Active Participation: The Saddest Form of Worship

“Lift up your hearts”
“We lift them up to the Lord”


How many times have we said these words, but without any thought of what they mean?  I know that I have often just mumbled through the above dialogue, as though it were just a ritual gateway through which one had to pass in order to fully “participate” in the Mass.  Over the last few weeks, I have been shocked by my own inattentiveness at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Yes, it is true that the other distractions (e.g. cute babies, weird outfits, etc) do play a part in this brain-less response, but is that a valid excuse?  What exactly are we saying at Mass, and why?

First of all, I think it is important to return to our roots—the Traditional Latin Mass.  In this Mass, it was common for the priest and server to say most of, if not all, of the Mass.  Some parts were spoken aloud, others were whispered, so that no one could hear.  This used to frustrate me, especially in light of my former reading of the Second Vatican Council document on liturgy—how was this an “active” participation?

I decided that a further investigation into the text of Sacrosanctum Concilium was necessary.   And where did I go first?  To the original Latin document, of course!  I took the following sample text from the English: “And when churches are to be built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the ACTIVE  participation of the faithful. (end of paragraph 124).  When read in Latin, the text states: “In aedificandis vero sacris aedibus, diligenter curetur ut ad liturgicas actiones exsequendas et ad fidelium ACTUOSAM participationem obtinendam idoneae sint.”  (Emphasis mine).  The word “actuosam” can be translated as “active”, but a more precise translation is “actual”.  There is a great distinction between the meaning held therein, depending on the translation one goes with.  Actual participation involves the heart, mind, soul and body of the faithful; active participation has been typically understood as a physical experience.  Many parishes have accepted the translation “active” as an invitation for all sorts of liturgical creativity and abnormalities.  We see this in decades gone by (e.g. liturgical dances, unrestrained charismatic-like prayer, etc), but we also see it today.  The songs we sing are 99% congregational, for instance.  Heavens forbid we should listen to a beautiful piece of sacred music and contemplate the mystery before us.

And that brings me to another point.  In this forum of “active” participation, we have lost the sense of the mystical.  At the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, there is a miraculous transformation that takes place—ordinary bread and wine is transformed (or, as we would say, transubstantiated) into the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ our Lord.  How many times have I approached the Hidden Guest to the congregation singing lines such as: “Jesus is my brother and my friend”, or “woman or man, no more”.  We’ve all heard those “one-hit wonders” played out during the most inappropriate times.  By creating an atmosphere of activity, we forget that contemplation and mystery come to us in silence.  If we shift, even for a moment, from “active” to “actual”, participation becomes worship—we are suddenly made aware of the actual Sacrifice of the Cross, and the actual Treasure before us on the altar.

This atmosphere of active participation moves far beyond the reaches of music.  It is a part of every facet of the so-called “New Mass”.  There are many lectors and other liturgical ministers who feel entitled to the roles they fill.  I have heard some even to claim that they, as baptized members, have a right to do everything they possibly can at Mass.  This well-intentioned act of service (which in and of itself is good) quickly becomes a right.  How else can a self-proclaimed professional lector actively participate at Mass?

Going further, I truly believe that our need to be active (in a physical sense), has made many people dislike or down-right despise the Traditions of the Church, such as the Latin Mass.  I realize that I am using strong language, but such is the language I have heard from those who cannot even stand the thought of a Latin Mass occurring within a 100 mile radius of their homes.  If we once again think of participation as actual, the Latin Mass takes on a whole new dimension for our soul—we are present at the most mysterious and beautiful moment, in which Heaven and Earth literally touch.  With heart and mind raised to the heights of such a truth, we realize that there is a veil between our humanity and the supreme divinity of the One upon the altar.  Suddenly, as though through an innate sense, we see that silence is the only response a creature can offer when he/she comes face-to-face with such a gift.  Silence is the best language of love.

Next time I am at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I will renew my efforts to hear the words that are spoken, especially if it is an English-language Mass.  The English Roman Missal, especially in the latest translation/revision, is meant to help the faithful lift their hearts to the Lord and to be lost in the silence of His mysterious self-oblation.  “Lift up your hearts”, and, “We lift them up to the Lord”, are not meant to be just one more thing that I can participate in.  They are rather an invitation and a reminder that I am to participate in an actual way by lifting my heart to the Lord.  A heart on fire with love desires to break free from the prison of flesh and, transcending time and space, sit in silent wonder before the throne of God.  We have this opportunity at every Mass.  Do we allow our heart this holy pleasure?  Do we give to God the best of what we have, namely an awe which inspires deep silence and wonder?

“Lift up your hearts”
“We lift them up to the Lord”



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