Thumbing through a copy of the beautiful new edition of The New Roman Missal (1962) published by Baronius Press, I found the following quote:
“…every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and His Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others.” (SacrosanctumConcilium,7)
This was a particular joy for me to read, for it brings to light one of the numerous theological treasures given to us by Vatican II, namely, that the action of the Mass is one that we, as members of the one Mystical Body of Christ are called to participate deeply in, both in our inward sentiments and dispositions, but also in our outward and external participation.
Believing with our Holy Father that Vatican II is always to be interpreted in the light of the tradition thr Church, I was curious to see what the Popes of the twentieth century had to say regarding the question of active participation in the Mass.
Starting with St. Pope Pius X’s Motu Proprio Tra le solicitudini (1903), on the
renewal of sacred music, we find the Holy Father telling us that:
“the faithful assemble to draw that spirit from its primary and
indispensable source, that is, from active participation in the sacred
mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.”
Going on to explain how this should be done, St. Pius X tells us that:
“In order that the faithful may more actively participate in the sacred
liturgy, let them be once again made to sing Gregorian chant as a
Developing this point further, in 1958, the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued the instruction, De Musica Sacra, which states that:
“… the participation of those present becomes fuller (plenior) if to internal attention is joined external participation, expressed, that is
to say, by external actions such as the position of the body (genuflecting, standing, sitting), ceremonial gestures, or, in particular, the responses, prayers and singing .
Building on this theme, Vatican II’s Constitution on The Sacred Liturgy (article 14) says that:
“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should beled to that full, conscious and active participation in the ceremonies which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” In this same document, the beautiful theological reasons for the reason why we are called to this participation are given, namely that:
“Such participation by the Christian people as a “chosen race, a
royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (I Pet. 2:9; 2:4-5)
is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”
Lastly, the Council sets out a very important principle which needs to be remembered:
“In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true spirit of Christ . . .”
Finally, in a commentary on these principles. The late Msgr. Richard Schuler tells us that:
“The word “full” (plena) refers to the integrally human fashion in which the baptized faithful take part in the liturgy, i.e., internally and externally.”
To summarize then, St. Pius X said in 1903 that the whole
congregation should be singing the chant. By 1958, the sacred
congregation of rites recognized the right of the laity to say all the
responses. Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Concilium combined these two ideas by saying that: “…the faithful should say and sing together in Latin those parts of the Mass that
pertai to them…” It seems that there is then a fair amount of work to be done in the Lord’s vineyard to bring these beautiful ideals to fruition!