Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 14

Having set a foundation for its understanding of the nature of the Liturgy and its importance in the life of the Church in articles 5–13, the Constitution sketches in articles 14-20 what might be called a “trickle-down” theory of liturgical instruction and formation. In a pattern that we will see throughout the document, a preamble giving doctrinal foundation is prefaced to the practical decrees, guidelines and exhortations that follow. Article 14 is such a preamble, summarizing themes from articles 5 – 13 and transitioning to the practical decrees of 15-20.
Vatican Website transation:

II. The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation

14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations 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 (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 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 Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it. A prime need, therefore, is that attention be directed, first of all, to the liturgical instruction of the clergy. Wherefore the sacred Council has decided to enact as follows:

Latin text:

II. De liturgica institutione et de actuosa participatione prosequendis

14. Valde cupit Mater Ecclesia ut fideles universi ad plenam illam, consciam atque actuosam liturgicarum celebrationum participationem ducantur, quae ab ipsius Liturgiae natura postulatur et ad quam populus christianus, “genus electum, regale sacerdotium, gens sancta, populus adquisitionis” (1Petr 2,9; cf. 2,4-5), vi Baptismatis ius habet et officium.
Quae totius populi plena et actuosa participatio, in instauranda et fovenda sacra Liturgia, summopere est attendenda: est enim primus, isque necessarius fons, e quo spiritum vere christianum fideles hauriant; et ideo in tota actione pastorali, per debitam institutionem, ab animarum pastoribus est sedulo adpetenda.
Sed quia, ut hoc evenire possit, nulla spes effulget nisi prius ipsi animarum pastores spiritu et virtute Liturgiae penitus imbuantur in eaque efficiantur magistri, ideo pernecesse est ut institutioni liturgicae cleri apprime consulatur. Quapropter Sacrosanctum Concilium ea quae sequuntur statuere decrevit.

Slavishly literal translation:

II. Concerning the promoting of liturgical instruction and of active participation

14. Mother Church vigorously desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and industrious participation in liturgical celebrations, which is proposed by the nature of the Liturgy itself and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of [God’s] acquisition” [1 Peter 2:9; cf. 2:4-5] holds right and office by virtue of Baptism.

This full and industrious participation of the entire people is the highest work to be attended to in instructing and promoting the sacred Liturgy: for it is the first and necessary font from which the faithful draw to themselves a truly Christian spirit; and therefore in all pastoral action, through needed instruction, it is to be sought diligently by pastors of souls.

But because, so that this might come about, no hope would shine forth unless first those pastors of souls be imbued inwardly with the spirit and the power of the Liturgy and be made teachers of it, therefore it is very necessary that the liturgical instruction of the clergy especially be determined. Thus the Most Holy Council decrees to establish the things that follow.


In the fifty years since this document saw the light of day, much debate has taken place in trying to determine the meaning of the formula “plena, conscia et actuosa participatio.” The first two adjectives provide relatively little difficulty: the faithful’s participation in the Liturgy is to be “full” (as opposed to “partial” or “nonexistent”) and “conscious” (as opposed to “distracted” [i.e., engaged in other, even laudable, pious exercises or private devotions at the same time as the Liturgy is occurring] or “unconscious”). Much ink has been spilled on the meaning of “actuosus”, with some claiming that it should not be translated “active” since “activus” would have been used if the Council Fathers wanted that nuance; while I find this argument specious, I have translated “actuosus” as “industrious.” Perhaps it would be helpful to compare article 14’s teaching with the categories that appear in the 1958 Instruction: “interior,” “exterior,” and “sacramental” participation, categories that SC seems to eschew.

Article 14 also seems to suggest a supreme criterion by which liturgical reform/restoration/renewal is to be judged: does it promote the “plena et actuosa participatio” of the faithful? Thus preservation or imposition of liturgical rites and ceremonies for aesthetic, archeological, didactic or ideological purposes would have to cede to the full and industrious participation of the faithful. I suspect that the “worship wars” marking especially the last fifteen years or so come from differing interpretations of what “plena, conscia et actuosa participatio” means. I look forward to Pray, Tell readers trying to determine 1) what the Council Fathers may have meant by the phrase; 2) how it has been understood and enacted over the past fifty years; 3) how it might serve as a springboard for liturgical reform/restoration/renewal today and for the future.



  1. I think Dr Andrew Cameron-Mowat’s article “Future Liturgical Renewal” in Priests and People (2006) is probably the definitive statement on the meaning of actuosa in SC and TLS (1903). [If I knew how to upload an attachment to this website, I would append it here. I have tried, even in previous original posts, and failed.]

    Rather than using the word “industrious” for actuosa he refers to dictionary definitions of “active, busy, energetic, full of life; acting with extravagant gesture”. He also shows that the original Italian “attiva” of the Motu Proprio was rendered in Latin in 1903 as “actuosa”, thus giving the lie to those who would claim that “active” and “actual” mean two different things.

    The Vatican website has only recently changed “full, conscious and active” to “fully conscious and active”. I believe this is an attempt by those with a reactionary agenda to deny the laity their full participation. It is an attempt which is doomed to fail, since the Latin quite clearly has a comma after plenam [illam], [that full,] in the phrase plenam illam, consciam atque actuosam liturgicarum celebrationum participationem, delineating three adjectives rather than two with an adverb. This may be an instance of a Vatican attempt at dynamic equivalence!

    For me, the most important parts of this paragraph are the fact that it states clearly
    (a) that the liturgy is of its very nature participatory (despite many attempts recent attempts to deny that);
    (b) that the Christian people have a right (ius) to a participatory liturgy (despite many attempts in recent times to deny them that right also); and
    (c) that such participation is also the the duty (officium) of Christian people (in other words, they have to get off their backsides and do something)

    — and all the above by virtue of their baptism.

