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Eucharistic celebration explained Pt 3: Active participation

Msgr Michael de Verteuil, Chair of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission continues a series of articles looking at some areas of our Eucharistic celebration.

“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (14, Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, Second Vatican Council).

The idea of full, conscious, active participation was a big change from the idea of liturgical celebration which had existed for centuries before in which the people of God attended rather than participated in Mass.

This change flowed from the way the Vatican Council understood the Church as the People of God, a community of believers. It was the whole assembly of the faithful led by the priest which praised, glorified, listened, thanked, and offered themselves—therefore the necessity for full, conscious, active participation.

For some of us this participation has become a little more difficult in this COVID-19 age—the face masks, the protocols, the social distancing, no sign of peace, smaller choirs.

All of this may make our full, conscious, active participation more difficult, but not impossible.

But what does it mean, this type of participation?

  • Full—that we participate in the whole Mass, not part of it, and that we do so attentively, which means not only arriving in time for Mass but also taking part in all the aspects of the Mass assigned to our active participation
  • Conscious—being aware of what we are doing and why, so it does not refer only to external actions (which are important) but also to the interior (our understanding, experiencing).
  • Active—involves praying, singing, responding, listening, movement, silence.

And once again, why are we doing this? Because it is the whole assembly, the People of God gathered in a particular church, led by a priest, who celebrates the Mass.

There are things the liturgical ministers (including the priest) can do to improve the participation the Church desires, for example, giving the best the community can offer in hymns, homilies, hospitality.

All liturgical ministers should, by how they do their ministry, convey the importance of what they do, be they altar servers, readers, ministers of Communion, readers, singers and musicians, priests, and hospitality ministers.

Then there are things that we can do as individuals to improve our participation. For example, we can learn all we can about the Mass; we can work at being attentive, paying attention to what we are saying as well as doing (see the previous articles in this series on processions, movement, and words in the Mass).

We can participate in the singing, read the readings before we come to Mass, and we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us to pray and to enter deeply into the prayer of the Mass.

Note the quotation at the beginning of this article—participation “which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” [emphasis mine].

The liturgy is something we, the People of God, all do fully, consciously, and actively because it is the very nature of liturgy, the work of the people.

Let us all go to Mass with this realisation that I am going together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, led by a priest, to celebrate God’s great love.