Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 30

Apologies once again to the readers of Pray Tell. I have been “on the road” in Missouri, Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, and Indiana over the past few weeks and have not been able to keep up with my presentation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy’s teaching. Beginning today I intend to resume my Monday and Thursday postings. You may consider it your Lenten penance ☺.

Vatican Website Translation:

30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.

Latin text:

30. Ad actuosam participationem promovendam, populi acclamationes, responsiones, psalmodia, antiphonae, cantica, necnon actiones seu gestus et corporis habitus foveantur. Sacrum quoque silentium suo tempore servetur.

Slavishly literal translation:

30. For promoting active participation, acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, canticles, additionally actions as well as gestures and bodily stances of the people are to be encouraged. Also sacred silence is to be observed in its own time.

Since article 14 has already taught that “in the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy,…full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered above all else,” it is not surprising that norms drawn from the hierarchic and communal nature of the liturgy would spell out at least partially in what that participation consists. Here there appear to be three categories in which active participation is manifest among the faithful: 1) verbal (and interestingly, the genres mentioned for verbal participation prize singing); 2) bodily; and 3) silence. Readers of Pray Tell may wish to comment on how effectively such active participation has been accomplished over the last fifty years, what promotes or impedes it today, and what suggestions they might have for the future.


    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #1:
      Fr Feehily, forgive me, but you seem to be confusing the objective of this article, conscious participation in the Mass, with the means by which the objective is to be achieved (singing, responses etc).

      If people are focussing on praying the Mass when they take part in the EF, then how is the objective of SC not met?

      The point is often made that present day celebrations of the EF bear little resemblance to the practice before the Council, both clergy and people attending to the rites in a way that was not common in the past, perhaps modern assemblies are able to receive the EF in the way sought and desired by the Council Fathers; we are, after all, talking about a highly motivated and self-selecting group, who may not find some of the activities proposed in this article conducive to their participation in the Mass.

      1. @Thomas Dalby – comment #6:
        Mr. Dalby – let’s come at this from a different vantage point. Way too often, ROTR folks preach that one must start with the VII documents (as if they materialized out of nowhere).

        If we are to be consistent, starting with SC as a document – well, the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, and the EF (at least the two forms of the one rite continuity mantra) did not exist. So, wondering why comments on this SC paragraph quickly knee jerk to EF comparisons – appears to be off point.

        Fr. Michael’s questions for discussion underlined the past 50 years (not the past 10 years).

        To his request:

        – no comparison in terms of active participation of the 1962 missal compared to the reformed liturgy (and let’s not get hung up on Sung High Masses with bells/smells – that was not the norm)

        – bodily – mixed bag and depends upon what you highlight. Positive because it got folks more engaged; enhanced the link between takin, breaking, and sharing; e.g. stadning for reception; reception in the hand. Depending upon diocese and parish – stadning during communion; use of gathering places for baptism (now in the church rather than separate – folks can gather around; pass by when entering church, they can see); altar placement so that folks can gather around to a degree; they can see;
        – silence – guess it depends upon the parish – we have a pastor who is deliberate about silences.

      2. @Bill deHaas – comment #7:
        Mr de Haas,

        Thank you for the correction, but I am intrigued by Fr Feehily’s statement in comment #1.

        The viewpoint that you’ve expressed about the documents, that they must be read in their proper context, is one that we share, although I suspect that we will disagree as to what that context is, but as that is the topic of Fr Ruff’s earlier thread, I shall not wander any further down that path.

        There is one issue that we do need to be clear on: if we are to view SC and the rest of the Council as living things, rather than documents of historical interest, we have to examine them in the light of the current, lived experience of the Church, otherwise we may as well be examining the decrees of the Council of Florence.

        In the context of my own lived experience of the liturgy (the great majority of which is in a parish and N.O.), I would say that we have people making responses and singing hymns; other than standing, sitting and kneeling at various points in the Mass, most of the physical gestures prescribed in the rubrics seem to go by the board (although people cross themselves after the penitential rite, despite the instruction not to).

        Does any of this enhance our participation in the Mass? Given that most people don’t seem to have noticed the changes to the collects introduced with MR3, I would say that is a moot point; we have the outward appearance of activity, but is that just a distraction from full, active conscious participation?