  2. Father I see significance that the first specific instruction indicated here and in paragraph 15, is for better instruction of the clergy in the liturgy. The implication is that many were insufficiently informed. I suspect that many of the perceived deficiencies in liturgy before the Council flowed from that.
    Do we think that liturgical education in the years following the Council was better? I expect that it was different giving different failings that we debate today. Indeed the differences in understanding participation may flow from this.

    1. @Peter Haydon – comment #2:
      Peter – contrast much of pre-VII liturgy prep by seminarians with what this envisions.

      For example, the focus and emphasis pre-Vatican II was on the priest doing the mass correctly so that is was both licit and valid. So, time was spent on minute rubrics, etc. There was little to no homiletic study or practice; there was little musical practice in terms of presiding. Ars Celebrandi was merely a version of doing the rubrics correctly.

      Compare that to the challenge and task laid out by SC:
      – for example, now liturgy needed to be a major focus in seminary (would suggest that this is still a work in progress)
      – ars celebrandi, now needed to be developed (again, more a work in progress)
      – homiletics – now developed (again, more a work in progress)
      – scripture…..learning historical-critical methods which impact liturgy
      – other developments – RCIA, sacraments, etc.

      One stumbling block continues to be that too many see this section and only see *seminary* so that upon ordination, continuing education in liturgy, celebration, homiletics, etc. may stop.

  3. This seems rather obvious to me, but shouldn’t this section be read in tandem with #11 where the adverbs “scienter, actuose, et fructuose” are used with the verb “participare”?

    This would suggest that the “actuose” connotes a deliberate action as opposed to one that is done by force of habit. The “fructuose” adds a bit to it. Participating in the liturgy should make a difference in the rest of life. One of the things that the new edition of RM gets right is the new dismissal formula that mentions something like “glorifying the Lord in your lives.”

  4. If the council Fathers did not have in mind a significant reform of the existing rite why would they have called upon the clergy to dedicate themselves to a more thorough understanding of the liturgy, for seminarians to be more fully educated, and the baptized to be more completely instructed. What would such an educational enterprise have looked like if the Fathers were assuming the reforms would leave the existing rite largely unchanged? Perhaps the people might have been instructed to think of full participation as eliminating the option of hearing Mass from the vestibule or the front stairs of the church. And active participation means that they must pray their rosaries or read their holy cards, or study the statues and stained glass windows with more resolute devotion. And that conscious refers to the need to avoid nodding off during Mass. All older priests know that liturgy was not taught in seminaries. It may have been called that but it was only about rubrics.

  5. We should interpret this part of SC in terms of the Decree on the Laity which uses similar words.

    The deeper intensity of participation in the liturgy and the deeper participation in the apostolate are both founded on baptism, even though there is diversity of ministry there is oneness of mission.

    The Eucharist is both the font of this apostolic activity as well as its summit, that we may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything we do but also witness to Christ throughout the world. I’ll let AA speak for itself

    1. To intensify the apostolic activity actuositatem of the people of God,[1] the most holy synod earnestly addresses itself to the laity, whose proper and indispensable role in the mission of the Church has already been dealt with in other documents.[2] The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it.

    Sacred Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful such activity was at the very beginning of the Church (cf. Acts 11:19-21; 18:26; Rom. 16:1-16; Phil. 4:3). Quam spontanea fuerit huiusmodi actuositas in primordiis Ecclesiae

    Our own times require of the laity no less zeal: in fact, modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified. With a constantly increasing population, continual progress in science and technology, and closer interpersonal relationships, the areas for the lay apostolate have been immensely widened particularly in fields that have been for the most part open to the laity alone. These factors have also occasioned new problems which demand their expert attention and study. This apostolate becomes more imperative in view of the fact that many areas of human life have become increasingly autonomous. This is as it should be, but it sometimes involves a degree of departure from the ethical and religious order and a serious danger to Christian life. Besides, in many places where priests are very few or, in some instances, deprived of due freedom for priestly work, the Church.could scarcely exist and function without the activity of the laity. sine laicorum opera Ecclesia vix posset praesens et actuosa esse

  6. No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but has a share in the functions as well as life of the body: so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church, “the whole body . . . in keeping with the proper activity of each part, derives its increase from its own internal development”(Eph. 4 :16). Indeed, the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself.

    In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission.

    Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.[2]

    They exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ.

    3. The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself.

    They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most .holy Eucharist communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate.[3]

  7. I am not denigrating actual participation by saying that it is more than being busy with our voices at Mass. I believe that Mass is quite beautiful when the laity robustly sing or say their parts, create silence for the hearing of God’s word and for the times of expected contemplation during Mass. Silence can be actual participation too, fully (with full) conscious, active (actual) participation.
    But I remember quite vividly when our family first moved to Augusta when I was six years old and my mother making friends with Italian war brides there, two of whom spoke little or no English or Latin, and watching them participate at Mass both prior to Vatican II and afterwards and knowing that they were fully engaged in what was happening even though they could not understand everything or participate “out loud” in what we would now consider an adequate, full(y) conscious way. And those who attended our recent Requiem on All Souls in the EF Solemn Sung fashion and where the choir alone sang Faure’s Requiem, these people were also fulfilling what Vatican II expects of them when actually participating in the Liturgy. That was eye opening, although I couldn’t be sadly judgmental about any of them personally as I was facing the same direction as them for most of the Mass thus focused on God and not judging them! 🙂

    1. Allan,

      You wrote: “I was facing the same direction as them for most of the Mass thus focused on God…”

      Were you merely having a bit of fun when you wrote this or did you really mean it? If the latter:

      Are you not focused on God when you proclaim the Gospel facing the people?
      Are readers not focused on God when they proclaim the readings facing the people?
      Is the psalmist not focused on God when she or he chants the Responsorial Psalm facing the people?
      Are monks and nuns (and other religious) who pray in choir stalls facing each other not focused on God?

