if i say “motu proprio” you will most likely think of the motu proprio of pope benedict on the traditional liturgy issued last year

ACTIVE PARTICIPATION IN THE SACRED MYSTERIES If I say “motu proprio” you will most likely think of the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict on the traditional liturgy issued last year. However to begin to talk about our part in the Mass I am going back further to 1903 when Pope St Pius X put out an equally important and far reaching Motu Proprio with the Italian title: Tra le Sollecitudine. In that document St Pius laid down rules to be followed so that the music used in Catholic worship should be worthy of the liturgical worship of God. He began by saying that “active participation in the sacred mysteries and in the public, solemn prayer of the Church is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful can draw the true Christian spirit.” That gave a great boost to the liturgical movement that went on throughout the 20th century and indeed became its charter. The thrust of it was taken up in 1964 in the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. As a result over the past 40 years “active participation” has become a catch word in the Church. Much that was good came from the idea of active participation, but also an amount that was less good. That was because the words were bandied about without sufficient awareness that it was to be participation in sacred mysteries. Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict have fully echoed St Pius X in exhorting the faithful to “active participation in the liturgy of the Roman rite,” while also trying to make the idea better understood. What is “active participation”? How in fact does the Church want us to take part in the Mass? In his very fine encyclical letter on the Eucharist in 2003, Pope John Paul II stated that there have been a number of abuses in the celebration of the Eucharist and he appealed for a more exact observance of the liturgical norms for celebrating Mass by all Catholics. To achieve this and to bring out the deeper meaning of the liturgical rules Pope John Paul also asked the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship to prepare a document giving specific prescriptions to govern the participation. This was done and in 2004 the Instruction on the Eucharist (Redemptionis Sacramentum) was promulgated. It begins with a section on Active and Conscious Participation. In that Instruction a distinction is made between the baptismal priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood which differ in essence not only in degree. It is the ordained priest who celebrates and the community can take part because of what he does. All the faithful are deputed by baptism for an active participation by which in the Mass they offer themselves in the Eucharistic sacrifice as a living and holy gift. It has to be done consciously. The participation consists in probing the deep and inner meaning of the Word of God and of the mystery being celebrated. It is meant to entail a sense of wonder at the greatness of the mystery of faith which leads the Church to prostrate herself before the Lord who died and rose again and is made present in the Mass. Already in his notable book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, written in the year 2000, three years before the Instruction, Cardinal Ratzinger showed he shared the concerns of Pope John Paul and he had an amount to say about active participation. He wrote: “The word “participation’ refers to a principal action in which everyone has a “part”. The action of the liturgy means in the first place the Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. (What is being said here applies equally to the celebration of the traditional Mass and the new Mass.) In it we are drawn into worship by the Word who is Jesus Christ. It is addressed to God in full awareness that it comes from him and is made possible by him. In it the human, ordained priest necessarily acts but in doing so, as it were, steps back to let God act through him. So when the priest says: “This is my body.” and “this is my blood”; he has become the voice of someone else. This is the heart of the Mass. The action of the liturgy in which we are able to participate is the action of God himself. God acts, God does what is essential in the liturgy. Therefore it is here in our personal interior association with what God is doing in the Canon or Eucharistic Prayer that the heart of participation is found. At this point the exterior participation of the faithful believer will be his or her kneeling in reverence. All the other exterior things done before or after the Canon by way of words or actions are worthy exterior expressions of the act of worship but are secondary. We can have a part in this central act of the Mass, we can cooperate with God as we pray for the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God, to become our sacrifice. All of what he did to win salvation for us – his Incarnation, his death, resurrection and ascension are made present in the Mass; God draws us into that in cooperation with himself. That is participation. It is true that it becomes possible only because the ordained priest has been able to speak in the person of Christ; but at this point there is no difference between priest and people The uniqueness of the Catholic liturgy lies in the fact that God himself is acting and we who have come to worship are all drawn into that action. True, the Church asks us to express this inward soul of participation externally in reading, in singing, in bringing up the gifts. They are important external actions to undergird participation even though they are secondary. If the liturgy however degenerates into general activity we have radically misunderstood what it really is. The essential act of the Catholic liturgy is the transforming power of God who wants to transform us and the world through what happens in the liturgy. Notice that in this perspective the goal of the liturgy is not to build up the community; rather it is the occasion in which the community is drawn into God’s invisible, supernatural action although of course this does have deep implications for the true nature and unity of the Church community. Nor is the priest the focus of the liturgy although it is through the ministry of the priest that the community is able to bring its offerings to be joined with that of Christ. The priest is the servant of God’s action, God’s living instrument. Priest and people are to look