Last week we considered paragraphs 12-13 in which we reflected upon how the spirituality of the liturgy is both continued and strengthened by praying outside of the liturgy, specifically through communal and devotional prayers. This week we see what is the most well known and most often quoted or paraphrased paragraph of the document. In paragraph 14 we hear how: “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.” Two question arise: 1) what does this mean and, 2) how is it done?
The second part of the question is the easier to address than the first, because the answer is given in this same paragraph. It states that this most important goal of renewal is to be accomplished “by means of the necessary instruction.” It is interesting to note that this active participation is not to be accomplished by changing the rite to make it more accessible, but by forming people to understand the rite more fully. Indeed, we will soon see that, though changes to the liturgy are permissible, they must be done with great caution and with a sense of organic growth.
Of course, when we stop to think about it, this all makes sense. If the Mass is primarily the work of God reaching out to us, then our fully conscious and active participation in the Mass has less to do with our actions or words and more to do with our understanding of God’s actions – what he is doing in and through us. Instruction and learning become the primary ways to achieve this.
It is also worth noting, as many have before me, that this idea of active participation in the liturgy was not the invention of Vatican II. We see it appear over 50 years earlier in the writings of Pope Saint Pius X: “‘so that the faithful take a more active part in divine worship, let Gregorian chant be restored to popular use in the parts proper to the people. Indeed it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers, but let them fully appreciate the beauty of the liturgy and take part in the sacred ceremonies, alternating their voices with the priest and the choir, according to the prescribed norms. If, please God, this is done, it will not happen that the congregation hardly ever or only in a low murmur answer the prayers in Latin or in the vernacular.’ A congregation that is devoutly present at the sacrifice, in which our Savior together with His children redeemed with His sacred blood sings the nuptial hymn of His immense love, cannot keep silent, for “song befits the lover” and, as the ancient saying has it, ‘he who sings well prays twice.’”
The rest of the paragraphs following 14 and ending at 20 speak about practical ways in which those who have the care of souls (priests and bishops) can be formed and prepared to provide the instruction that is so necessary for the fully conscious and active participation first noted by Pope Saint Pius X in the year 1903 and reiterated as the most essential focus for the liturgical reform of Vatican II.
Next week, we will begin to see more specific norms governing the reform of the liturgy.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!