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full, conscious, and active participation

Vatican Council II

On 4 December 1963, Pope Paul VI promulgated Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, one of the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of that watershed event.

Central to that constitution is

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 as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Peter 2:9; cf. 2:4–5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism. Sacrosanctum Concilium 14

Jesse, a regular participant in the community around this site, wrote a comment that may help us to stop and think again what these words might mean for us:

Just yesterday I had to take a student gently to task for suggesting that the 16th- and 17th-century Anglican liturgies “predate the introduction of ‘active lay participation’”. That statement would likely rile our Reformers! In many ways, those rites are the most demanding of active lay participation: you’re warned a week in advance to examine your conscience and make peace with anyone whom you have wronged; you give notice of your intent to communicate a day in advance; and the liturgy cannot take place at all without a quorum of laity. The laity are involved through changes of posture, through verbal responses, through singing, through the offering of their monetary substance. The journey through the liturgy involves a demanding commitment of concentration as the communicants all together embark on on an interior pilgrimage of ascent in heart and mind to the heavenly Holy of Holies. And in the 1552-1662 liturgies, the “anamnesis” commanded by Our Lord is deliberately linked to each communicant’s reception of the sacrament (“Take and eat this in remembrance…”).

That’s what I call “active participation”!

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22 Responses to full, conscious, and active participation

  1. Well, okay. But did participants in such Anglican liturgies realise they were participating when they took part? If all was well, why the rising requests in 20th C, for ‘greater participation’?

    • I would be interested how Jesse might respond, Peter, I obviously cannot speak for him. I would not be surprised if many people seeking “greater participation” in the 20th Century were doing so in contexts where those 16th & 17th century insights and practices had diminished. I think in some contexts those insights would still enrich what is happening (please don’t ask me to conduct another poll). Christ is risen.

  2. Full and Active Participation. What do each of the contituent words mean and imply. What does each mean, and what does the phrase mean for women, men, Pakeha, Maori, aand varying other ethnicities. What does it mean for teens and young adults, who when many church communities are gathering on a Sunday, are recovering from hangovers of one sought or another? Is Eucharist equal to Agape?

      • Fairly close to where I am a high-rise brothel is being built. Some Christian neighbours have protested. Yet it is with the marginalised, and prostitutes and tax-collectors, the hustlers and the seducers, that Jesus chooses to fellowship with. When binge drinking was analysed by the media in 2012, showing images of younger ones (18+?) on Auckland’s Queen St, I had to ask how can they afford Queen St prices? Perhaps they come the so-called “good” (and monied) homes. On the tragic death of a young man from an elite school, the chaplain said to the now defunct Challenge Weekly, maybe our message is not getting through. As Mt 22 reminds us the Wedding banquet is perhaps most honestly realised by the people on the byways. And yes even the elite schooled young people are marginalised by school, Church, liturgy, and … the message is not even reaching them … Why … Us … in our comfort …

  3. If one view old liturgies through the lenses of twentieth-century liturgical reform, they will appear crazed. The discussion misses one of the most important features of early Reformed Anglican literature: the vernacular language. This was a revolution in participation, alongside of which the bringing of some layperson or other forward for the odd minute is the merest of trifles. We acknowledge vernacular Bible translation for the dangerous revolution it was: placing the divine law in the hands of the ploughboy. Vernacular liturgy surpasses the participatory advances of the twentieth century in both quantity and quality.

  4. I am struck by Gareth’s correct observations. And compare it not only to the shift to the vernacular in the RCC since Vatican 2 – Bosco’s post after all – but also the more recent RCC’s revision of the English translation of the Latin text of the Mass. Somehow this revision (more awkward to my ears at many points) allows better lay participation in the real thing than the earlier forms of English. It’s curious how a Latin fundamentalism still lurkes in some places!

  5. It’s a delight to be quoted “cum laude” on your blog, Bosco.

    As for Peter’s question, I’m afraid I have no ability to make windows into 16th-century souls. I can, however, offer some opinions that can be taken or left.

    Modern scholarship has revealed to us just how many ways there were for the people to participate actively in late medieval worship — even if some might have liturgiological, theological, or social reasons to disapprove of those practices. I’m thinking of things like the custom of the “holy bread” supplied by a different household every week (comparable to the Eastern “antidoron”), and passing and kissing of the “pax” (as a substitute for communion, very expressive of social order). Eamon Duffy’s book “Voices of Morebath” nicely illustrates how shared responsibility for the maintenance of the material side of worship, especially the cult of the saints, was crucial to one village’s social identity.

