Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I have a very good memory about details, especially when I was young. Of course, my memory is very parochial, not a worldwide experience but isolated to three parishes that I attended prior to Vatican II, the Post Chapel at Fort McPherson, GA from 1956-60, St. Anthony Church in the West End of Atlanta during the same period and St. Joseph Church, Augusta, GA from 1960 to 1965 when changes that Vatican II envision trickled down to us, especially actual participation.

This is what I remember about Pre-Vatican II actual participation in the Mass during that brief and early period of my life:

1. Participation in Mass was highly individualized and personal. The only communal aspect was simply being gathered together. However, all eyes had to be fixed on the sanctuary, there was very little or no interaction amongst those present.

2. The Holy Rosary seem to be the prayer of choice during the liturgy by the vast majority of people. I was taught by my parents to hold the Rosary during Mass and even pray it during Mass.

3. However, I was given a St. Joseph Missal and asked to bring it to Mass to follow the Mass and many people brought both their rosaries and missals to Mass--missalettes or worship aids were not provided by the parish, except a hymnal of some kind.

4. The laity remained quiet, and only the altar servers spoke during the Mass or the choir if there was one--my experience during pre-Vatican II times was mostly the Low Mass at the early Sunday morning time slot.

After Vatican II and when the liturgy changes were being first implemented, the thrust of the priests who were telling us what was desired by Vatican II was active participation and two things would facilitate this, the turning of the priest to face the congregation during the Mass to make the Mass more "intelligible" more vernacular to make the Mass more easily understandable and the actual participation of the laity in the responses and chants of the Mass that up until that time were reserved to the altar boys and/or choir.

This also included the laity reading the Scriptures of the Mass and eventually Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, but the latter occurred in the 1970's. The inclusion of women/girls in these ministries was also a fruit of Vatican II we were taught so that women, especially as the 20th century saw great advances in the education of women, their right to vote, their work ethic during World War II in taking jobs normally reserved to men who were absent because of the war and a number of other developments which the Church for the most part found positive.

So no one can tell me that "actual participation" as Vatican II and post Vatican II developments did not hinge on building upon what was good prior to Vatican II but also addressing what wasn't good, meaning passivity and letting others do for them what they should be doing themselves, like singing, speaking and actively engaged in the liturgy both internally and externally and the external being a symbol of internal participation and a fruit of it.

By the 1980's and at the behest the liturgist Father Eugene Walsh, active participation was being defined in the following way:

1. hospitality
2. creating silence for private prayer, listening to the Scriptures and meditating on them and listening actively to the prayers that are prayed and not using worship aids and following these in a book, but looking and listening with eyes, ears, body and soul.
3. Actively participating and energetically in all spoken and sung parts
4. Departing Mass recommitted to bringing Christ to our homes, play and work.

The clericalism part of this was priests in the late 60's and 70's trying to enforce this post Vatican II vision and by facing the people during the entire Mass, acting like supervisors of their participation and sometime belittling people who were slow or unwilling to change from their pre-Vatican II practices. This clericalism might well explain why so many who did not like being supervised during Mass may well have dropped out of Mass altogether, especially if they were felt to be second class citizens by maintaining their pre-Vatican II worship practices.

With the priest facing the congregation and acting like a judge on the laity's participation, there also created the teacher/student relationship and those in the congregation doing what the teacher expected and doing it for the teacher to see so that the student would be considered the teacher's pet.


Joseph Johnson said...

The "interaction amongst those present" has always been the part I have difficulty accepting. I don't hold hands with others during the Pater Noster (which I know is not really part of the Mass rubrics) and I don't really like the Sign of Peace handshake (though I do it because I see it as something I am legitimately expected to do in the Novus Ordo version of the Mass).

I have always believed that our focus should (as to each individual in the nave) be on the altar, crucifix and pulpit. Interaction with our neighbors in the nave during Mass is a distraction from what the Mass is about (worshipping and glorifying God, being taught and preached to, and the offering of the Holy Sacrifice for our redemption).

Marc said...

Why is there a choir is everyone is supposed to sing the sung parts? The Liturgy is meant to give glory to God, partly through beautiful music. Trained singers make more beautiful music than a hodge-podge of various people. There is no historical tradition of everyone singing the sung parts of a High Mass that I am aware of. So, I think the burden is on you to show that this form of active participation is somehow better than the laity's silently uniting their hearts to the prayers of the priest at the altar.

Moreover, what exactly is the problem with saying the Rosary during Mass - I've heard you say that people used to do this, but you've never explained why it should bother us? The Mass is the re-presentation of Calvary: we are praying at the Foot of the Cross alongside our Blessed Mother. Therefore, it seems perfectly reasonable to recite the Sorrowful Mysteries during the Mass of the Faithful. That is the definition of active participation - of course, one can't pray the Rosary during Mass anymore with all the distractions of music, vernacular, priest talking to us, people trying to shake hands. I ask, seriously, which is better: me silently meditating on that very Event at which I am mystically present or me singing a vernacular hymn (usually written by a Protestant)?