      Is a particular directional bodily posture a requirement for one to focus on God?

      I recall something two men dressed in white once said: “Why do you stand looking up to the sky?”

      And yes, I’ve read enough of your comments to know that you ordinarily pray the Eucharistic Prayer facing the assembly. Perhaps you find it difficult to focus on God – whatever that means – when doing so. If so, it seems a heavy cross to bear.

      1. @Damian LaPorte – comment #12:
        As you know I face the congregation in all of my Masses for the last almost 33 years except for the exceptions and now weekly at one of our Sunday Masses, although I don’t always have that one. I have progressed from a very literalistic approach to the Eucharistic prayer taught to us in the 70’s art of celebrating of establishing eye contact with the assembly even during the reading or so-called proclamation of prayers and also gesturing to the congregation during the words of institution to avoiding that at all costs now even when facing the congregation, eye contact, and making sure our presidential chair is angled toward the altar and making a clear movement to face the congregation when speaking directly to them. We also have a low crucifix on our altar when facing the congregation which has helped immensely.

        However even in our very high sacramental theology about the real presence of Christ in the assembly as well as the priest, I think to direct prayer to the congregation as one might to the reserved Most Blessed Sacrament would be a bit of idolatry during the celebration of Mass. And certainly during Mass we know that even if the tabernacle is present that a priest should not direct his priestly prayers, any of them, to the tabernacle during the Mass. That’s why some recommend that the tabernacle be veiled or closed off or on a separate altar or in a separate chapel even. The priest joining the congregation in facing the same direction creates the same separation in terms of even our belief that Christ is present in the assembly as well as in the priest as in the reserved sacrament.

  8. Thank you Bill
    I think that you are right but I admit that I have no first-hand knowledge to support this. It may be worth recalling that prior to the Reformation training for priests was even more deficient. I read how the Dominicans were much appreciated as they were trained as preachers: from many diocesan clergy preaching was poor. Similarly the Franciscans set a high standard of personal conduct.
    From such an observation it seems that the desire for improved instruction of the clergy does not necessarily imply a need to change the liturgy itself. Jack Feehily might be able to explain why he thinks it does.
    I would suggest that the stained glass, sculpture and other features of a church serve both a decorative role and also an instructional role. I would refer in particular to Chartres cathedral where these are mostly intact.
    Better education of the congregation, which I think we will get to later, might simply have meant that they could follow the actions of the priest and join his prayers directly rather than say the Rosary. I do not say that this is all that the Council Fathers had in mind. I do think that we cannot imply more directly from a request for better training of the clergy.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #10:
        Indeed Father.
        I only mentioned these things as the earlier comment did (perhaps in irony). I do suspect that the overall iconographical scheme of a church would have teaching as its aim. Some of the images of the damned going to hell might not be the form of inspiration that you have in mind. Think of the friezes on the front of the Duomo di Orvetio; the four being Genesis and the fall of man, the Jesse tree and the hoped for saviour, the story of Jesus and the last judgment. The choice is surely not random.

  9. Part of my job is helping with our Catholic elementary school and our religious education program, particularly in preparation for celebrations of the sacraments and monthly school Masses. What I see is that the teachers insist that as many students as possible “do something” so they “participate.” This leads to practices such as intercessions read one-by-one by separate children, a different song leader for each verse of the responsorial psalm, and so on.

    What I think the students aren’t learning is that their primary participation is not doing something “special” at Mass. (And this has been going on for more than a generation, because when I talk to adults about participation at Mass, they often immediately jump to the conclusion I am recruiting lectors or ushers.)

    I am not a teacher, and I don’t have a handle on pedagogical issues with young children. But it seems that when we miss the opportunity to teach the kids how to participate fully and actively in their role as the congregation (the people called together) we’ve set the stage for passivity and boredom for our adults. I understand that you need to do something more active to keep kids’ attention, but it should be activity of the congregation, not of special ministries, so they can carry it into their adult lives.

    The Directory for Masses with Children is useful, but often overlooked. I wonder if seminarians are exposed to this, because when they come to us as priests they are universally un-welcoming of many of its ideas.

    1. @Terri Miyamoto – comment #11:
      Terri – interesting examples and questions. My experience is with middle school or high school students.

      That being said, I do find that having as many as possible involved in the planning and ministry parts creates much more buy in. Yes, you are correct that full, active participation does not require that someone do a *special* task or ministry but, kids being kids, find that this is the best way to get their attention, buy in, and participation. We rotate involvement so that almost every kid has a chance and find that when those who have been involved may no longer be in a ministry part, they appear to be more involved in other liturgies. Typically, we use, at most, two readers for the prayer of the faithful.
      We use, involve the presider, and study/discuss the Children’s EPs – your point about seminarians is well made…too many do not cover this in liturgy classes, much less ars celebrandi classes. Too many seem to focus on EF these days. Just my opinion.

