I’ve wanted to get back to Msgr Marini’s much-touted and much-promoted address on reform2. One of the weakest points of his talk is his treatment of participation. He does concede that the principle of participation is all over the Vatican II documents, and not only the liturgy constitution. He recognizes the many follow-up documents in 1964 and the years that follow.
Nevertheless, there has not always been a correct understanding of the concept of “active participation”, according to how the Church teaches it and exhorts the faithful to live it.
This is one of those ideas that, when repeated frequently enough, may start to have the ring of truth to it. For my part, I will concede that some lay people at some times, in seeking to imitate the priest as the “ideal participant,” have focused too much on advocating specialized liturgical roles as the ideal participation. I’ve never promoted liturgical involvement in that way, and I know many of my professional colleagues have not, either.
Msgr Marini’s point misses or ignores the main challenge of post-conciliar pastoral liturgy; the engagement of the assembly on all levels.
When parishioners fold their arms at the early Sunday morning Mass and refuse to sing, I’ve accepted that situation, and others like it, as part of a challenge of ministry. A refusal to be engaged by the rite doesn’t presume (automatically) a lack of faith or its expression. Believers sin, but it doesn’t cancel baptism. Married couples enter difficult periods or separations because of jobs, emotions, etc., but it doesn’t affect the sacramental reality of their marriage. People may be imperfectly engaged by the liturgy, and the correct pastoral approach by priests and other leaders is to invite them to a deeper role in the Mass. Why? Not to make the Mass more exciting. But to complement a faith that is already present, and to effect the Church’s earthly purpose for the liturgy: the sanctification of the faithful, a cooperation with the grace of Christ.
The pope’s liturgist quotes an unfortunate section from the Holy Father’s book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.
By the actio of the liturgy the sources mean the Eucharistic prayer. The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is the oratio. …This oratio—the Eucharistic Prayer, the “Canon”—is really more than speech; it is actio in the highest sense of the word.
Not looking far enough afield, I think. Early and Patristic traditions valued the proclamation of the Word as well. I think we are safe in being able to elevate the value of Christ’s kerygma, his proclamation of salvation, especially through the Gospels, as part of this oratio.
If this talk is to be taken as some sort of manifesto on or for the reform2 movement, I think the exclusive emphasis on adoration will be its major flaw. What I read as adoration in many places in this address is sometimes just a synonym for reverence. Liturgy includes this, but it includes much, much more. There are times in the Roman Rite when we are asked to make a proclamation of faith: the acclamations after the readings, the Creed, Memorial Acclamation A, for example. We are also called to sing, and the primary songbook we are given (the Psalter) offers not only moments of adoration, but praise, petition, lament, as well as our human emotions.
Msgr Marini offers four questions at the end of this section. I want to answer them briefly, and then turn it over to the commentariat:
Are we truly certain that the promotion of an active participation consists in rendering everything to the greatest extent possible immediately comprehensible?
This wouldn’t be my definition of active participation. But the best moments of the liturgy: the proclamation of the Scriptures, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Communion procession: these should be obvious. These are not the moments for incomprehension, at least not perpetrated by leaders.
May it not be the case that entering into God’s mystery might be facilitated and, sometimes, even better accompanied by that which touches principally the reasons of the heart?
Is Msgr Marini appealing to the affective side of humanity? An emotional connection between God and an attitude of adoration? I think that the “feelings” connected to reverence, must be balanced with other human factors, things like courage in the face of trials, tenacity in belief, a conscious decision of the will to follow Christ. And perhaps other emotional responses as the Psalms and the Gospels illustrate–lament, joy, and even more “negative” aspects like anger or discouragement. Do we not bring these to God as well, for healing and restoration, if for nothing else?
Is it not often the case that a disproportionate amount of space is given over to empty and trite speech, forgetting that both dialogue and silence belong in the liturgy, congregational singing and choral music, images, symbols, gestures?
This isn’t new to the reform2 movement. Progressive liturgists have been promoting silence and dialogue for decades.
Do not, perhaps, also the Latin language, Gregorian chant, and sacred polyphony belong to this manifold language which conducts us to the center of the mystery?
Certainly they do, but they are not the only sacred expressions of liturgical participation.