Cardinal Cupich On Participation

One side of a continuing discussion on the US Bishops and whatever they might end up writing. With some interspersed commentary, here’s Cardinal Cupich on participation:

The Eucharist as Summons to Participation

The heart of the Eucharistic prayers we hear at Mass includes four actions that we are to perform in memory of Jesus: he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it. The Eucharist is not fundamentally a static reality. In a primary sense, the Eucharist is action or an event, the Lord’s action in his Paschal Mystery, that summons our participation.

Basic theology here. We are called to imitate Jesus where the Holy Spirit inspires us. To answer the prophetic call of Luke 4:16ff, to be with those who are in need, to respond to his various mandatums in the Gospels (going out in twos, preaching the Good News, finding and responding to his presence in the underprivileged) and to take and eat and drink. Even quiet activity, unseen and unnoticed, is participation.

A quick summary of the Liturgicla Movement on participation:

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Pope St. Pius X identified the essential nature of liturgical participation. He said that the first and foremost source of the Christian life is active participation (actuosa participatio) in the liturgy. This summons to active participation developed across the twentieth century and culminated in the directions offered in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (SC). The Council identified the internal and external aspects of participation and its dimensions as active, conscious, full, and fruitful (actuosa, conscia, plena, fructuosa).

Liturgical basics here. In order to be informed and inspired about the imitation of Christ in the world, we get to “practice” being disciples at Mass. Cautions ahead.

Some sixty years after the promulgation of SC, many Catholics neither know their call to active participation in the eucharistic mysteries nor have they made an intentional commitment to it. At best, active participation seems to mean having a particular role to play in the liturgy (greeter, server, lector, Communion minister). The full and conscious participation that means internally joining ourselves to the death and resurrection of the Lord celebrated in the Eucharist seems to have eluded many Catholics.

For “many” Catholics this is true. As the new Rite and reformed aspects were introduced from the mid-sixties onward, most lay people looked to the example of the Church’s “professional” disciples in parishes–clergy and sisters. A division of liturgical roles was appropriate, and perhaps there was much fruitfulness to be found in proclaiming Scriptures, distributing the Eucharist, and playing instruments other than the organ. As much joy and fulfillment as lay people previously served at the altar, at the doors of the church, and in the choir loft. 

I do think many Catholics “got” that the primary liturgical participation came from the pews. It wasn’t even about the spoken responses and the singing, but worshiping in an environment where their engagement, outward and inner, informed and fed their spiritual lives. 

Where this didn’t happen, I’d have to fault local leadership. Pastors who failed to learn the Council, and those who were inexpert in pastoral theology failed to seek out or train expertise beyond their own. And perhaps some bishops of the late 60s and 70s had too much trust in their clergy.

In place of active participation, some seem to view their engagement with Eucharistic worship in a number of other ways: the fulfillment of an obligation, a meditative moment in their otherwise busy lives, or as an opportunity to receive inspiration or encouragement. How many of our Catholic brothers and sisters seem to conceive of the liturgy as a spectator sport? How often do we hear, “But I don’t get anything out of it”? The passivity suggested by such an approach is the opposite of active participation.

This is also the fruit of the preconciliar liturgy. One serious reason why the 1962 Missal really does need to be retired if it can’t be seriously reformed. My challenge to my traditional-leaning friends who insist the TLM is fine and that they accept Vatican II: apply Sacrosanctum Concilium to your Mass and bring it to where it needs to be to comply with Church teaching.

Any effective Eucharistic catechesis, formation, or revival must take into account not only the Eucharist in itself but also our response to the Eucharist. That means focusing on the understanding of active participation in the Eucharist.

Unfortunately, we retain a lot of baggage. We have pre-conciliar notions of the Church as a membership organization. A holy membership, certainly. But not necessarily a participation in the Body of Christ. A line in a baptismal registry is our “card,” and our daily, weekly, or annual “check-up” at the end of a Communion line is our affirmation.

There’s more at the link, but this bit on participation is enough for today.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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