    2. @Terri Miyamoto – comment #11:
      What you say about Catholic school Masses is very true, the concept is that you really aren’t participating actively unless you are doing a formal ministry. I put an end to our First Communicants doing anything other than “making” their First Holy Communion at the First Communion Mass, which means parents are chosen for the readings, their siblings for altar serving and a lottery to choose from the children who will bring up only the bread and wine and financial offering and nothing else. We use to have them sing a song together after Holy Communion which became a bigger event for them and their parents than their actual First Holy Communion, so that was ended too, not Holy Communion but their special song.
      Fortunately our diocesan guidelines for Confirmation mandates that those being confirmed not do anything else except bring up the gifts.
      But we’ve extended this mentality about active lay participation in formal ministries to the regular Sunday Mass too. At all but one of our Sunday Masses we now distribute Holy Communion by way of intinction. At these Masses we only need four stations. We usually have a priest and deacon at each Mass, so we only need two EM’s compared to eight when we offer the chalice (four host stations and six chalices). Some people think that having fewer EM’s at Mass lessens active participation. In other words, unless you are a lector, EM, Usher, greeter, Choir member, cantor, or bringing up the offerings, you are a second class citizen at Mass when it comes to active participation.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #20:
        How sad. As usual, take an example – First Communion or Confirmation – and equate to school masses – not exactly apples to apples; rather apples to oranges. Smells like a new *clerical* approach.

        As Paul Inwood said well in the first comment: “For me, the most important parts of this paragraph are the fact that it states clearly
        (a) that the liturgy is of its very nature participatory (despite many attempts recent attempts to deny that);
        (b) that the Christian people have a right (ius) to a participatory liturgy (despite many attempts in recent times to deny them that right also); and
        (c) that such participation is also the the duty (officium) of Christian people (in other words, they have to get off their backsides and do something)
        — and all the above by virtue of their baptism.”

        Sorry, your last paragraph confuses two goals – inviting, training, educating folks to ministry roles (rather than limiting this to a few) and the *concept* of *active participation*. They are separate ideas and goals – unfortunately, would suggest that your approach will lead to the feeling of *second class citizen*. (but not in your mind) And *intinction* – well, that says it all – nothing like minimizing the Emmaus experience. Finally, the subject was about *inviting*, *involving*, and having kids do roles in *their own* liturgies….go back to the first 5 articles of SC or take Paul Inwood’s summary – the first principle is to start with those who gather to celebrate. Would suggest that you start with the *institution’s* formal mass, rules, etc. and then make folks fit into this *form*. Note Paul Inwood’s last line. What comes first – people or rules? Guess we can and will differ on how best to answer that.

        But, guess we could do First Communion and Confirmation via your “recent Requiem on All Souls in the EF Solemn Sung fashion and where the choir alone sang Faure’s Requiem, these people were also fulfilling what Vatican II expects of them when actually participating in the Liturgy. That was eye opening”…..sounds like an advertisement for a new type of church opera.

  10. I strongly identify with Terri’s remarks about school masses in which teachers responsible for organizing the liturgy understand participation as “moving around”. For some reason it does not occur to Catholic School administrators that the same principles followed for the selection of music, and the assignment of ministers at the regular parish Eucharist should be in force for school Masses. I am quite often annoyed when readers are appointed because it was someone’s turn, or because someone thought it would be a good experience for them. Even school children have a right to hear the word of God in an intelligible fashion. Recently the reader chosen was so outstanding that I made a huge deal of it in my homily. I thanked her for reading in a way that allowed the word to move me. It will be interesting to see if at my next turn at presiding, a similar reader will be chosen.
    I have known many teachers and principals who have a very different perception as to what full, conscious, and active participation means.

  11. Perhaps it would be helpful to compare article 14’s teaching with the categories that appear in the 1958 Instruction: “interior,” “exterior,” and “sacramental” participation, categories that SC seems to eschew.

    Perhaps this paragraphs eschews them, but we are reading SC as a totality, correct?

    SC 19: “With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally…”

    SC 55: “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.” [Similar to “Active participation is perfect when ‘sacramental’ participation is included”, although SC is addressing reception of the newly consecrated Eucharist.]

    SC 99: “All who pray the divine office, whether in choir or in common, should fulfill the task entrusted to them as perfectly as possible: this refers not only to the internal devotion of their minds but also to their external manner of celebration.”

    SC 110: “During Lent penance should not be only internal and individual, but also external and social.”

  12. A key text for spelling out what participation means is article 48 of SC. It makes it clear that the assembly is (or should be) involved in the liturgical action, that they are invited to be agents in the action, since they are members of the Body of Christ and the liturgy is the action of Christ, Head and Body, as we have seen in article 7.

  13. Fr. Jack – have had the same experiences as you. Thus, change the approach, format, etc. and get involved so that readers have to be qualified and meet the parish lector standards, etc. Same applies for other ministries.
    My experience is that school liturgies are at different times than parish liturgies – thus, no conflicts there.
    We offer students above 5th grade a chance to choose and train to be lectors.
    Same approach with planning liturgies – involve teachers, have music ministers over school choir/children’s choir and ask the kids to be part of music choices (great opportunity to teach liturgy, sung parts of the mass, etc. (but lots more could be done – always tension over getting parish music minister involved as if school events are outside of their job requirements); we involve parents who are EMs, etc. Find that the involvement of a presider with a designated class for liturgies makes a significant difference. Nothing like getting a parent with small group of kids to bake the eucharistic bread – they really get into that.

    Yes, time consuming; impacts on other priorities; can be subject to last minute changes e.g. funerals, etc.

  14. I am convinced that the common interpretation of “active participation” as involvement in a lay ministry has resulted from postmodern humankind’s general inability to find contentment in silent reflection during a liturgy.

    Blogs and social networking, in particular, elevate the notion of participation as an emotional investment in a discussion. Also, not infrequently media which were once uni-directional, such as radio and television, now invite listeners or viewers to email or tweet “their view” about a particular news story. It is as if a person who does not express his or her opinion has not fully participated in the programming.

