Msgr Marini on Participation

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.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgy. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Msgr Marini on Participation

  1. Sam Schmitt says:


    You seem to take the good Monsignor’s comments in an absolute sense, while he seems to be speaking to pervasive tendencies in liturgical praxis in the reformed rite, including (1) overemphasis on external participation to the virtual exclusion of internal, (2) over-rationalization, (3) casualness and improvisation, and (4) a virtual ban on Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. For example, he says that chant and polyphony “also” belong to the liturgy, a rather modest statement that certainly does not exclude other types of music.

    True, the “Reform2ers” aren’t the only ones who take exception to these trends, at least in their extreme forms, but in my opinion the progressives do not go far enough in counteracting them and in many ways encourage the very things they say they are trying to discourage.

  2. Todd says:

    In my previous commentary, I stated I thought that Pope Benedict and Msgr Marini have misdiagnosed the trends in post-conciliar reform.

    Your four points are well-taken, in the sense of promoting liturgical spirituality, in declining an excessive rationalism, in adopting a sound framework for the rites, and in the advocacy of traditional musical forms.

    However, too many commentators seem to indicate that liturgical reformers have not embraced these, which is a stark untruth. Additionally, the suggestion that we progressives are associated with such things as a “virtual ban” or a “virtual exclusion of (the) internal” is a caricature that tends to stop discussion almost immediately and paints you and others as extremists. I don’t believe you are, Sam, but I would urge caution in using a broad brush in these instances.

    Moreso, the reform2 movement itself is dogged by its own rationalism: why else would people say that good liturgy is as easy as red and white?

    I suspect the early stages of post-conciliar reform presumed an interior liturgical spirituality on the part of the laity. I might suggest that perhaps the TLM wasn’t that strong of a cultivator in that regard.

    The only progressive liturgy I have very much influence on is the one in my own parish. I don’t hesitate to stand on that effort. I also think Msgr Marini is largely unaware of Roman Catholic liturgy outside of the Vatican and the stories of complaint that drift his way.

  3. Sam Schmitt says:

    “However, too many commentators seem to indicate that liturgical reformers have not embraced these, which is a stark untruth.”

    I see indications that they are embraced in some sense on paper, but I rarely see them in practice.

    I am thinking of a parish where I worked with a well-educated liturgist by all accounts very much in the progressive tradition (she studied at Notre Dame, I believe) – in her group, chant made up about 2% of our repertoire, IIRC. I would call that a “virtual ban.” And few of the other well-educated liturgy / music directors I have known have been a whole lot better. More than just a percentage, however, chant rarely has a real place in the musical life of a parish – praise and worship and other contemporary styles almost completely dominate.

    My reasoning goes something like this – the problems I see in liturgies I have experienced (other than those I attribute to mere sloppiness or forgetfulness) are due to the formation and training of those responsible – the priests and liturgists. These people have been educated, for the most part, according to progressive principles. So the problems I see – e.g. incessant tinkering and improvisation with text and gestures (why can’t they just do the red and say the black – as a start?), the busyness of multiple ministers, pop-psychology homilies, over-functioning cantors, lack of solemnity and the personalization of the liturgy by the celebrant, etc. – I attribute to their training and formation.

    It is things like those in the above list, by the way, which lead to me to say that internal participation has largely been lost sight of – they all serve to distract and pull me away from any real interior recollection which I see as a prerequisite to internal participation.

    I understand that not every problem can be laid at the doorstep of progressive liturgists – mere human indifference and the temptation to minimalism can account for some things – for example, overly loud microphones and bad homilies.

    Whose fault is all this, then? Is it just a matter of poor translation between what you consider solid liturgists and what gets taught in seminaries and at conferences?

    I don’t think this is the whole story. Fr. Anthony Ruff, for example, hardly a left-winger, considers the place of chant in his book “Sacred Music and Liturgical Reform”. He concludes that even in ideal circumstances, it remains “somewhat paradoxical.” This seems a far cry from Vatican II’s mandate that it be given “pride of place in liturgical services.” In the end chant seems more honored in the breach than in the observance.

    I understand that the use of chant is a complex question, one that Fr. Ruff explores with patient scholarship. However, all this learning leads him to a conclusion in stark contrast with the wishes of the Church for her own worship.

    This is fairly typical of what I have read of more progressive liturgists. Is anyone really going to be encouraged to use chant more extensively in their liturgies after reading Fr. Ruff’s book? (I realize that Fr. Ruff is an energetic supporter of chant in the reformed liturgy; I am speaking about someone who simply reads his book.)

    It could be – and this is something that I think Fr. Ruff’s arguments support, albeit unintentionally – that the reformed rites are simply inimical and incompatible with traditional musical forms. If so, either Vatican II or the subsequent reforms were incoherent and, from a musical point of view, unsustainable. But this is a topic for another day.

