Thursday, June 21, 2007

Participation in Mass?

Anonymous said...
I went to a Latin mass and felt totally uninvolved, like I wasn't an important participant in the mass. I want to worship in a meaningful way. Any comments?
A comment to a recent article

Attending a Latin Mass for the first time certainly may be confusing or boring for someone who is used to modern Protestant services, LifeTeen Masses, or just American secular culture in general, for the worshiper is expected to remain silent during long periods of inaudible prayer at the altar.

You bring up the points of involvement, participation, and meaning. We can look at these points within the context of the Mass, as well as the religious life in general.

Let's assume for the time being that the Mass is a given, just as you experienced it, where you feel uninvolved. So for about an hour or so a week, you are apparently just a religious spectator; but why should this be a problem? We do not cease being Christian all of the other hours of the week. The Apostle Paul says that we must pray continuously, and Christ says that our entire lives should be dedicated to serving God and our neighbor. Assuming that we do have a real need to be visibly and obviously active in prayer, then we have ample opportunity for doing this in church, outside of the Mass: for example, in praying the Rosary, Perpetual Help devotions, Stations of the Cross, processions, and the Liturgy of the Hours. Many of these devotions and liturgies are actually run by the laity. And of course you have great freedom to pursue your own personal kind of prayer life outside of community. And by living the commandments with charity, you can make your entire life a kind of prayer. [Note: I do not claim to be a good example of this!]

I think that American culture tends to see the Christian religion as just something you do for an hour or so on Sunday mornings; it is claimed that faith is a purely personal matter and should have no influence on public life. The actual American State Religion, of course, wants no competition, and this situation is even more obvious in Europe. Under this situation, it is understandable that someone may want to squeeze the entirety of their religious life into a single weekly service. Another problem is that religion in the United States is often seen as being 'respectable', and even atheists (especially politicians) can feel the social pressure to attend services (this is not the case in Europe, where atheists can more boldly proclaim their religion). A nonbeliever, feeling compelled to attend church, certainly would want to get at least something out of his dutiful attendance, and modern liberal religion has certainly provided a solution to this need. Modern philosophy, particularly that of Kant and Hegel, has transformed religion into a kind of ethics institution or celebratory community, and so this has led to an emphasis of the congregation itself.

The traditional Catholic view sees the Mass as a gateway, reflection, and image of Heaven, a participation in the Heavenly Liturgy of the Book of Revelation. Christ is truly present in the liturgy, and not as a symbol, so all fall on their knees in reverence. We sing sanctus, sanctus, sanctus with the angels, and our prayers are joined with those of the Saints. The Mass is not about us, but Him.

But active participation in the Mass is expected of the faithful, and this is primarily an interior participation in the liturgy: praying with the priest and spiritually offering yourself in sacrifice along with Christ, along with obediently participating in the postures of prayer. In the traditional Latin liturgy, it does require some effort on the part of the faithful: learning about the structure and meaning of the Mass itself, learning at least some Latin, and typically using a missal to follow the prayer of the Mass.


  1. Your brief article is spot-on for the whole, but I would like to bring up a possible topic for discussion regarding a point with which I disagree (to a point). In your last statement, you wrote: "...and typically using a missal to follow the prayer of the Mass." It seems most Catholics that assist at the Classical Roman Rite believe it is required...or at least "proper" use a missal at Mass, regardless if a person is able to follow the Mass without its assistance. This belief is based upon the notion that you are not actually participating (participatio actuosa, not participatio activa) if you do not hear and comprehend at least the majority of the Mass prayers.

    This, to me, seems a rather Protestant view of Liturgy, in the same sense that one may be chided for not being able to recite a specific statement from the Bible chapter and verse. Now, I do not intend to disparage those that use missals, the red Ecclesia Dei booklets, or church bulletins that include the Propers of the Mass. I, myself, own several Missals, compose our Oratory's bulletins which in include the Mass Propers, and offer Missals to any that go to Mass with us but may be unfamiliar to the Mass. However, I think it may be wise to avoid the mentality that unless we hear the prayers of the priest and respond whenever there is a red "R" in the missal, that we are not truly participating in the Mass. As you so well point out in your post, " primarily an interior participation in the liturgy."

    It is perfectly acceptable, and for centuries the norm, for laymen to participate at Mass be sincerely saying prayers that are relevant to and in the spirit of the liturgy, but not necessarily from the liturgy itself. For example, it was a very common custom in 14-15th century England for laymen to recite prayers from their primers (Books of Hours) during Mass. These prayer books contained not only the little hours of the BVM, for example, but also included types and examples of prayers to recite at specific points in the Mass. (For example, reciting Psalm 50 or a variety of different Acts of Contrition during the prayers at the foot of the altar.) The same method of hearing Mass was still fairly prevalent in the 1950-60s in the United States when laymen would recite the Rosary during Mass. Is one participating less in the liturgy when he contemplates Christ's crucifixion or resurrection during his Rosary at Mass? I would argue that he is not. It may not be as strictly liturgical as knowing/comprehending/responding to the prayers of the Mass, but it is certainly not any less spiritually nourishing or preventing anyone from actually participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    I know that you did not state it is required to have and use a missal at Mass, and I agree that few (if any) Catholics would claim that to be the case, but it seems to me that most would argue it is better to use a missal and simply read along with the Mass than to, for example, privately recite a Rosary for the priest and for the honor of the Mass. Any thoughts?

  2. Those primers with prayers that could be said by the laity during the Mass, but not from the Mass, continued in use right up until Vatican II. I possess a tiny little one printed in the early 1930s with many excellent prayers to be said at the various stages of the Mass.

    People who regularly attend the classical Mass get used to telling where the priest is after a few months, and can, even at the most silent Low Mass keep up in either their primer or their Missal. Personally, I prefer the Missal. Maybe it is that English-inspired sense of actually following along. But my own mother was actively praying and participating at Mass when she prayed her Rosary right up until the Consecration, when she looked up and reverenced the just-consecrated Host.

    On the topic of "active participation" generally, recall what Evelyn Waugh said. There is no need for shouting along with everyone else. Internalize your worship, and make it personal. That is the best active participation you can get.

  3. His Holiness Pope St. Pius X said and I quote, "Pray the missal with the priest"...what better way to assist at Holy Mass.

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