    My sense is that for many the first experience of worship according to the BCP was that these forms of participation had been *taken away*. The Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 was about more than just the new liturgy that West Country sheep farmers ridiculed as a “Christmas Game”, but it was at least partly about that.

    As Gareth has pointed out, the use of the vernacular was the most dramatic change, and it went along with the Reformers’ emphasis on participation by *hearing*. After all, preaching was the essential office of salvation (1 Cor. 1:21). And with that went the expectation of the response of faith on the part of the hearers, which would allow the Word to work in them (1 Thess. 2:13). The sermons of Hugh Latimer are a good introduction to what was really at stake in all this: personal responsibility, faith, and righteousness. Participation in the liturgy was part of a “total package” of Christian life. I dare say we could do with more of that these days…

    On my list of books to read is Judith Maltby’s “Prayer Book and People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England” (1998), which looks at those committed Protestants who conformed to the BCP, not just because it was the law, but out of personal conviction. I expect that she deals with what evidence we have of people finding in the BCP a genuine vehicle for “active participation”. And let’s not forget that one of the Puritan attacks on the BCP was that it allowed the people *too much* participation (versicles and responses were specifically criticized), thereby “degrading the dignity of the Minister”.

    It seems to me that the “advanced conformity” of such figures as Andrewes and Laud (and I think also George Herbert and John Donne) showed that the need for other dimensions of participation — related to our other senses — was very much felt. The Oxford Movement was in many ways a fresh insistence on the importance of the internal dimension (hearing, believing, the responses of virtue: just read Newman’s “Parochial and Plain Sermons”). The Ritualist movement gave riotous expression to the importance of the outward dimension (while nevertheless doctrinally significant — did the C of E acknowledge the seventh ecumenical council or not?). Ritualists habitually testified that it was precisely in their parishes that the poor and uneducated found a sense of inclusion in the Church’s worship.

    When we come to the twentieth century, we mustn’t confuse the Anglican with the Roman Catholic situation. The first occurrence of the phrase “participatio actuosa” of which I’m aware is in Pope Pius X’s 1903 motu propriu on sacred music “Tra le sollecitudini”, which urges that the people be taught to join in the Gregorian chants of the Mass and Office as a means (not the only means) to their “active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church”.

    Pius X was giving official sanction to the several-decades-old “liturgical movement”, typified in the writings of Prosper Gueranger, which encouraged lay Catholics to attend Mass with their ears and minds as well as their bodies, to make the prayers recited by the priest their own, attentively following the words and ceremonial of the liturgy. This is when the “dialogue Mass” comes into use: the people actually said their responses instead of leaving them to the altar server. Subsequent appearances of the phrase in the first half of the twentieth century use it in this same sense: the people attending to the liturgy (not reading books of devotion or saying the Rosary) and taking their appropriate part in it.

    And here Anglican and Roman Catholic liturgical scholarship coalesced. What followed was, in my own view, in many ways deeply destructive. The Catholic Church repeated the first Anglican error of thinking that (a) ancient Christian practices were necessarily better than living Christian practices, and (b) that modern scholarship could accurately recover and implement those practices. Just think of the anaphora in the “Apostolic Tradition” attributed to Hippolytus of Rome, dated to c.215, and therefore cherished as a witness to the pre-Nicene liturgy. That prayer has influenced every liturgical revision since the 1960s. Alas, it turns out that it’s not by Hippolytus, it’s not Roman, and it’s not pre-Nicene. Whereas the traditional Roman Canon of the Mass is in its outlines among the oldest Eucharistic Prayers in existence! (A comparable error was made in sacred architecture, when the 13th-century “Early English” style was felt to correspond with the greatest purity of English religion: build churches in that style, and religion will improve!)

    I am not against specific roles for the non-ordained in the liturgy — though the ancient practice was precisely to ordain people for those functions that we nowadays think of as the people’s (lector, acolyte, etc.). One of Gregory Dix’s insights was that everyone in the Christian Assembly has his or her “liturgy”. The distinctive “liturgy” of the “people” included providing the Eucharistic oblations, authorizing the bishop to pray on their behalf (“Dignum et iustum est!” “It is meet and right so to do!”), and affirming the prayers with their “Amen”. No literacy (or PowerPoint) required.

    Let me share another personal opinion. I find the modern parish “Offertory procession” an utterly squalid and meaningless imitation of this ancient role of the laity. In practice, it is a lame attempt to give some of the poor dears in the congregation “something to do”. I’d much rather see a rota of people who were taught how to bake bread, and who did so together while fasting and chanting the psalms — and then gave leftovers to the local homeless shelter. (One of Queen Elizabeth I’s liturgical injunctions refers to these “singing cakes” as the proper matter for the Reformed BCP Eucharist.)