    This incessant need for emotional and physical involvement has diminished the great power of severe personal introspection. Perhaps it would be better to teach assemblies how to listen well before deputizing the assembly for liturgical roles. The stark inner light which burns in introspection often informs a person that he or she is not suited to be a liturgical minister in the Mass. Rather, for many if not most, attending Mass is more than suitable. The distorted participation engendered by a media-saturated society creates the false expectation that the only liturgical participation is physical and tangible.

    I have never understood why some wish to be eucharistic ministers. The personal cross of ordination has impressed into me the notion that I am rather fortunate to merely attend Mass as a layman. Why should I bring upon myself the cross of altar service, if I, like Mary, need not act demonstratively to receive grace? If Christ is sacrificed on the true altar, how shall I benefit if I hold him rather than merely receive him?

  15. Dear Friends,
    As I suspected, some of the comments dealing with the topic of “full, conscious and active participation” by the faithful in the Liturgy that have appeared so far seem to me examples of differing horizons in considering the topic. As my theological mentor, Bernard Lonergan, would suggest, horizons may be related in such a way that one furthers another (as a consideration of the “infinity” manifested by a series of positive integers beginning at zero may be mirrored by an “infinity” of negative integers beginning at zero), sublated (as when the insights of Newtonian physics are integrated into the insights of Einsteinian physics), or opposed (as when one opts for either a Ptolomeian or Galilean account of the movement of planets, sun and moon). I keep hoping that in our discussions, rather than simply stating what appears “obvious” to us (e.g., that Fr. McDonald’s or Mr. de Haas’ take on intinction does or does not exemplify the Council’s call for “full, conscious and active participation” by the faithful in the Liturgy) that we try to examine our own assumptions, to try to determine if those assumptions are organically related to each other, are dialectically related (each expressing some element that appears to be in conflict with another but that can actually be reconciled by means of some higher viewpoint), or oppositionally related (in which case one would need an intellectual, moral or religious conversion in order to recognize the truth of the opposing position). This questioning of one’s assumptions takes a lot of hard work; it presumes a willingness to explore the value-commitments underlying our propositions (which may also manifest our biases), to respect the sincerity of one’s conversational partner(s) and and commit to an on-going attempt to understand their positions, to state one’s position as clearly as one can, and to be willing to change one positions based on new data or changes in one’s assumptions. [I’ll continue in the next box.]

  16. Let’s take the example of “conscious participation” of the faithful in the Liturgy. It might be instructive for us to explore what we would consider outliers, boundary cases, and mid-range examples to get in touch with how we categorize the topic.

    For example, if the category were “edible,” there would be many who would recognize rice as a mid-range example of something edible, sushi as a boundary case (even though I might never eat it, I recognize that other humans may consider raw fish edible and even a delicacy), and drain cleaner as an outlier. In the last thirty years or so, with the increased awareness of celiac disease, foods made with wheat flour which might have been categorized as mid-range are now recognized as boundary-cases or even an outlier for some populations.

    To get back to our example of “conscious participation” of the faithful in the Liturgy. I suspect that an unbaptized person in a coma who was physically present in a church building in which Mass was being celebrated would be categorized as an “outlier;” though prayer might be offered for this person, the person would not be “consciously participating” in the Liturgy. Here might be an interesting boundary case: in what way would a baptized infant, not yet capable of understanding language or the gestures of the liturgy, be said to “consciously participate” in the Liturgy? How much understanding of verbal language and ritual gesture is needed for a baptized person to “consciously participate” in the Liturgy, even though that participation might not be “full” or “active” (I think of those afflicted by strokes who may not be capable of external manifestation of the interior participation)? Fr. McDonald used an example from his childhood of those participating in the liturgy without linguistic understanding (although I suspect they actually may have had some understanding of particular repeated Latin texts and ritual gestures). Would he call this “full” or “active” participation or see it as a desideratum today?…

  17. So that no one would think that I am “picking on” Fr. McDonald, I might ask Mr. de Haas how he would categorize the “conscious participation” of the faithful attending the All Souls EF Solemn celebration at Fr. McDonald’s parish. Would he hold that all of the faithful present must understand all of the liturgical texts for them to be “consciously participating?” This might raise some interesting issues with multi-lingual congregations only some of whom might understand the texts being sung. (Note also that Mr. de Haas could still raise questions of the faithful’s “full” and “active” participation in this EF celebration, but our focus here is specifically on “conscious participation.”) As I recall, Aquinas held that all that was needed for “conscious participation” by a baptized person at a linguistic level was an awareness that those who were speaking/singing the texts were doing what the Church intended to do in its sacramental activity and in praise of God; though they might not know every word and gesture, they could join the prayer of those who (presumably) did know the meaning of these words and gestures and thus participate (though perhaps not “personally” consciously). Of course, we could also ask if Aquinas’ argument, made in the 13th C for a different form of celebration would or should apply to OF celebration today.

    I’m probably belaboring my point, but I’m wondering if this style of discourse could help us uncover when we are genuinely disagreeing (opposed horizons), when we are speaking past each other (dialectical or sublated horizons) and when we share a common horizon.

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #26:
      Fr. Michael – please, no worries, don’t mind you *picking on* Allan (which I would, of course, never think of doing!!).

      Not sure I can add anything to *conscious* participation beyond your Aquinas reference….other than to say that it feels like a legal definition that speaks more to its own historical period and the debates and tensions of that period. It also feels like a response to those who wanted to *judge* and *condemn* those who may not have *participated* in the liturgy to the degree or the manner in which they did.

      *Conscious* – IMO, the council fathers had experienced and therefore desired that the liturgy be reformed because, in their experience, liturgy had become either so rote, mechanical, or foreign (as in separate from a people’s culture, language, etc.) that it had lost meaning. To them, eucharist and liturgy, at its heart, was the exact opposite of mechanical, rote, legalistic observance, lost meaning, etc.