  1. In terms of actual participation in the EF what is possible and what is done locally depends on a number of factors. In the sung Mass, I think it is difficult for the congregation to sing the propers as it is in the Ordinary Form–but we’ve used an English hymn for the procession until the priest gets to the altar. Everyone joining in singing the Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei is quite common when easy to sing Latin versions are used such as the Jubilatio Deo versions.
    The greetings are quite simple for people to respond. And certainly having the changing parts of the Mass available in the vernacular for people to follow is important. Most people follow common rules for postures at least in the USA. What is more difficult to determine, but what many have said is that the internal participation at the EF is greater than at the OF, perhaps because at the EF the congregation has to pay closer attention to the actions of the Mass and their own internal and external responses. We always have an English recessional hymn.
    With Low Masses, the readings are in English. With high Masses, the priest reads the first reading quietly as a lector proclaims it in English from the ambo and the priest repeats the Gospel in English after chanting it in Latin.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #2:

      Instead of an English entrance hymn, why not have the congregation sing
      verses of the Introit psalm in Latin to a simple tone? And I think I’m right in saying that recessional hymns are not envisaged in any of the documents: this is an opportunity for silence if nowhere else!

      I write as someone who grew up attending solemn high mass on most Sundays and experienced dialogue mass in a religious community in the years just before the council. (I also recall from my late teens – at a different parish – the excruciating low masses by our parish priest, who had a gift for mangling Latin: utterly devoted to the parish and the hospital where he was chaplain, he died before the vernacular liturgy. RIP)

      For myself I would love the chance to attend a Novus Ordo Latin Mass a few times in the year but in my area of the UK that’s just not an option. I don’t hanker after the pre-1962 rite, but we have lost a great deal from the way the NO has been implemented.

  2. Jack Feehily : Will someone please tell me how the EF incorporates these forms of participation?

    The EF has responses and songs the people may participate in, more gestures than the OF, and silence. Latin makes verbal participation more difficult initially, but then that would be true of a Latin OF as well. Perhaps that is a really obvious answer, but then I wonder how the EF isn’t participatory as outlined above.

    In the way spelled out in SC above, the EF is no less participatory than the OF is. It just has the reputation for being less so because of an unfortunate practice of non-participation that had developed mostly because the Mass wasn’t in English.

    This passage of SC is probably the least controversial when discussing the EF since it seeks to change practices rather than the Missal itself. Most EF communities today have engaged this part of SC successfully.

  3. I’m wondering why it has been so very difficult to implement silence as part of our active participation. Despite a lot of working at it, we don’t do it well, and I have to assume (given the attention it gets in various instructions) that we’re not alone in this. Presiders, readers and musicians all seem to feel uncomfortable with even a few seconds of still silence. For instance, we’ll agree at a Liturgy meeting with all the priests and the music director for 10 or 15 seconds of silence at a specific point, which should be easy enough to count down in your head. If we’re lucky, we get 5. Even when our presider says out loud at Mass, which he sometimes does with the children’s groups, “Let’s be quiet and thank Jesus for 30 seconds,” thirty seconds turns into about ten. We haven’t become comfortable, as leaders, with letting there be silence. And if we can’t do it, the people surely can’t learn how.

    I don’t remember the Mass before the reform. I understand that there was silence from the congregation, but was there silence as a whole – i.e. the priest sits and lets everyone be silent together, including him? If not, then silence is a new thing that it doesn’t surprise me we need to learn. If that was the practice, then it is something that we lost and I wonder why.

  4. Hi, Terri – I suspect that our discomfort with silences is driven at least in part by our experience as media consumers. It impresses me, in a way, how the producers on radio and television stations can make the programming content transition so seamlessly from program to commercial #1 to #2 to #3 and back to the program, with nary a pause in the soundtrack.

    The power snafu during Super Bowl telecast illustrates, I think, our expectations for a seamless broadcast audio. When the power went out in the Super Dome, the broadcaster who was speaking at the moment was cut off in mid-sentence – actually, I think it was mid-word. In the room where I was viewing the game, it took us several seconds to realize that the sound had went out. It was a bit jarring.