    So, I would say that the good Msgr. does have a good awareness of liturgy outside the Vatican. What he alludes to is what I have experienced as the norm for as long as I can remember(I was born in 1970). If you have regularly experienced liturgies which truly foster prayerful participation, are rich in meaningful symbolic forms, are solemn and serious according to their true content and nature, and integrate traditional music and chant, you are one of the lucky ones. (Perhaps you are “largely unaware” of RC liturgy outside of your own parish?)

    I did not mean to suggest that all the blame can be laid at the doorstep of the progressive liturgists. At the very least, however, I do not see them as really a part of the solution either.

    • Todd says:

      Well, no problem on a lengthy comment. Too much for me to tackle all in the combox, but maybe it will be good fodder for future posts.

      I will comment that the “musical establishment” of the 70’s was solidly entrenched in organ and hymnody, at least in the East. Many reform2 commentators have a very strange notion of folk groups taking over. At best (as in my parish of origin) they were given a mid-morning Sunday Mass. At worst, a mid-week Mass was “invented” in part to give them a niche–Ed Gutfreund’s infamous “Folk Mass at 3AM.”

      It wasn’t until piano arrangements that they became mainstream–even acceptable in morphed form as “ensembles” in the 80’s.

      As for chant, the much-maligned Ray Repp and Marty Haugen were doing it as part of their composition repertoire by 1980 when organ/choral hymnody was still in its ascendency.

      I guess my complaint at Marini’s (and others’) diagnosis is that at worst, it betrays great ignorance. Power combined with ignorance is always annoying, if not dangerous.

      When I was in grad school in the 80’s, I travelled fairly widely in the East and Midwest. I was certainly more familiar with what was happening in parishes that had hired music directors (mainly friends of mine or recommended parishes). What I recall doesn’t quite match the revisionist history I read from reform2 commentators. And the notion that guitars took over is just ludicrous. Not even NALR with the SLJ’s lasted more than a dozen years as a viable business.

      How much chant is enough? That’s a great question. I’ve tackled it before, and I’m not inclined to revisit it today. The organists of the 70’s and 80’s weren’t touching it. I was introduced to the plainchant hymn Divinum Mysterium on a 1982 Joncas-Haas-seminary album before the latter was published. Obviously, the inheritors of the “folk Mass” tradition were dealing with it.

      So I was exposed to sacred music tradition largely through progressive channels. Those progressives–and all ages of them–are still serving the Church faithfully and well. We’re part of the solution, like it or not.

      • Sam Schmitt says:

        Not sure where I said “guitars took over.” I was speaking more about the general ethos in parishes which speak to the concerns expresssed by Msgr. Marini.

        As far as music goes I was thinking of the repertoire from mainstream hymnals (I’m most familiar with RitualSong) which derives in great part from contemporary styles. In this I see the same ethos whcih inspired the church “folk” musicians of the 1960s and 70s.

        I understand that there are parishes with more “progressive” leanings that do traditional music, not to mention mainstream Episcopal churches. However, a big goal of the Reform2 and CMAA isn’t simply more programming of better music, but the *integration* of music into the liturgy.

        Singing a Handel piece at the offertory or a nice chant during communion is a positive step, I suppose, in that it’s good music, but if it’s not part of the rite, where are we? And how are we truly furthering active particpation by having people sing things which are not part of the liturgy? I mean, they are “doing something” at the liturgy, but are they really “doing the liturgy”?

      • Todd says:

        Good points, Sam. It was through progressive musicians I was formed in the notion that we sing the liturgy, as opposed to singing at the liturgy. My first emphases are on good acclamations, psalmody, and other ritual music.

        The contemporary ethos I know emphasizes congregational singing, so that when we do program plainsong, it is with the intention that people will sing it.

        I would agree the goal of CMAA and reform2 is better musical programming, but frankly, I’ve been doing that for years without their help.

  4. Sam Schmitt says:

    Please excuse the excessive length of the last post – I don’t mean to monopolize the conversation!

  5. Tony says:

    I find it interesting how in recent years the “progressives” are becoming the “conservatives” and the “conservatives” are becoming the “progressives”.

    This is one of those ideas that, when repeated frequently enough, may start to have the ring of truth to it.

    Could that be because it’s… ummm… true?

    I see more “active participation” in my monthly EF Mass than I have seen in many a progressive OF parish where the people are thinking more about the next “part” they have to play than what is happening around them.

    I have to admit that years ago, I did the same thing as a choir member. I was getting my next song ready while oblivious to the mystery happening around me.

    But “active partitipation” does not mean singing every single song. Having a choir “perform” a complicated octavo during communion meditation give the faithful time to immerse themselves in the mystery and contemplate their real communion with God, instead of being “forced” to sing the latest Joncas ditty.

  6. gedsmk says:

    Active participation has to be understood in the context of the whole phrase to derive the actual (!) meaning: “Full, conscious and active participation”. The intention was clear, and quite different from the revisionist anti-Vatican II view. How we miss Marini (with doctorate in Liturgy) – replaced by this one (doctorate in canon law)!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s