      Thus, a reformed liturgy would open the doors so that folks did not have to argue about the *bare minimum* in *attending* church – e.g. how long do you have to stay for mass to be valid; etc. Or, to use your example, the bare minimum to qualify as *conscious*. It does posit a *continuum* – you can find folks who are very conscious all the way to folks who are barely conscious (e.g. physically present but disengaged).

      Sorry, my Lonergan is 25 years old but his four fold method of knowing or investigation, IMO, starts with the human senses – what we see, smell, touch, hear; these experiences are relational (not individualized isolation – which is what Jordan’s and others too often seem to describe); these relational/communal actions are then reflected upon and lead to *mission/action*.

      So, that brings in some other elements – relational/communal… me this was a central goal of SC and the council fathers; it echoes some of the things you can currently read that describe liturgical directives that focus too much on the *individual* or *what can I get out of it*; other elements such as the fact that liturgy/sacraments are communal actions; not objects; that eucharist is ordered to lead us or call us to *mission*. Without those elements, *conscious* is minimally present.

      Without *belaboring my point*, allow me to highlight some examples in my opinion:
      EF – *conscious*…..yes, especially if the folks present remember pre-VII; have background and experience in latin, Gregorian chant, etc. And can see what Allan expands in #27, but, IMO, this applies to a very small and limited group. It also feels more like a presentation or play….will this experience be relational/communal (beyond the choir, ministers); is it directed to mission? will it build up the total community or only serve to separate into groups? (my guess is that we genuinely disagree here (opposing horizons); even more than we are speaking past each other (dialectically) (n.b. but there is lots of sublimation in Allan).

      Intinction – we have posted on this repeatedly. Obviously, folks can be *conscious* in this liturgical practice but as many have explained, this action minimizes the eucharistic action, the meaning around Emmaus story, and does not reflect our cultural or relational/communal actions. So, to apply Aquinas: yes, conscious but in a minimal way.

      Not sure if this gets to what you are commenting about, Fr. Michael, and yes, do not want to belabor the Faure EF Mass in Macon – you know, Applebee vs. Ruth Chris. That comment only reinforces the earlier idea that folks measure, quantify, judge depending upon how *great* the show (e.g. liturgy) was. It perpetuates the continuum rather than focusing upon relational/communal, fully, active, etc……think that Aquinas was addressing this type of attitude. It also is a long way from what I think Jordan was talking about (only he used *ministry and roles* in his comment).

  18. I should emphasize that at all our Latin EF Masses, Gregorian Chanted or something more challenging, we provide translations of everything and encourage the faithful to participate with their voices as they are able for the chanted and spoken parts of the Mass, which they attempt to do very well. If we had the EF Mass chanted every Sunday, which we don’t, (only once a month) I think we could very well provide a culture of actual participation with one’s voice at this particular Mass–what a pity we didn’t attempt that all these years since Vatican II.
    Of course, with our all English Masses, two of which are sung completely each Sunday, we use Mass parts and hymns that are well known and we don’t import new stuff at all–and our congregation sings robustly.
    But I would have to agree with His Holiness, Pope Benedict, “And I would like to stress that the active participation of the whole people of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but in listening, in welcoming the Word with the senses and the spirit, and this holds also for sacred music.”

    As an eye and ear witness to our EF Faure Mass, I must say that the actual participation of the congregation to this particular Liturgical event which was quite prayerful, for both the faithful and me and I think I can speak also for the deacon, subdeacon and altar servers, was quite exquisite and a bit like the distinction between Applebee’s and Ruth’s Chris; yes both dining experiences, both eating and drinking in the company of others, but one kicked up a notch.
    Now I have to go and prepare for the laity’s actual participation in the Sacrament of Penance a 3PM est, Ordinary Form Mass at 4:30 PM est, in English, facing the congregation, with fully, actual, consciously participation, but intinction, so horrible that our Lord is received in a minimalistic way; and then to Carabbas with some friends where actual participation, fully and consciously will be a delight. 🙂

  19. Father Michael, thank you for calling this to order.
    May I quote from a 1964 CTS pamphlet “The Mass is Yours” (DO347) by D.R. Ward SJ.
    Earlier in the description of the Mass the author explains that one is to change from being a spectator of the Mass to a participant. For the Canon of the Mass the priest was to say this in silence.
    “The great Amen is the only word spoken by the faithful during the Canon of the Mass, and this fact raises a question. What should they be doing during this period of silence in the Mass? The general answer is clear; first they should know what the priest is doing and saying in their name; next they should concur in it in their minds and hearts. This does not mean that all should be following the priest’s words in a prayer book, for not everybody finds this helpful. But they can echo in their hearts at least some of the prayers in their own way. Their most important task has been explained above: at the consecration they should offer to God both the Victim of sacrifice and themselves.”

    I will offer the observation that the reference to “not everybody finds this helpful” seems sound. Perhaps some of the more active external forms of participation advocated are not helpful to all.
    My second observation is that paragraph 19 will look at this one further. My caution is, for now, that a “one size fits all” approach may not be the best.
    My third observation is that there seems to me to be little in paragraph 14 that describes this participation. The only clue is that it requires education / instruction. So the comments above (and me here) have referred to other sources to support their case. I fear that what we risk doing is imposing our own interpretation on SC rather than trying to draw its meaning out. That is not to say that all observations are wrong (some may think that Fr Ward was wrong) but that they may not be based on the paragraph being studied.

