01 September 2010

The Concept of Actuosa Participatio

There is much discussion today of "active participation" in the liturgy, usually as an excuse for the latest  liturgical novelty.  We are made to think that Vatican II introduced this concept when actually St. Pope Pius X had called for it in his motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini, published in 1903.  Each of the subsequent Popes also wrote of this need for greater participation at Mass by the laity.  But the participation they were looking for was not the (hyper)activity that the liturgical innovators gave us with their interpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

We were led to believe that the Latin Mass with its dead language, the priest with his back turned to the people, and silence were to blame.  The archetypal characterization of this is, "the little old lady in the pew, muttering and holding her beads."  I daresay though that many of those little old ladies had more Faith in their pinkie than many of our Churchgoers to day. 

Have things really gotten better?  I doubt it.  Instead of Grandma fingering her beads we have teenagers sitting in the choirloft texting their friends.  The problem though is not inherent in the rite of Mass in either Form.  To properly understand what the Popes and the Council fathers desired I refer you to an article written by the late Msgr. Schuler from St. Paul, MN.  A key point of the article is to get at the true meaning of "actuosa participatio." 
The difference between participation in the liturgy that can be called activa and participation that can be lablled actuosa rests in the presence in the soul of the baptismal character, the seal that grants one the right to participate. Without the baptismal mark, all the actions of singing, walking, kneeling or anything else can be termed "active," but they do not constitute participatio actuosa. Only the baptismal character can make any actions truly participatory. Let us use an example. Let us say that a pious Hindu attends Mass, takes part in the singing and even walks in a procession with great piety. In the same church is also a Catholic who is blind and deaf and who is unable to leave his chair; he can neither sing nor hear the readings nor walk in the procession. Which one has truly participated, the one who is very active, or the one who has confined himself solely to his thoughts of adoration? Obviously, it is the baptized Catholic who has exercised participatio actuosa despite his lack of external, physical movement. The Hindu even with his many actions has not been capable of it, since he lacks the baptismal character.
Read the rest of the article at The Catholic Liturgical Library.

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