Article 14 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, from Vatican II, considers the full, conscious, active participation by all the faithful as the principle goal of the liturgical reform. We have spent the last 50 years since the Council coming to a gradual understanding of what that participation should be. Early on, it looked like a series of “get-tos.” I get to carry something; I get to read something; I get to distribute something. But if that were participation, it would leave out most of the assembly at any given Mass.
So what does participation mean, and how does one do it? Parishes do not provide training workshops for the assembly like they do for lectors, cantors, musicians, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Perhaps that is not possible, but something needs to be done.
I would like to devote a series of these Musings to discuss the full, conscious, active participation by all. Here is the first installment.
The first thing to know about participation in the liturgy is that it involves more than just the time spent in church. Liturgy is the ritual celebration of the whole Christian life. Liturgy presumes that the people celebrating it are actually striving to live in holiness, justice, and truth.
Any number of people in the average assembly have not prayed all week long. What makes them think they could then be good prayers at Sunday Mass? Some people in the assembly have ignored the mandates of love all week long. How are they, then, capable of celebrating the greatest gift of love on Sunday?
This is not to say that perfection must be achieved before one is capable of participating in the liturgy. Far from it. Liturgy celebrates that very patience of God that forgives human failing and calls people back from their sin toward divine grace. Liturgy is not only the summit of Christian life; it is also its principle source.
What is being said here is that liturgy is connected to life and that any false separation of the two negatively affects one’s spiritual existence. Failure to live the Christian life affects one’s participation in the liturgy. Similarly, failure to participate in the liturgy affects one’s ability to fully live the Christian life. Asking which comes first is a moot question. Begin doing both, and both will improve.