Let’s keep up with Cardinal Robert Sarah and his June 2015 essay for L’Osservatore Romano. I’ve used an “early” translation, attributed here to Michael J. Miller at Catholic World Report.
I wanted to take some careful time looking at Cardinal Sarah’s views on participation.
This is the ultimate meaning of the key concept of the conciliar Constitution: “participatio actuosa.” For the Church, this participation consists of becoming the instrument of Christ the Priest, for the purpose of participating in His Trinitarian mission. The Church actively participates in Christ’s liturgical work insofar as she is the instrument thereof.
A few things on this. Not every conciliar reference to participation involves the qualifier “actuosa.” As Cardinal Sarah suggests, participation is a principle quite a bit more broad and deep than doing things at Mass. Let me elaborate a bit …
The third millennium will find Catholics more engaged in the even more key concept of discipleship. It is no longer enough for people to go to Mass, or carry that Catholic card. We are living in an era where believers are being invited and challenged to go deeper on the Church’s essential mission–making disciples. Matthew 28:19-20 is no less a mandate than the Eucharist.
Two, the liturgy is largely a cooperation with the work of Christ. And this is a work into which every baptized believer is called to share. Evangelization is the work of the Church–hardly the clergy alone.
In this sense, language about the “celebrating community” has its ambiguities and requires true caution (cf. the Instruction Redemptoris sacramentum, no. 42). Therefore this “participatio actuosa” should not be understood as the need to do something. On this point the Council’s teaching has often been distorted. Instead it is a matter of letting Christ take us and associate us with His sacrifice.
I would agree that the liturgy is a matter of cooperating with Christ’s initiative–grace, if you will. But the real ambiguity we have inherited from the past centuries is the do-nothing silence of the laity while clergy, religious, lay apostolates, teachers, missionaries, and others do the work. It is an infection of Western society that people spectate through their lives: television, following and fawning over celebrities, musical entertainment, sports, and the like. There is a far greater danger of missing the moment of sacrifice if we are not prepared to make our own sacrifices. That stands for liturgy. It stands for evangelization. It certainly stands for the Christian life. If we aren’t offering a balance between the exterior and interior in the four walls surrounding Sunday Mass, I have little hope we will enact Christ’s mission in the world.
I think Cardinal Sarah misdiagnoses the situation. Participation isn’t about “doing something.” It’s about our share of a dialogue: God calls, we respond. We don’t just sit on our hands and hold our tongues. And seriously: nobody serious advocates people doing all things all the time–that is a gross caricature of participation that’s better left behind us.
Note: I Wasn’t able to find the original essay on the L’Osservatore Romano site. Reader comments, however, are most welcome.