Full and Active Participation — By Deacon Frank
Why do we come to St. Thomas More on Sundays week after week? If it wasn’t a serious sin to miss Mass, would we all still be here? Most are here because we want to be here, to worship the Lord, to share the Eucharist, and to enjoy the companionship and support of other pilgrims on our faith journeys.
So now that we are here, what do we do? Are we here to just “attend” Mass, i.e. get our Mass attendance box checked off for another week? How do we spend our time in the Chapel while “at” Mass? Are we just onlookers at some dramatic representation of the Lord’s Supper … or are we active participants in this heavenly, Sacramental banquet? The assembled faithful should not just be “at” Mass as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers, they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration.
Pope Saint Pius X coined the term “active participation” in the Mass, and the Second Vatican Council endorsed and pushed the idea in its Constitution on the Liturgy: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people … is their right and duty by reason of their baptism. … This full and active participation by all the people is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #14) So there is much more to it than just keeping that hard, oak seat warm for an hour on Sunday. We have to be in the game, not just warming the bench!
Full and active participation means that EVERY one of us must participate in the Mass with our whole being, all that we are. It means bringing our whole self into the celebration of the people of God, the liturgy. It also means that we cannot just sit in our seats as we would when watching TV. We should be one in liturgical signs and gestures. The Sign of Peace doesn’t need to be a kiss on the cheek; a nod will suffice. During the readings and homily, we are called to be attentive listeners heeding every word the Lord wants to give us. During the hymns, we should sing with gusto, even if only making a joyful noise! During the Eucharistic Prayer, we are called to active listening, where we are to agree and affirm what the priest is praying. The Great Amen that we sing at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer is the people’s affirmation of all that the priest has just prayed to God saying “Amen! YES, let it be so! Let it happen!”
The Church desires each one of us to fully enter into each and every Mass with our entire heart, mind, soul, and body regardless of the capacity in which we are visibly doing ministry. The Church believes this type of participation is necessary because it is from the Mass that we receive the true Christian spirit. Through the Liturgy, God pours His grace through the Church into our lives so we can live as faithful Disciples of Christ in the world. According to Pius X: “It is not a matter of saying one’s prayers at Mass but of making the Mass one’s prayer.” Let us all pray … more fervently … and devoutly.