Thursday, July 12, 2012

Active Participation - A Gloss on the Video

The great little video about the Latin Mass (more profound than much one is exposed to) brings up quite elegantly, even forcefully, the question of "active participation" on the part of all those who are assisting at Mass. Quoting Pope St. Pius X, the video distinguishes between praying at Mass and doing what the saintly Pope urged, namely getting involved in "praying the Mass" or actively participating.

Over the centuries the greatest fail at Mass has been in terms of active participation; if I may be permitted a judgment, it has been that of giving up on the real effort or work involved in praying the Mass. The Council Fathers knew that, Pope St. Pius X knew that very clearly. The issue is not one of distraction alone but rather of capitulation in the face of what genuine active participation demands of us. 

Hans Urs von Balthasar, in vol. II: Spouse of the Word, of his work "Explorations in Theology", Ignatius Press, 1991, expresses his reservations about the great old Schott missal, which generations of Germans used for following the Latin Mass. It was a major investment and, as we learn also from Georg Ratzinger, a family treasure. Von Balthasar is not so sure that it really encouraged active participation in church; he seems to think that the book or reading individually abstracts from the mystery, from the sublime action in which we are to take part. I think von Balthasar wants to lay the emphasis on hearing for participation and argues that reading per force takes me out of the loop. I don't know if that is necessarily so, but I'm at a loss as to how to counter his argument.

Let me retreat then from such heady discourse and return to what is a centuries old crisis in matters of active participation. Let me briefly remark that we have seen this capitulation clearly in the great age of monasticism, in the distinction within the great monastic orders between lay brothers, externs, if you will, and choir monks. All served the monastery and indirectly contributed to assuring the singing of the Divine Office, the Liturgy of Hours, but some did it in choir singing and others by the sweat of their brow, perhaps not even literate, perhaps sustained only by their rosaries and their Angelus prayer. On the eve of the Council, 50 years ago, we saw this capitulation in already centuries old manifestations like the Czech Christmas Mass of J.J. Ryba (from the 18th Century) see video ... It was a great way to spend Christmas in church while Father did his thing reciting Mass in Latin up at the altar.... Praying at Mass or Praying the Mass?

Too much of the last 40 years has been capitulation, withdrawing from the work which is the liturgy and, well, experimenting with all sorts of instruments and musical genres, puppets, banners, you name it. Not good, to say the least!

Apart from rediscovering the rubrics for the celebration of Mass and praying the Eucharistic Prayer ad Orientem, we can only hope that chant will universally make its reappearance and genuinely sacred spaces for worship will be reclaimed. Using the Communion rail again and slowing down this important moment of our participation in the Sacrifice of Christ. 

I don't want to harp, but I think it important for us all to recognize that there's more to active participation than shaking hands at some point.


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