THE LIVING LITURGY Tom Coyle
ONE of the basic principles of the liturgical renewal has been the need for the active participation of the people in the celebration of the liturgy. For many centuries, the participation of the people (if it could be called that) was minimal and passive. It wasn't until the end of the last century that translations of the Roman Missal were removed from the Index of Prohibited Books: So, for a large part of the Church's history, the Mass was said in a language which few could understand. In fact, any active participation belonged to the servers, who made the responses on behalf of the people, and the choir who sang various parts of the Mass.
The people, of course knew and understood that the Mass was the sacrifice of Jesus, and that bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus during the celebration. They knew that they were taking part in a sacred action, but they were not able to hear the readings from scripture proclaimed in their own language, or to understand the prayers of the Mass and so make them their own. It was for this reason that popular devotions developed, together with prayer books which the people used at Mass while the priest got on with his business, the silent saying of the Mass. These books and devotions no doubt helped the people in their spiritual life, but they could be no substitute for the liturgy which for most was, almost literally, a closed book.
Just prior to Vatican II, a step forward was taken and the Dialogue Mass was introduced which enabled the people to make the Latin responses heretofore made by the servers alone. This form of active participation, together with the use of Latin/English Missals did enable some people to take a more active part in the celebration of the Mass.
Vatican II in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy saw active participation in the liturgy as being "the aim to be considered before all else", and said that the "Church earnestly desires all the faithful to be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people' (1 Pet2:9) is their right and duty by reason of their baptism." (CSL 14) Unfortunately, the idea of active participation which still persisted was the ability of the people to make the responses, only this time they were in
English. The Vatican Council said that the participation was to be "full, conscious and active" and in an earlier paragraph had spelled out that if the liturgy was to possess its full effectiveness, "it is necessary that the faithful come to it with the proper dispositions, that their minds be attuned to their voices, and that they must co-operate with the divine grace, lest they receive it in vain."
In other words, the Church wants the people to do more than just answer the responses and sing the hymns. It wants us to make the liturgy an integral part of our life, so that it really is the source and centre of our lives as Christians. At the centre of the liturgy is the Mass and so the Mass can be seen as being the form of liturgy which helps us come closer to God week by week, as we listen to God's word and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. With each Mass, we should grow closer to God.
Only too often we think of the Mass as an obligation, something which is rather boring and which we have to go to because the Church says so. We should do our best to see it as the high point of our week: an occasion when we come together as God's people to be formed by his word and strengthened by his Body and Blood. The Mass should be a celebration of our love for God; our thanks to him for his mighty works; for his great love and especially for sending Jesus his Son to be our Saviour. In our celebration we sing, pray and listen together and so come to the heart of the Christian mystery as week by week we celebrate the fact that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
If we see the Mass in this way, then our participation will be "full, conscious and active" and we shall want to prepare for the weekly celebration of our faith in our homes either alone or as a family by prayer and reading the scriptures, particularly the reading we are to hear on the Sunday.
It is our duty to take an active part in the celebration, but it is also our right and those responsible for the celebration must ensure that all the people can participate in this way. How this can be done, we shall look at in future articles.