Anonymous said...

I try to actively participate by waving and smiling at as many friends as I can find while waiting in line for Communion.

Andy Milam said...

Fr. McD;

You state, "So no one can tell me that "actual participation" as Vatican II and post Vatican II developments did not hinge on building upon what was good prior to Vatican II but also addressing what wasn't good, meaning passivity and letting others do for them what they should be doing themselves, like singing, speaking and actively engaged in the liturgy both internally and externally and the external being a symbol of internal participation and a fruit of it."

I can. What you call passivity is not right. I will use myself as an example (feel free to critize me, it won't hurt my feelings). I NEVER respond at Holy Mass and I can guarantee you that I am not passive in my worship. I internally process and adore Our Lord called down from heaven at each and every Mass. I do this primarily by the means you list first.

1. I don't care what the person next to me is doing. To be honest, I don't want to know. It doesn't mean a hill of beans to me whether or not Allan McD is praying a rosary, meditating on the life of Christ or following his missal. That is how he worships and that is his right.

2. How one unites himself to the Sacred Mystery is not for me to call. If one most perfectly unites himself to the SM by meditating on the Life of Christ, good. If one unites himself to the SM through the rosary, good. If one unites himself to the SM by following the Missal, good. But I am not a huge fan of hand missals, because I see them as a crutch, outside the translation of the readings (personal opinion, others will disagree). But regardless of that, it doesn't matter to me how Allan McD unites his mind, soul and heart to the SM, just that he does so.

3. Missalettes and worship aids are unneeded expense and socialist. The fact that I can pray from a Lasance Missal and you can pray from a St. Joseph Missal and Marc can pray from a St. Andrew's Missal and we are all able to express our personal taste in that manner. And that is ok. I shouldn't be forced to follow what OCP or Leaflet or whomever chooses for me.

Rosaries are good, even at Holy Mass.

4. And yet there is imposed silence now. It's as if silence is a bad thing, unless it is forced on us after the homily and after Holy Communion's song....Silence at Holy Mass is desirable. It allows for the faithful to focus on the Sacred Mystery. It allows for the internal aspect of worship to be expressed. It is a major fault of Vatican Council II and after that all of a sudden we have to be "busy."

No, Fr. McD, I'm not looking to be hospitable during Mass. I don't need to create silence, it is already there, as long as the faithful and the celebrant stop needlessly talking. My participatio activa (actively participating by singing, responding, etc) is ALWAYS secondary to my participatio actuosa (internal and actual participation) which is how I properly worship. I'll leave the talking to the servers. I think that the lack of commitment was minimal compared to today's "participants." At least people who went to Mass before the Council left the church. The people after the Council just stopped going.

Is it any wonder, Father that the churches that are filling up are the TLM churches, by percentage? So, those are the faithful who are committed. Not those who self-idenitfy as Catholic and do nothing about it.

John Nolan said...

My experience in a fairly ordinary parish with limited musical resources was that at the 11 o'clock Missa Cantata (which I attended from the age of three or four) the congregation joined in the responses and the sung Ordinary. Hence the over-reliance on the Missa de Angelis and Credo III. The only time I heard a polyphonic choir was on occasional visits to the cathedral.

I only experienced Low Mass on a regular basis when I started serving it at the age of eight in 1959, and the so-called 'dialogue' mass, with the people's responses on laminated sheets, did not arrive (in my parish at least) until about 1962.

The problem with Walsh's interpretation of 'participatio actuosa', which Pius X recommended, is that it fails to recognize that such participation is first and foremost 'interior' rather than 'exterior' (although there are exterior manifestations of it), a point emphasized in Musicam Sacram of 1967 which remains definitive as far as the Novus Ordo is concerned.

The sung Propers, if done according to the Graduale Romanum (as is the preferred option for the Introit, Offertory and Communion, and a permissible option for the Gradual and Alleluia/Tract) are not intended to be sung by the congregation, which at these points should be meditating on the texts of what has been described as a lectionary in its own right. For this reason hand missals always gave both Latin and the vernacular.

The silences in the NO are imposed and artificial; those in the classic Roman Rite are 'filled' silences. People were not constantly jumping up and down and doing or saying things, but the old lady praying the Rosary at the back of the church was connecting with the liturgy in a way that modern OF congregations aren't. Polls have shown that a majority of practising Catholics in the USA don't even know what the Mass is really about.

rcg said...