    And the confusion that ensued in the telecast production was quite interesting. The “ball” was passed to on-the-field reporters who were clearly extemporizing and were as puzzled as the rest of us. They had almost nothing to add that wasn’t manifest to us viewers already. But the idea of having silence in the telecast was inconceivable, so the producers kept lurching from one voice to another, to maintain the verbal flow of something, anything.

  5. As I’ve experienced it, the only silences in the NO seems to be after the Lessons or Sermon or at the end of Communion. After the Lessons always seems contrived or forced and serves no real purpose, especially since the human brain can process information faster than it can be spoken. Silence after the Sermon, ditto, plus it unintentionally implies the great profundity of the speaker. Silence after Communion seems to work well, especially if the priest prays at the altar of after he returns to his throne (which many “Presidential Chairs” resemble).

    Silence should be able to sort of “well up” and occur naturally and organically. It can after Communion. Other than that, the structure of the NO seems to militate against a natural, prayerful silence.

    In the slavish translation, it particularly notes gestures and silence for the CONGREGATION. Personal silence is possible during Holy Communion if we ax the congregational singing at that moment and have only organ music or a motet by the choir. The protestants seem to have learned this lesson better than we.

  6. In the celebration of the EF mass, the congregation will “pay closer attention to the actions of the Mass and their own internal and external responses” only until the actions of the mass and their responses become habitual. For the first year that I celebrated mass in Spanish I was terrified that a ribbon would slip out of its proper position and I would be unable to replace it. I also paid exceedingly close attention to the actions of the mass and my parts because they were unfamiliar. As I became accustomed to the language, I was less tied to the texts and the actions became, for me, more natural, more “actual” as opposed to rehearsed.
    If those “hearing” mass in former times were not participating actually, it may well have been because they were not invited or even expected to do so. This is, I think, the greatest ecclesiological shift that we have experienced. And it is a shift that we should not be willing to reverse.

  7. One of the most confusing and perhaps deleterious aspects of “active participation” is the “ministerization” of the laity. I have written on PTB about this before, but not in a very charitable or fully-explained manner.

    I still, after many posts on PTB, have difficulty with the notion of “assembly” rather than the older concept of “congregation”. I recognize that the assembly-congregation at Mass is part of the baptized priesthood. Even so, I have difficulty with the notion that the celebrant is merely a “presider” as if he is simply an actor in a drama in which the laity participate with some level of parity. At root, then, my conflict is a personal struggle at some level with the logical implication of conciliar documents. I realize this, and must continue to internally reflect on these implications.

    One of the outgrowths of the ekklesia or assembly model of the Mass is the notion that common activities of the laity are now “ministries”. Choirmasters, organists, and choristers are now “music ministers”; ushers are now “hospitality ministers”; and sacristans are now “liturgical minsters”. I do not understand why these activities, which have had specific and readily understood English titles for centuries, now must be enveloped in the terms of “ministry”. Weren’t these tasks already valued without having to assign a pseudo-clerical title to them? I find this quite baffling, but respect those who value these titles as part of their vocations.

    No stigma should be attached at all to the “ministry of layperson”. When I attend Mass, I have no desire to be ministerized. I merely wish to give my prayer and receive God’s grace as a layman. Perhaps active participation should also include the notion that simply attending Mass is a sufficient ministry in itself without the requirement of being named as such.

  8. Jordan, I can’t fathom your objection to the word minister. It simply means “to serve”. Some of the baptized are called to serve as priests who extend the ministry of the bishop as teachers, sanctifiers, and leaders. Others are called to minister as deacons, others as lectors, others as acolytes, others to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion when necessary, and still others as choir members, instrumentalists, and, yes, offerers of hospitality. No one I know of suggests that the ministry of priest is just one among many. No lay person is unable to clearly distinguish the unique place of priestly ministry especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. Your objection is not at all clear unless you have in mind a preference for the practice in the pre-VII days when nobody in the Catholic Church was thought of as a minister not even a priest. Ministers were those guys who headed up Protestant churches.

  9. “You may consider it your Lenten penance ☺.”

    Au contraire, mon pere!!! I look forward to these postings along with your commentary and the discussions that follow. Does this mean I can only read them on Sundays?? 🙂

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