    1. @Peter Haydon – comment #28:
      I agree that when the EF Mass was the Ordinary Form and ingrained in its participants, that while style of participation varied and some did things that were not recommended even then, such as praying the Rosary, that most knew the structure of the Roman Canon and could at least join the priest in the silent canon by paraphrasing in their own mind what he was praying on their behalf. So in a sense, they could have used very pedestrian language in paraphrasing the canon in their own minds. In terms of actual participation “one size fits all” is not a good standard but calling people to authentic participation even if they don’t make a sound, although that isn’t today’s ideal, is quite pastoral.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #29:
        Thank you Fr Allan.
        Certainly if you wish to make changes it depends on where you start from: 1964 was when change was starting.
        I hope though that we can remember the observation that some will not find it helpful to follow what the priest is saying. This seems to me a profound insight that should be considered by those advocating one approach or another and, in the context of the question we were asked, insisting on one view or form of participation over another.

  20. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas : ‘ Would he hold that all of the faithful present must understand all of the liturgical texts for them to be “consciously participating?” ‘

    I have had a series of interesting experiences while in Rome. I am Italian, but I am not proficient in the grammatical structures or much vocabulary of the language. While my regular Sunday worship has been at English liturgies of the OF, I have attended masses in Italian, homily and all, with response cards, masses in Italian, homily and all, with no worship aid at all and masses in Italian with no worship aid and the priest’s back to the assembly. When I had a worship aid, I felt that I was able to at least make the responses and have some degree of participation (and a couple of the hymns were in English) When there was no worship aid, I felt that my participation was neither full nor active, but I was conscious! When the priest was facing the altar and saying mass in Italian, my participation suffered greatly. I felt a huge disconnect – like the priest didn’t know or care if I were there at all. I can remember feeling this same way as I attended pre-Vatican II Latin liturgies.Therefore, I would say, based on my experiences, (because I cannot KNOW what was in the minds of the council fathers!) that full, conscious and active participation can be best achieved in the vernacular with the priest facing the assembly, which has been provided with some kind of worship aid/order of service.

    1. @Linda Reid – comment #32:
      Dear Linda
      You have my sympathy.
      For interest may I quote again from my pamphlet noted in 28 above?
      In considering the loss of universal Latin the author notes:
      “The Englishman abroad may experience some loss in that at Mass he will be liable to hear neither Latin nor English – but he will not be without the Mass. Against this small loss can be offset the immense gain that is going to come to the thousands of Catholics in their own land who, perhaps for the first time, will really understand what is being said at Mass and what it is they are doing.”
      I wonder how small you felt the loss to be? Well that was the explanation then. We might reconsider now with the passage of time.

    2. @Linda Reid – comment #32:
      I’m half Italian (better half) and your experience with Italian is mine as I ceased using it with my full blooded Italian mom when I was about 4, so I speak it at that level, well maybe a bit better, and oddly enough as my mom was dying and reverted back to all Italian herself, I started speaking to her in Italian her last month of life–it seemed very natural at that point for me but not previously for some reason. I’ll be in Rome on sabbatical next fall and hope to rectify my grammar and vocabulary deficiencies and start speaking at an adolescent level! 🙂 But in terms of the priest facing the same direction as you, I hope he turns to the faithful when he’s speaking to them which should then pull everyone in. Our Ordinary Form Mass facing ad orientem is only for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Introductory Rite and the Post Communion Rite are at the chair. I turn to the people for the “Pray brothers and sisters” and for the congregation’s response; I turn for the Preface dialogue; for the “Peace of the Lord” and “Kiss of Peace”; for the Ecce Agnus Dei and response and obviously to distribute Holy Communion. As for worship aids, for myself I don’t like using them if I don’t have to and yes the vernacular does make it easier to participate but also could make it robotic and unthinking. When in Latin or Spanish or in your case Italian, a hand missal that is in English that you bring yourself would be the best solution.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #35:
        Father, I am afraid we will have to agree to disagree when it comes to the question of whom the priest faces, but this particular priest did not face us at all and omitted the sign of peace!
        As for worship aids, I just find them to be a mark of hospitality for those not regularly attending our parish masses, (or ANY parish’s masses) so that they too might participate in the manner called for in SC. Our parish community knows (knew before MR3)
        what it needs to know with just a hymnal and, occasionally, a seasonal supplement.

  21. A phrase that jumps out of this article for me is “before all else.” Participation should trump everything else.
    Is there any suggestion this has been taken seriously? (I am writing from Australia where the experience may be different to your American posters.)

    The link with the later articles on enculturation may be worth making. Whatever “full, conscious and active participation” means there has to be an aspect that depends on recognition of local cultural factors. Like a lot of places, Queensland is a long way from Rome, culturally as well in distance.

    1. @Geoffrey Madden – comment #34:
      Quite right Geoffrey. You made me look again at the text.
      Note that this “before all else” is to be achieved “by means of necessary instruction, in all .. pastoral work.”
      So we do not have, here, any suggestion of a need to change the liturgy. That will come later.

      My understanding is that the lack of participation was to be remedied by a combination of educating clergy and congregations whilst removing any unnecessary obstacles by reform of the liturgy. Perhaps, as we read through SC we will find if I am right. In this paragraph we see only the first part. I suspect that in the last fifty years insufficient attention has been given to this.

