Cinquant’anni Dopo 6: Participation

Fr Ev farewell MassLet’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.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Cinquant’anni Dopo 6: Participation

  1. charlesincenca says:

    I don’t disagree that “pray, pay, obey” has seen its sunset. I do agree that both the mandates of participation at Mass and The Great Commission are, in a sense, sibling mandates (see, Supper, The Last, Feet, Washing of Disciples’.) But tho’ they both inform each others’ participation, they are distinctly different enterprises. They cross-reference each other. But I’m not sure that Cdl. Sarah is trying to fashion, either by expansion or contraction, an exact definition of participation, actuosa or not. But lazy liturgics will likely prompt lazy evangelization.

    • Todd says:

      At their best, one mandate inspires and informs (forms) the other. It’s been my experience that missionary disciples wouldn’t be caught dead refusing to sing at Mass (for example) and that truly spiritual singers in the pews are likely the ones sharing their faith in the world with the same gusto.

      As for Cardinal Sarah, he does later cite SC 30, which details the specifics the council bishops had in mind when they talked about participation.

      Lazy liturgics >>> lazy evangelization >>> ineffective and unfruitful liturgy and evangelization.

  2. charlesincenca says:

    I get ya, Bro’, but some of the best missioners and evangelists I’ve known over the last 24 years go to the “quiet Mass!” ;-)

    • Todd says:

      No doubt, but nearly all of the people who rarely worship or who sit in the rear of any liturgy with no engagement at all barely register on the disciple scale.

      • charlesincenca says:

        Well, Todd, have you factored in the “church speaks with forked tongue” factor? I can name that tune in two notes: Ash Wednesday. Those are not one and the same who choose to attend the quiet Mass. This is the culture in the petrie dish the Church gave us pre-V2.

      • Todd says:

        Not sure where this is heading, but I haven’t been in a parish with a weekend or holy day “quiet” Mass in a few decades. Other parishes can do as they wish, but the Roman Missal still designates responses to be uttered, and Communion offered. People who go to church with locked lips for these might be believers. Might be. They are not disciples.

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