15 June 2024

What Did Vatican II Mean When It Called for ‘Active Participation’?

I'm sure it DIDN'T mean 'let's have swarming masses of the laity, both male and female, running around the sanctuary pretending to be clerics'!

From Catholic Stand

By Rory Fox

The Second Vatican Council called for “active participation” in the Liturgy in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (i.e., Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963). What exactly the Council was calling for is a question which still elicits differences of opinion.

1. What Did Vatican II Say About ‘Active Participation’?

There are some 15 references to “active participation” (actuosa participatio) in the body of the Latin text of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC). The relevant texts are as follows:

  1. “[Pastors must]… ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged (actuose… participent) in the rite” (SC 11).
  2. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation (actuosam… participationem) in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (SC 14).
  3. “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation (actuosa participatio) by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else” (SC 14).
  4. “Pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation (actuosam participationem) in the liturgy both internally and externally” (SC 19).
  5. “The Christian people… should be enabled to understand… [liturgical rites] with ease and to take part in them fully, actively (plena actuosa)” (SC 21).
  6. “Whenever rites … make provision for… celebration involving the… active participation (actuosa participatione) of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred” (SC 27).
  7. “To promote active participation (actuosam participationem), 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” (SC 30).
  8. “The pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation (actuosa participatione) of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations” (SC 41).
  9. “The Church… earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful… should not be there as strangers or silent spectators… They should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration (actuose participent)” (SC 48).
  10. “The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that… devout and active participation (actuosa… participatio) by the faithful may be more easily achieved” (SC 50).
  11. “The sacramentals are to undergo a revision which takes into account the primary principle of enabling the faithful to participate intelligently, actively (actuosa… participatione), and easily” (SC 79).
  12. “Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the… active participation (actuose participet) of the people” (SC 113).
  13. “Whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation (actuosam participationem) which is rightly theirs” (SC 114).
  14. Let them produce [musical] compositions… providing also for… the active participation (actuosam participationem) of the entire assembly” (SC 121).
  15. “Let…care be taken that… [Churches] be suitable for… the active participation (actuosam participationem) of the faithful” (SC 124).

These fifteen texts present a problem of interpretation. Only text number 7 illustrates what “active participation” might mean. But should text 7 be understood as listing just a few examples of active participation, or is it meant to describe the totality of what active participation should look like?

2. What Does the Latin Mean?

Latin scholars sometimes distinguish between the word activa, which means active; and the word actuosa, which can indicate a more vigorous form of activity, such as the actions of dancers and actors on a stage.

This distinction can partially be seen in Latin dictionaries, such as the Lewis and Short 1879 dictionary entries for actuosus and activus.

However, matters may be a little more complex than they initially seem. One of the textual examples cited by Lewis and Short is the following quote from Cicero:

Happiness is admittedly impossible without virtue. But virtue is in its nature active (actuosa), and your god is entirely inactive. (De Natura Deorum 1.40. See Latin text.)

This text is making a straightforward contrast between something that is “active” and something that is “inactive.” The scale of activity is irrelevant to the point being made. So, this questions whether actuosa really does always indicate a more energetic form of activity.

Perhaps a better way of trying to understand the Latin word actuosa would be to look at its occurrences in Church Latin documents.

3. Pope Pius X

If we trace the phrase “active participation” through the footnotes of twentieth-century Church texts, they lead back to Pope Pius X’s 1903 document Tra Le Sollecitudini. Writing a hundred years later, Pope John Paul II described the purpose of that document as follows:

St Pius X’s reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music. (Chirograph, 22 November 2003, #4)

Within Tra Le Sollecitudini, Pius X referred to “active participation” in two places. However, both references are controversial because the Latin and Italian versions of the document diverge.

The first reference occurs in the Introduction, where the document states:

“the faithful assemble for… active participation in the most holy mysteries…” (Tra Le Sollecitudini).

“i fedeli si radunano per… la partecipazione attiva ai sacrosanti misteri…” (Italian version).

 “Christicolae congregantur… quae est participatio divinorum mysteriorum…” (Latin version).

The English is clearly translated from the Italian, which refers to “active participation.” But the Latin merely asks for “participation.”

The second reference occurs in Paragraph 3 where the document states:

“Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times” (Tra Le Sollecitudini, 3).

“In particolare si procuri di restituire il canto gregoriano nell’uso del popolo, affinché i fedeli prendano di nuovo parte più attiva all’officiatura ecclesiastica, come anticamente solevasi” (Italian version).

“…Praesertim apud populum cantus gregorianus est instaurandus, quo vehementius Christicolae, more maiorum, sacrae liturgiae sint rursus participes” (Latin version).

Once again, the English translation follows the Italian version, with its reference to an “active” part. But the Latin version does not use the word “active.” Instead it uses the word vehementer, which in the context is arguably just calling for enthusiastic singing of Gregorian plain chant.

What this means is that Tra Le Sollecitudini is the font from which “active participation” has emerged, but it cannot illuminate the meaning of the Latin expression, as the Latin version of the document does not contain those words.

4. Pope Pius XI

In 1928 Pope Pius XI marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tra Le Sollecitudini by issuing a new Latin document on the Liturgy: Divini Cultus (English translation). Once again, the document is focused mainly upon music, but it is significant because it also includes two Latin references to active participation.