  22. I think there was a difference in perspective at the time of the Council re: the “full, conscious, and active” participation of the faithful in the Liturgy. One perspective held that little or nothing about the liturgical celebration itself (e.g., what we would today call the EF according to the MR 1962) would need to change, only that the faithful be instructed and formed in the meaning of the (Latin) texts and rites; “full, conscious and active” participation could be ensured by the use of hand missals with the Latin texts and facing-page vernacular translations and the congregation reciting/singing their responses along with the servers. Certainly the great liturgical commentaries of Gueranger and Pius Parsch seem to assume that the liturgical texts and rites will not change, but that peoples’ understanding of and vocal and bodily participation in these texts and rites would increase.
    Another perspective, prepared for in a certain sense by the Holy Week reforms of the 1950s, was that the texts and the rites themselves be changed for the sake of “full, conscious and active” participation of the faithful in the Liturgy. It seems to me that the second perspective is what is enshrined in the Constitution and what guided the work of the Consilium and the Congregation for Divine Worship as the Roman Rite liturgical library was revised in the years following the Council.
    Interestingly, with the present perspective offering the EF and the OF as alternative versions of Roman Rite Eucharist (with parallels for other liturgical celebrations), we would seem to have differing, if not competing, understandings of what constitutes “full, conscious and active” participation. The difficulty in our discussions may parallel the difficulty in the discussions between those who advocate opera sung ONLY in the original language set by the composer (with libretti or surtitles available for those who do not understand the language) vs. those who advocate opera sung ONLY in the language understood by the audience.

  23. Mr. Haydon has raised an excellent insight from an anthropological point of view in comparing EF and OF celebrations of the Roman Rite. Anthropologically, an EF celebration of, e.g., the Canon makes highly detailed demands on the ritual experts (priest celebrant, deacon, sub-deacon, etc.) but very few on the ritual participants (other than physical presence and decorum). Thus a member of the faithful may pray during the Canon by praying the Latin text as the priest prays it by watching the priest’s gestures, by praying a vernacular translation of the Latin text from a hand missal, by praying texts paraphrasing the sentiments of the Canon from a devotional book, by praying the rosary, by reciting sub voce other personal prayers, by gazing at the devotional art in the building, by being lost in contemplation, etc. The ringing of bells tends to draw the faithful’s attention to the Institution Narrative and the elevation of the consecrated species for adoration, but they are then free to return to whatever form of prayer they choose.
    In contrast the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer in the OF makes high demands anthropologically on all the ritual participants. They are expected to maintain linear attention throughout the prayer (e.g.,no “layering” of verbal input as in the low voice recitation of the Latin Canon while the choir sings the first part of the Sanctus), making spoken or sung interventions together after clear “cues” from the ritual leader (with the expectation that all would speak or sing together, whether or not they actually do).
    Thus, anthropologically speaking, the EF may allow the ritual participants a wide variety of options of acceptable “participation” while the OF may be more narrowly focused on what constitutes acceptable “participation.” If so, this may also stem from differing interpretations of what constitutes “conscious participation.”

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #39:
      Thank you Father.
      It seems to me that contemporary sources give clues as to the thinking at the time that changes were being made. Many of these will have been of transitory interest and since thrown away. My father seems to have been a hoarder.
      I see that my Gregorian missal from Solesmes explains in its introduction that the melodies were ‘made available for use by publication of the new … Graduale Romanum, (Solesmes, 1974), in order to promote “full, conscious and active participation of the faithful.” (SC 14) This would seem to cover part of what Linda Reid above felt she needed but perhaps not all she sought.
      By contrast my daughter’s Simple Prayer Book has so many prayers to say before Communion that, unless there was a long queue, one could not get through them if following the words of the priest.
      I suspect that we will discuss again the participation to be desired.

      1. @Peter Haydon – comment #40:
        Peter, I would have been thrilled with the Gregorian missal if there was any music at all involved… 2 out of the three I described, there wasn’t 🙁

      2. @Linda Reid – comment #42:
        Thanks Linda.
        The particular point I thought worth noting was that the monks of Solesmes thought that the congregation should be able to follow the Mass. If you visit the monastery you will find that they provide booklets for their services (the daily office is sung).
        With the volume it is interesting to compare the translations provided to those of the old and new OF translations, the subject of much discussion. The translations are not intended for liturgical use of course.
        Enjoy your travels, don’t forget Lourdes.

    2. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #39:
      Fr. Michael – not sure if my earlier comment was anything close to what you were asking for via the Longeran methodology or your request that we start with our own preconceptions or concepts.

      But, in terms of your *anthropology* and EF/OF *participation* would reiterate my earlier thoughts which would fall more into some type of pastoral or theology of ritual analysis:
      – would suggest that the Trentan liturgy that was now 400 years old had resulted in liturgies that were rote, mechanistic, divorced from community, and legalistic in terms of attendance (rather than participation)
      – via ressourcement and looking at the Patristic and 1st Century church, the Pauline communities, it would seem the reformers and council fathers saw *conscious* as a goal that addressed the mechanical, rote, and legalism of the 400+ year old Trentan rituals
      – so, using your anthropology of the EF/OF, you may be correct that the council fathers wanted to more *narrowly focus* on *conscious* understandings…..for them, this would happen if the early church eucharistic experience could be re-developed via reform; an experience that would require building *community*; educating about *conscious* participation in a reformed liturgy; asking that the liturgy be enculturated such as the 1st century experience e.g. vernacular; local communities, ministerial roles in the ritual, etc.
      Not sure I agree that EF provides a wide variety of acceptable options unless you start with the concept that the EF is *individualistic* in terms of expectations of participants (thus, an indiviudal is free to choose and do any number of private devotions); the EF is focused on the *priest* rather than participants (thus, questions about validity, licity, rubrics, etc.). But, if that is your starting concept – then, you would see that as *conscious* participation.

  24. I think the anthropology of participation is more like LG 14:
    He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.”

    As Bill says, the EF, when it was ordinary, was characterized by mechanical and rote actions. Our present OF, and today’s EF, are about what is in the heart. It is important to associate with the priest in offering sacrifice rather than engage in private devotional action aimed toward the Host.

    I think this has been so successful that the old mechanistic view is disappearing. Not entirely, but to a degree.

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