forms the foundation of active participation.
Vatican II introduced no radical alteration in the concept of participatio actuosa as fostered by the popes for the past decades. The general principle is contained in Article 14 of the constitution on the sacred liturgy:
Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in the ceremonies which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.
Such participation by the Christian people as a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people" (I Pet. 2:9; 2: 4-5) is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
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 indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true spirit of Christ. . .
The word "full" (plena) refers to the integrally human fashion in which the baptized faithful take part in the liturgy, i.e., internally and externally. The word "conscious" (conscia) demands a knowledge of what one is doing on the part of the faithful, excluding any superstition or false piety. But the word "active" (actuosa) requires some greater examination.
A true grasp of the meaning of participation in the liturgy demands a clear understanding of the nature of the Church and above all of Christ Himself. At the basis of so much of today's problems in liturgy lies a false notion of Christology and ecclesiology. Christ, the incarnate Word of God, true God and true Man, lives on in this world now. "I will be with you all days until the end of the world." Even though He has arisen and ascended into heaven, He lives with us. The Church is His mystical Body, indeed His mystical Person. We are the members of that Body. Its activity, the activity of the Church, is the activity of Christ, its Head. The hierarchical priesthood functions in the very person of Christ, doing His work of teaching, ruling and sanctifying. Thus the Mass and the sacraments are Christ's actions bringing to all the members of His Body, the Church, the very life that is in its Head. Participation in that life demands that every member of the Body take part in that action, which is primarily the liturgical activity of the Church. The liturgy is the primary source of that divine life, and thus all must be joined to it in an active way. Baptism is the key that opens the door and permits one to become part of the living Body of Christ. The baptized Christian has not only a right to participation in the Church's life but a duty as well. It is only the baptized person who can participate.
The difference between participation in the liturgy that can be called activa and participation that can be labelled actuosa rests in the presence in the soul of the baptismal character, the seal that grants one the right to participate. Without the baptismal mark, all the actions of singing, walking, kneeling or anything else can be termed "active," but they do not constitute participatio actuosa. Only the baptismal character can make any actions truly participatory. Let us use an example. Let us say that a pious Hindu attends Mass, takes part in the singing and even walks in a procession with great piety. In the same church is also a Catholic who is blind and deaf and who is unable to leave his chair; he can neither sing nor hear the readings nor walk in the procession. Which one has truly participated, the one who is very active, or the one who has confined himself solely to his thoughts of adoration? Obviously, it is the baptized Catholic who has exercised participatio actuosa despite his lack of external, physical movement. The Hindu even with his many actions has not been capable of it, since he lacks the baptismal character.
Read the rest on pages 8-11 here.
The work of Monsignor Schuler during some of the darkest days following the council, with only a few people at his side, was heroic. Certainly Viennese Masses are not everyone's cup o' tea, and we can discuss, from a now more hopeful vantage point, this or that opinion that Monsignor held, but were it not for him and the others at his side, so much of the good work at the parish of Saint Agnes and in the renewal of the liturgy going on today would have been snuffed out.
In the 2013-2014 season, the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, which Schuler founded and directed, will celebrate its 40th season of residency at Saint Agnes Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The parish has served as an incubator for vocations for the Archdiocese (including a few [arch]bishops) and carried on Schuler's legacy of commitment to the Liturgical Movement and authentic vision of actuosa participatio in the sacred liturgy and her sacred music.
The CMAA is hosting a conference celebrating that legacy on October 13-15, 2013 at Saint Agnes and Saint Paul Cathedral. We hope you'll join us as we look forward to the future with profound thanksgiving for Monsignor's work.
To find out more about the conference, visit the conference page here: www.musicasacra.com/st-agnes.