I ask this in a serious way: what was supposed to be gained by having all the interaction, hand shaking, etc. during the Mass? When I go to my old parish it seems like they are constantly announcing something, standing to greet each other, shaking hands, and such. They really like it, too. They aren't bad people, but not a lot of praying. I get the feeling the pastor feels everyone hates each other and holds deep seated racial or political hatreds and wants everyone to get along. Seriously. They want a community feeling something terrible. But they want to do it during Mass rather than stick around afterwards and be friendly. It seems backwards to me. I can't pray at their Mass because they are constantly having me interact with the people around me. I'll be honest, it's sort of creepy, like Mooney's or something. If a guy wants to pray the Our Father with his hands folded and head bowed someone will grab his hands and tell him how much they love him and make him recite it together. It seems like they are afraid of silence.

Andy Milam said...

@ rcg;

" They really like it, too."

Of course they do, it feels good. And that is the big switch. Catholicism has never primarily been about "feeling good." It has been about knowing the faith and accepting it in a rational and objective way.

The Protestant model of "feeling good" has never been a part of Catholic worship, until 1965 and later. It wasn't until the erroneous advent of archaeologicalism with regard to the liturgy that the leadership of the Church found that people hugged and kissed and held hands and wept and blah, blah, blah...the Church was never that way, every aspect of the Mass has always been objective in nature and not subjective.

The subjective is the basis for the Protestant heresy. BTW, it isn't Mooney's (those are my family members on my mom's side), they are Moonies...just sayin'...LOL!!!

You also state, "It seems like they are afraid of silence."

It isn't seeming. It is a reality. There is this faulty notion that participatio activa (active participation) is superior to paritipatio actuosa (actual participation). I can assure you, it is not. I think that pastors and curates should be embracing the silence and entering into a world of quiet when it comes to Holy Mass, I think more people would go. They get enough drivel on tv, they don't need it at church too.

Anonymous 5 said...

It strikes me that those who claim that the Latin Mass doesn't involve "active participation" are imposing (wrong) ideas on the term "active" from a different model--specifically, the traditional distinction between active and contemplative Religious orders, which is a false distinction anyway. I think this idea--that joining your prayers to that of the priest during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass isn't active--is a) an innovation, b) denigrating to the idea of prayer, and c) unsupported by the text of Sancrosanctum Concilium.

The Catholic Enclyclopedia defines prayer to be "An act of the virtue of religion which consists in asking proper gifts or graces from God. In a more general sense it is the application of the mind to Divine things, not merely to acquire a knowledge of them but to make use of such knowledge as a means of union with God. This may be done by acts of praise and thanksgiving, but petition is the principal act of prayer." (Emphasis added.) The encyclopedia goes on to show the many ways in which Scripture characterizes prayer as active. "The words used to express it in Scripture are: to call up (Genesis 4:26); to intercede (Job 22:10); to mediate (Isaiah 53:10); to consult (1 Samuel 28:6); to beseech (Exodus 32:11); and, very commonly, to cry out to."

Aquinas, too, characterizes prayer as an act in II-II, Q. 83, Art. 1: "[I]t is evident that prayer, as we speak of it now, is an act of reason." (Emphasis added.) In fact, this whole article isn't concerned with whether or not prayer is an act, but what kind of act it is--appetitive or intellective. Aquinas never doubts that it's an act. And if it's an act, one who engages in it is active.

Further, Sacrosanctum Concilium nowhere states--as far as I'm aware--anything to the effect that the Tridentine Mass doesn't involve active participation by the laity, or that it doesn't have enough active participation, or even that revisions to the Mass should increase active participation. It merely states that the Mass should have active participation. (Don't take my word for it: go read the thing yourselves.) By way of analogy, If I say that it is important that people vote in this upcoming election, that in no way implies that people didn't vote in the last election.

I would contend, then, that the idea that "active participation" means that people need to be shaking hands and getting up out of the pews and carrying out physical actions in the manner of being readers and EMEs and such is a Spirit of VII concept that fall's under Fr. McD's category of things that should be blasted out of the water.

If someone would care to debate me, I'll expect you to begin by showing me how and why Aquinas is wrong, and then showing me how my reading of the text of SC is in error.

Anonymous said...

Marc, a Rosary said on Sunday would ordinarily be according to the season, would it not?
I have never heard, until
I read your post, that, if it is said by a person assisting at Holy Mass, it should be the Sorrowful Mysteries even outside of Lent.

Ancil Payne

Marc said...


Yes, the Rosary on Sunday is according to the season. You'll notice that my context was suggesting that praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary during the Mass would be an appropriate meditation given the nature of the Mass.

As you know, we are not bound to say any particular set of Mysteries on any particular day. I would envision that most would pray whatever the Mystery for the Sunday (according to the season) prior to Mass (as most Traditional Chapels have a group Rosary before Mass) and then meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries during the Mass.

Of course, what one does during Mass in terms of their prayer is quite personal and I am not one to begin prescribing how anyone should pray the Mass. That, actually, was the entire point of my comment - none of us can tell any of the others the best way to hear Mass as my best way might not be your best way. Adam has good thoughts on that in his first comment on this post.