Friday, 27 August 2010

The theological development of the concept of full, conscious and active participation

No, I'm not talking about the election (although the current debacle is perhaps an indictment on our failure to actively participate...), but the old hoary of what active participation in the liturgy means.

External activity doesn't equal active participation

We all know that the view that active engagement in the Mass means lots of external activity is alive and well.

On a yahoo discussion group intended to support the use of the Benedictine Diurnal recently, someone went so far as to claim that using the Latin (unless one could translate every words as you went, rather refer than simply refer to the side by side translation provided!) was dangerous to one's spiritual life.  And the Canberra Archdiocese has recently pointed to a program for parish renewal that includes 'dynamic, involving worship'.  I'm pretty sure that is code for 'children's liturgies' and the like, and more of those wonderful 70s hymn numbers, not use of Latin and chant.

So it is nice to see a good article on the development of the theology underlying the concept of  'active participation' by Michael Foley up on Inside Catholic.  Here is an extract from the article, but do go and read the whole thing:

The development of the concept of active participation

"Pope St. Pius X first coined the expression partecipazione attiva in his 1903 motu proprio Tra le Sollecitudini as part of his goal to restore Gregorian chant to the mainstream of the Church (according to the musically sensitive pontiff, chant is marvelously ordered "to the understanding of the faithful" by the way it "clothes" the text with suitable melodies). Pope Pius XI extended this principle in his 1928 apostolic constitution Divini Cultus to the verbal responses of the congregation as well. The faithful should not be, he tells us, "merely detached and silent spectators, but filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the Liturgy."

Note the wording carefully: Pius XI contrasts being "detached and silent" not with loudness or some other externally quantifiable sign, but with being filled with the liturgy's splendor. The opposite of liturgical inactivity is not, as some might expect, the external activity of voice or movement, but the internal wonder born of experiencing beauty; and if the externals are to be encouraged, it is for the sake of vivifying the internal....

Pope Pius XII's encyclical Mediator Dei (1947) articulates a similar understanding. Pius XII commends "active and individual participation" through which "the members of the Mystical Body . . . become daily more like to their divine Head". He too warns the faithful not to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice "in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with . . . earnestness and concentration". Note again the emphasis on mental presence.

But Pius XII was also aware of unsavory trends in the Liturgical Movement at the time, and so he warns against a forced external uniformity in participation and even recommends other prayers and "exercises of piety" (such as the rosary) for those who do not benefit from audibly responding or singing. Implicit in Pius' flexibility is again the ultimate goal of ruminating on, and thus entering into, the deeper mysteries of the Divine, which he holds superior to what Francis Cardinal Arinze would later refer to in "Active Participation in the Sacred Liturgy" as an "over-regimentation" of external actions bereft of contemplative activity.

Moreover, Pius XII's encyclical is the first to give us the full Latin term for active participation: actuosa participatio. Again, note the wording: When translating the Italian partecipazione attiva into Latin, the normative language of the universal Church, the pope could have chosen activa as the adjective -- but he did not. He speaks instead of actuosa participatio, which is better translated into English as "actual participation" (and here I must express my profound gratitude to Dr. Daniel Van Slyke for this insight). This phrase more clearly mirrors the profile of ideal liturgical participation as outlined by the supreme pontiffs than "active participation," which can give the impression that the focus is on mere outer activity. In his essay "Active Participation and Pastoral Adaptation," Alcuin Reid is quite right to describe true "active participation," even that which involves complete bodily or vocal activity, as "essentially contemplative."

Therefore, when the Second Vatican Council speaks of "fully conscious and active [actuosa] participation" in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, it is not inventing a new idea but simply reaffirming the teaching of the popes. Indeed, adding the word "conscious" more directly highlights the centrality of deliberate, alert, and engaged attention, or what the ancients called contemplation. True, Vatican II wanted to see the congregation involved in the responses and singing, but it did so for the sake of this internal, actual participation, not as an end unto itself. Vatican II did not abolish papal teaching on actual participation; it presupposed them."

And on other things...
 
And finally, a brief roundup of a  few items worth reading or watching on things monastic for your Friday and weekend entertainment:
  • video of life at Clear Creek Monastery in the US;
  • a video on Fontgombault, Clear Creek's motherhouse;
  • ordinations at the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkeuz;
  • the splendidly grand building plans of the Carmelite monks of Wyoming.

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