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.

Send to Kindle