together towards Christ, represented by the crucifix, as Pope Benedict keeps insisting. The human body is also to be involved as the worship of God is expressed liturgically in gestures that have developed out of the nature of the liturgy and that make the essence of the liturgy bodily visible. Hence there is the sign of the Cross, there is kneeling, standing and sitting. This external activity is important in order to sustain the inner, spiritual participation. It was a weakness in the celebration of the Mass before Vatican II that it was so often lacking. That is why St Pius X issued his Motu Proprio requesting full active participation. That is why all through the 20th century the Church was encouraging such participation, again often with somewhat limited results. Perhaps that was why the bishops in the Second Vatican Council authorised a measure of restructuration of the rites of the Mass, a restructuring that in fact went much further than they had intended. From all that we can see that external activity alone cannot qualify as the active, conscious participation the Church mandates, although it is called for as a dimension of participation. The faithful are to take part in the Eucharistic liturgy not as silent spectators but as participants in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, actively and devoutly, as the Catechism exhorts. In fact to appreciate what active participation in both the ordinary and extraordinary form of the Mass is, we need to look at the Catechism. Like Mediator Dei, the famous encyclical of Pope Pius XII on the liturgy, the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy defined the liturgy as the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the priest of the Catholic liturgy. It is the whole Christ, Head and members who take part in the liturgy. The earthly form of that liturgy is a participation in the liturgy of heaven with the angels and all the saints. However these important insights are not developed much in the Council documents. It was left to the Catechism to express them in an authoritative way and in a way that is at once quite simple and yet profound in its section on the liturgy, entitled The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, 1066 – 1690. The Catechism says the liturgy is Opus Trinitatis – the work of the Holy Trinity. It originates in the divine liturgy which, with the angels and saints, goes on in heaven The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the primary actors in it. God the Father is the source of the whole liturgy in heaven and on earth. It is always the work of God for men; it opens up the mystery of love that is God himself, the eternal communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Its goal is that we, and through us the whole of creation be taken up into the communion of the three persons of God. To bring this about God sent his Son; Jesus Christ, the Priest is the liturgist who offers to the Father perfect and divine worship because his life, his death and resurrection have given all glory to God. Our participation in the divine liturgy is a cooperation between God’s initiative and our response. It is the Holy Spirit who makes that possible. He is the Giver of life. Everything in the Church that is alive is due to the Holy Spirit; he makes Christ present in the Church and unites us with Christ in the liturgy. It is the Holy Spirit who recalls and makes present the mystery of Christ in the liturgy by his transforming power. That is why in the Mass the priest celebrant invokes the Holy Spirit and begs God the Father to send down the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier so that the offerings may become the body and blood of Christ and that the faithful in receiving them may become themselves a living offering to God. That is what happens in the consecration of the bread and the wine when they are changed into the living Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The whole of the liturgy is a cooperation between the Church and the Holy Spirit. The way the liturgy is celebrated and the way we take part in it must express this; nothing must be allowed that would trivialise or take away from its solemnity and holiness That is why traditionally silence has been part of the liturgy and especially the liturgy of the Mass. It is right and necessary that our response to God’s initiative in the liturgy should be by singing and praying. However the mystery is infinite, great beyond imagining; as such it summons us especially to silence; it is beyond words. Here silence does not mean simply the absence of speech and sound and action. It must be silence with a content, a positive stillness. What is envisaged is a time of recollection a focussed silence. (I think of the Good Friday liturgy when the celebrant of the liturgy in both the traditional Missal and that of 1970 enters and prostrates before the altar in silence. Then it is the silence of the Church in mourning, the recollection of the mystery of Christ’s death. ) So the silence is never just a pause in which we let our thoughts wander but a time in which we turn to God in peace and tranquillity. It is to be the silence that St John of the Cross described as “silent love”. In this silence the Holy Spirit enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus. This is silence that cannot be simply “made” or organised as if it were an activity. For silence to be fruitful it has to be an integral part of the liturgical event and it has to engage our hearts. People these days often just do not know what to do with silence. That was the case a while back with a priest who had been at a traditional Mass and later told me he had been bothered by the silence during the Canon. Clearly he had failed to unite himself to what was happening and so did not experience how powerful silence is when the whole congregation is united in that silent prayer. In the new liturgy times of silence are provided for in the Mass but generally they do not seem to work very well. Priests and people seem nervous of them, e.g. at the beginning of Mass there is to be a silence in which to be aware of our need of God’s mercy and forgiveness; in fact it is usually swallowed up by the prayers which follow or the singing. Most often silence is either non-existent or so brief as to be hardly perceptible and so for the other times of silence. In weekday Masses that important silence after Holy Communion tends to be observed; in Sunday Masses however it is generally crowded out by loud music or