Saturday, April 29, 2006

Active Participation in the Modern and Ancient Liturgy: Its True Nature and the Myth Surrounding - Part 1 of 2

I. The True Nature of Active Participation

For decades people have heard of or spoken about active participation. In fact, one cannot hear from a liturgist these days it seems without hearing about the conciliar desire for "full, conscious and active participation" in the sacred liturgy. In fact, it's thrown out there so much, and so carelessly, that it has had the unfortunate effect of producing an eye-rolling response in the faithful who are concerned with the liturgical changes that occured after the Council.

Now it should be noted that, understood correctly, this is a very laudable and important principle. We should indeed desire that all fully take part in the liturgy; we should desire that we are engaged in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, joining our hearts, our minds and our voices to the mystical action occuring before us. In that sense, we ought to mimic and reflect the angels before the throne of God in the Heavenly Liturgy.

But of course, this response I have referred to is usually in response to the distortion of this principle rather than the principle itself. Where it is not, we should endeavour to make that distinction clear in our mind. It seems to me that this idea of being "engaged" in the liturgy perhaps better captures the sense of what the Council Fathers meant. Being engaged in the liturgy can mean various things. Whereas being "active" implies to our modern mind a kind of "activism" -- an externalistic conception of "doing" rather than a more philosophical notion of "being" which encompasses the whole person -- being "engaged" can mean raising our voices with the chants and hymns of the liturgy; it can mean standing, kneeling, genuflecting or bowing; it also has a connotation of a silent kind of activity; the activity of meditation, contemplation, listening, prayerfulness and so forth.

Some have proposed that the translation of "actuosa" from whence "active" has been derived in our translation, would be better translated "actual". In this sense of being engaged in the sacred liturgy, this re-translation as "actual participation" perhaps makes a great deal more sense and helps clarify the fuller intent of the Council and of participation in the liturgy itself.

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