The first reference occurs in the Introductory section, where Pius XI notes that historical figures were converted to Christianity by witnessing the splendors of the liturgy, and especially by hearing the enthusiastic singing of congregations. He would like modern liturgies to recapture that ancient splendor, with the faithful “actively participating” (actuose participando) in liturgical celebrations. (See the third paragraph.)

Later, the document repeats the call for “active participation” (actuosius… participent) in the singing of Plain Chant (Divini Cultus, 9). The document states what it means:

The faithful… should not be detached and silent spectators, but… they should sing alternately with the clergy or the choir… [so that] it will no longer happen that the people either make no answer at all to the public prayers… or at best utter the responses in a low and subdued manner. (English version, 18th paragraph)

Perhaps one of the key words in the quote above is the word “detached.” Pius XI is calling for the faithful to be engaged in the Liturgical celebrations. That engagement is an “active participation” which should involve singing and responding to prayers.

5. Pope Pius XII

In Mediator Dei (1947) Pope Pius XII builds upon his predecessors’ calls for “active participation.” He uses the word actuosa (and its cognates) 12 times, but there is only one explicit reference to “active participation.”

[Christ] wished that all should approach and be drawn to His cross, especially by means of the sacraments and the eucharistic sacrifice, to obtain the salutary fruits produced by Him upon it. Through this active and individual participation (actuosa participatione)… (Mediator Dei, 78)

In this context “active participation” is not so much a way of acting within a liturgy, it is rather the bigger picture of Christians engaging regularly with the Sacraments and the Liturgy.

A little later in Mediator Dei, Pius XII turned to describe what engagement within a liturgical celebration means, by describing its opposite. He states that the faithful should be present:

… not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration… (Mediator Dei, 80)

In this English translation, the words “earnestness and concentration” translate the Latin impense…(et) actuose. So, what Pius XII envisages as an actuose involvement in the Liturgy, is an engaged mindset which avoids distraction or disinterest in what is happening.

6. Pope John Paul II

The views of Pope John Paul II (d. 2005) are particularly interesting, as he was one of the bishops present at Vatican II, taking part in debates where the language of the Council’s documents was discussed and agreed.

Commenting in 1998 he said:

Active participation does not preclude… silence, stillness and listening… Worshipers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily…. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. (Address, 9 October 1998, #3)

These comments are clearly intended to counter mistaken and overly physicalist views about what “active participation” means. In particular they are countering an interpretation which confuses active participation in the Liturgy with the idea of being constantly active throughout the course of the Liturgy.

To correct that misunderstanding Pope John Paul II stresses that sitting in silence can count as “actively participating” in parts of the Liturgy. This is because “active participation” is a matter of having the right mindset and being “engaged” in what is happening, rather than being merely present and physically active.

7. Pope Benedict XVI

Overly physicalist interpretations of active participation continued to be a matter of concern for Pope Benedict XVI.

Writing in 2007, he provided some of the most explicit commentary on the concept of “active participation”:

It should be made clear that the word “participation” does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration. In fact, the active participation called for by the Council must be understood in more substantial terms, on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated. (Sacramentum Caritatis, 52)

Once again, this understanding of “active participation” directs attention towards people’s inner dispositions and their mental understanding and engagement in the Liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI even goes so far as to explicitly deny that active participation refers merely to external activity.

Later in that document Pope Benedict XVI goes even further and notes that “active participation” is conditional upon other factors, such as seeking Reconciliation (or Confession) prior to participating in a Eucharistic Celebration (Sacramentum Caritatis, 55). This suggests that no matter how active people are during a Eucharist Celebration, those people are not “actively participating” if they are not also engaged in the Christian lifestyle, by being properly prepared prior to the liturgical celebration.

8. Conclusion

According to Pope Pius XI (see Section 4 above) the origins of what Vatican II is calling for in “active participation” are to be found in the liturgies of the 4th century. “Active participation” is the liturgical engagement of the faithful which made such a profound impression upon St. Augustine (d. 430) and St. Ambrose (d. 397).

Precisely what it means to try and recapture that liturgical engagement is a question which liturgists still debate. At one extreme is a purely physicalist understanding, which equates active participation with energetic activity throughout the Liturgy. At the other extreme is a purely subjective understanding which equates active engagement with simply watching (or listening) attentively, like watching a play at the theater.

The views of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI suggest that a more appropriate understanding of “active participation” lies between those two extremes. To be actively participating in the Liturgy is to be engaged in what is happening, both mentally and physically. What this means for specific individuals will undoubtedly vary. The Catechism sums this up by noting that:

All have their own active parts to play in the celebration, each in his own way: readers, those who bring up the offerings, those who give communion, and the whole people whose “Amen” manifests their participation. (CCC 1348)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are subject to deletion if they are not germane. I have no problem with a bit of colourful language, but blasphemy or depraved profanity will not be allowed. Attacks on the Catholic Faith will not be tolerated. Comments will be deleted that are republican (Yanks! Note the lower case 'r'!), attacks on the legitimacy of Pope Francis as the Vicar of Christ (I know he's a material heretic and a Protector of Perverts, and I definitely want him gone yesterday! However, he is Pope, and I pray for him every day.), the legitimacy of the House of Windsor or of the claims of the Elder Line of the House of France, or attacks on the legitimacy of any of the currently ruling Houses of Europe.