singing. In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tells how thirty years ago he had said that even in the new Mass it is not necessary always to say the Eucharistic Prayer or Canon aloud and he repeated that in the year 2000. If you attend the extraordinary form of the Mass you know that the Canon is always prayed in silence. From a very early time that was the practice in the church in Jerusalem. Gradually in the West the silent Canon became the norm. Of course the silent Canon puts the onus on the person to ensure that he or she is really taking part and not letting the mind just wander. Ordinarily following the translated text of the Canon in the Missal is the best way. However a person who knows the text and the thought and the structure of the Canon well could also focus on what is happening and do so by a contemplative silence alone. To achieve this it is necessary to have become recollected before the Mass begins and then to have followed the Mass of the Catechumens and to have made the offertory an intense time of associating oneself with the gifts being prepared and through them offering oneself with the sacrifice which is to be made present through the transformation of that bread and wine. In the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict also makes the important point about the personal conditions required for fruitful participation on the part of the individual person, whether for the new Mass or the traditional one. One such condition is the spirit of constant conversion which must mark the life of the faithful follower of Jesus Christ. It entails an examination of our life such as is called forth by the prayers at the beginning of the Mass and the plea for pardon; it also comes from frequent use of the sacrament of Penance. “A heart reconciled to God makes genuine participation possible “, says Pope Benedict. A precondition for adequate participation, he says, is also a continuing effort to take part actively in the life of the Church as a whole, according to one’s circumstances and, as far as possible, a will to bring Christ’s love into the life of society. In my experience the extraordinary form of the Mass lends itself well to a contemplative attitude towards the mystery being celebrated in the Mass. Not only is there the silent Canon but there are the other silent prayers such as those at the offertory which are so valuable for eliciting a spirit of self offering with Christ. Many of them are especially prayers of the priest such as those when he goes up to the altar, before the Gospel, before Holy Communion, before the last Blessing , all of which create a focus on the mystery of the Eucharist and the action of God. The aim of all the liturgical rites of the Mass is to help those present to become with Christ a living sacrifice of praise and reparation before God. The Mass implies interior, dynamic movement since it is an action which brings us the infinite vitality that is in Christ the Priest. That is expressed in the letter to the Hebrews where these words are put into Christ’s mouth: “Behold I come to do your will, O God.” (Heb 10, 7) This interior movement is a kind of separation from oneself and a holding fast to God. It is this which the Mass calls forth in us. It is also this attitude which should in turn call forth that external action of the assembly of the faithful in the form of words and song. It is clear from the record of the discussion that the bishops at Vatican II intended to promote such a participation which would be both interior and conscious and then would express itself in and be aided by external forms. This was clear for instance in the Council when Cardinal Bea proposed to amend part of the text of the Constitution on the Liturgy. Originally the passage had said that the faithful should know the prayers and rites of the Mass well. His amendment urged that the faithful should know well the mystery which is communicated through the rites and prayers of the Mass. Today, with the new form of the Mass, many people are quite familiar with the structure of that Mass but often they do not know so well the mystery that is at the heart of it (that becomes evident by their attitudes during the Mass and a certain lack of reverence); perhaps they do not always grasp the significance of the various rites which are not often explained. Hence the desire for constant variety in the liturgy and the tendency to create and add little bits to the Mass as if seeking diversion rather than participation at any deep level. That is why Pope Benedict recently told a lay religious movement that “Nothing must be added to the Mass and nothing taken away from it.” Here it must also be said that in the past the traditional Mass was not always celebrated with reverence and dignity but at times became even a hectic gabble with its actions performed in a perfunctory or even sloppy manner; indeed an amount of the liturgical movement in the first half of the 20th century had been concerned to change this. It is important as the celebration of the traditional Mass takes up again that this not become the case once more; I have noticed already that in some places in Europe and the USA that the directives of St Pius X about the correct character of sacred music are not being observed, with operatic Masses from the 19th century being revived and the organ being played continuously during what should be the silent Canon. On the other hand there are fortunately increasing numbers of places where the new Mass as well as the traditional Mass is being celebrated with great reverence and dignity. It is the dear wish of the Holy Father that the traditional Mass should influence the new Mass by promoting a sense of the sacred and the transcendent with a spirit of adoration and of reverence in the manner in which it is celebrated. That of course means that this traditional Mass should be marked both by contemplative attention and external participation with prayer, gesture and singing as St Pius X had requested. It may be that here the traditional Mass has to be prepared in turn to learn from the new Mass, both in its successes and failures, by promoting adequately and well the means of external participation so that it may be experienced fully as the saving mystery of Christ for body and soul. The Most Revd Basil Meeking Bishop Emeritus of Christchurch. 19th October, 2008.

Source: http://www.chch.catholic.org.nz/dox/juventutem/Active%20Particpation%20in%20the%20Sacred%20Mysteries.pdf

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