    Active participation means personal commitment to, and involvement in, the corporate action of the whole Body of Christ (Head and members) in self-offering to the Father. It does not mean taking turns doing the priest’s or deacon’s jobs.

    But as I say, these are opinions. And nobody listens to me!

    • Lovely stuff Jesse – and many thanks indeed for your insightful “opinions”, which this ‘fellah’ is trying to hear well enough!

      Your last lovely paragraph especially prompts me to ask: have you encountered TF Torrance’s brilliant essay, “The Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Eucharist” in his Theology in Reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (Geoffrey Chapman, 1975)? It is glorious notably for seeing so clearly the One Mediator Jesus Christ, who in his own Person as the God-Man, is both Giver and Gift, both Offerer and Offering, into whose Person and Act we are immersed and so enabled to participate.

      There’s more however that could and should be said re the Ant-Arian backlash of which Jungmann speaks and Torrance also thereafter – but for another day. It has to do with correcting the actual means of that participation …

  6. I am certainly listening, Jesse!

    Thank you for all you say above which I have found very informative.

    My question above would now (in light of all comments above) be modified into something like, “Acknowledging that a huge leap forward in participation took place in the 16th century, most especially through having the liturgy in the vernacular, had we Anglicans failed to develop and deepen that participation as we sailed through the 19th and into the 20th centuries?”

    (That question is now asked rhetorically. No need for an answer).

  7. Jesse,

    I think your suggestion that laity be taught to bake the bread while fasting and chanting the psalms is a fantastic idea!

    • When I was a parish priest, Shawn, I used to pass out a simple baking recipe and households took the baking of the bread in turns. The provision of the recipe is important – especially for those with no experience of bread baking. Blessings.

  8. Thanks, all, for your generous responses to my thoughts (and to Bosco for giving me a friendly forum in which to share them).

    Peter’s rhetorical question is the right one. In rhetorical answer, I would suggest that the problem, whatever its source, was not in the first instance going to be solved by a change of words (as many a modern liturgist seems to think), but by a change of heart (conversion, metanoia).

    Thanks, Bryden, for the reference to Torrance’s essay, of which I was ignorant. I will be sure to read it. (And it may be useful for a new course I’m teaching next year…) Within Anglicanism it’s very much the problem of reconciling “Evangelical” with “Catholic”, isn’t it! I possess an old copy of Gasquet and Bishop’s “Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer” (one of the first proper liturgical histories of the BCP tradition, fittingly by a pair of fair-minded Roman Catholics) that has been densely and enthusiastically underlined and annotated by an Evangelical Anglican. He periodically breaks into joyful acclamation (“Thanks be to God!” in big letters) when G and B notice that some ancient custom, like prayer for the dead, has been excised — excisions that still break my heart, and that, in my view, greatly contributed to the subsequent aridity of Anglican worship. (The Communion of Saints is so very important a part of the Eucharistic fellowship, isn’t it?)

    For Gareth and Shawn, you might be interested in the website http://www.prosphora.org, which has fun instructional videos on how to make Eucharistic bread in the Orthodox tradition (and various recipes). The proprietor of that site also makes and sells Eastern-style bread stamps (which would be forbidden under the Elizabethan Injunctions, but are pretty fun!). I’ve never come across a similar resource for unleavened wafer bread, so perhaps someone else could suggest one.

    When making Eucharistic bread myself, I have used a simple recipe from the Joy of Cooking (flour, water, salt, yeast — dry active yeast first activated with warm water and a bit of sugar), kneaded into a round artisanal loaf. Experience suggests that a little milk and butter would make it easier to chew (like the sandwich bread that I make for family consumption), but my instincts are to go with minimal extra additions when it comes to the Eucharist. (I have worshipped in communities that used very sweet, seedy, multi-grainy bread in the misguided belief that this was somehow more authentic and meaningful. My current college community uses fancy flat hamburger buns. *sigh* The BCP rubric requiring “the best and purest wheat bread” seems to me to indicate the better course.)

    Perhaps one of these days I’ll have to do a photo or video essay on bread baking for your site, Bosco!

    • Thanks, Jesse. I have a bread stamp. The major issue I have found with others baking bread without experience is not baking it right through. At the fraction, then, there would be a danger of ending up with some mush. The video sounds a good idea. I would advise those baking for the first time to trial it first for own use, and, if successful, identically make another for church. Christ is risen. [Oops! 😉 ]

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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