10 Quick Thoughts on Full, Conscious, Active Participation

Kathy Pluth’s article from yesterday sparked some thoughts of mine own which I posted in a comment there. I thought it was worthwhile to bring those thoughts into their own post here.

FCAP (or is it FACP?), that is – Participation which is full, conscious, and active (and actual, thank you very much) – is one of those weird shibboleth topics among those of us who argue about liturgical matters. It is my opinion that the reason for the arguing is mostly that everyone is right when they describe what FACP is, but wrong when they describe what is isn’t.

And of course, most people get hung up on one little piece of an explanation or idea. For 40 years now we’ve been told it means “congregational singing” and, by extension “congregational physical and vocal activity.” In reaction to this, of late, many people are claiming that not only does it not mean those things exclusively (which is true) but that it doesn’t include those things at all (which is ludicrous). Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all the time in life, in history, and in liturgical matters- extremes are countered not by sane moderation, but opposite extremes. (And sometimes, with some subjects, sane moderation is seen as extremism by all the crazy people on either side. Sigh.)

So, anyway – and without further ado – I thought it might be helpful to lay out – in as clear language as possible – ten propositions about participation which communicate at least my own thinking on the matter.

  1. Full, Active, and Conscious Participation by the faithful in the liturgy is very much to be desired and cultivated.
  2. FACP includes singing at the proper times, listening at the proper times, responding at the proper times, kneeling at the proper times, and so forth. It also includes a “right disposition” and a spirit of prayer. That is to say- it is both physical AND mental AND spiritual AND emotional. (cf: Luke 10:27)
  3. Anyone who says that FACP specifically DOES NOT MEAN actually singing and otherwise being active in a conventional sense is wrong.
  4. Anyone who says that FACP specifically ONLY MEANS actually singing and otherwise being active in a conventional sense is also wrong.
  5. Singing stuff that is not really part of the liturgy does not enhance FACP. That is to say: Singing some random non-liturgical song at Mass does not qualify. Whatever it is that is being actively participated in is not the liturgy in that case.
  6. Singing/speaking/doing things that are not part of the liturgy are likewise not FACP. The dancers, the twirlers, the puppeteers, and the feather-hatted Knights* are NOT FACPing, because what they are engaged in is not part of the liturgy.
  7. Singing/speaking/doing things that are a part of the liturgy but are not proper to the person doing them is also not FACP. If I go to Mass, I am not FACPing if I say the Words of Institution along with the priest.
  8. On a purely practical level: Many of the songs and general styles of music that have been created and promoted in order to facilitate FACP do no such thing. This is sometimes because they function as extraneous material which is not part of the liturgy. More often, it is simply because the music is too difficult for congregations to really sing well.**
  9. In terms of that part of FACP which includes congregations singing the parts of the Mass which are proper to them, I am of the opinion that the most effective types of music in terms of encouraging participation are the simpler traditional styles and genres: syllabic chants, simple psalm tones, “square” hymns, and other similar pieces.
  10. The encouragement of FACP must be a lifelong process and take into consideration not only the immediate community, but where those people might be in the future. For this reason, I highly encourage the use of Latin Ordinary settings. Encouraging a universality within the Universal Church allows for our increasingly global and mobile faithful to participate fully wherever they go.***

*Someone in a comment on the earlier post attempted to make a claim that feather-hatted Knights have a legitimate liturgical function. Outside of specific circumstances, I strongly disagree. Without going into a rant that would surely become insulting I can only say: extraneous liturgical goofiness is no less extraneous or goofy when perpetrated by people who think of themselves as “traditionalists.”

**This right here is my biggest problem with contemporary church music.

***Please see my article A Firm Foundation.

13 Replies to “10 Quick Thoughts on Full, Conscious, Active Participation”

  1. This is largely good. In your preface, I think you can add "vibrant" to "actual" and get a fuller picture of the Latin actuosa.

    I have no quibble with 1-4, and 7 but from there, a few cautions:

    5. Agreed, but as you know many of us have different opinions of what constitutes a "non-liturgical song." A setting of Scripture, even replacing a proper, is most definitely a liturgical song. Many liturgical songs accompany liturgical action and are thus, by definition, liturgical, even if the text is not printed in the Missal or the Antiphonary or one of the Graduals.

    6. Mostly in agreement, but you could define things like vesture for lay people, and other peripherals that are employed as a matter of tradition, personal taste, or such.

    8. This is the weakest of your four points, and has little basis in tradition, actually.

    9. While I do appreciate your opinion, I do think that parishes that have been singing well for decades can be challenged with more difficult music: plainsong, part singing, canons, dialogues, etc.. I'm not ready to dumb it down permanently.

    10. I think the vernacular is here to stay and is the most sound way to go. Latin circumvents full, conscious, and vibrant participation, and in its extreme, is a gnostic tendency we should avoid.


  2. Thanks for responding, Adam.

    5. I certainly take the liturgical books as the starting point for repertoire and programming. But I'm also unafraid of being critical of their contents, and working with others to make, what we consider, are superior decisions when it comes to singing Scripture.

    6. Regarding, "what I imagine when you say that," is most likely just something sitting in your imagination, and not anything real. But if you're curious, I was thinking about the vesture of servers. Cassocks, surplices, and maybe even albs–this is not FVCP.

    8. Sure, but that's not even how Western sacred music developed.

    9. I don't use it much, but I don't think syncopation is difficult–as long as the leadership is giving good example. Many music leaders are just lazy or lack the skills.

    10. It's only a problem if you go to China and you don't make the effort to comprehend. But that said, the structure of the Mass is the same everywhere. People singing or speaking a common language isn't essential *all* the time.

    And lastly, I think I was clear in writing that the use of Latin, taken to an extreme, has gnostic tendencies: the setting up of a religious system in which some have secret knowledge, and others do not, and this is more a matter of politics than faith.

    I think some Catholics object when old heresies are trotted out to describe extremists with whom some of us may have alliances. You and I perhaps, could agree to set aside calling people names directly: pelagians or gnostics. That might be a start.

    Otherwise, I think you have a good conversation starter. I would be interesting to see what you and I might come up with that would be mutually satisfactory in terms of a "Ten Commandments" of FVCP.

  3. "FCAP", please, not "FACP" because the former acronym can be pronounced, even if one hasn't studied conversational Klingon.

    Without trying to be argumentative, (I don't always try as hard as I might,) the point that
    "FACP includes singing at the proper times, listening at the proper times, responding at the proper times, kneeling at the proper times, and so forth,"
    needs to include several iterations of the word "may," as not everyone CAN do those.

    I don't feel that my participation at Mass was incomplete when I had laryngytis, or my back was out, or a head cold made me functionally deaf temporarily.

    Participation MUST be interior, and MAY, when one is able, be all those other things.

    And sorry, Todd, on this subject I think "vibrant" is one of those silly, near-meaningless buzz-words like "luminous."

    "That is to say- it is both physical AND mental AND spiritual AND emotional, "

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  4. Todd, those who have an antipathy towards Latin seem to fall into two categories. 1) Those who have never learned it and feel (quite rightly) that they are only half-educated as a result. 2) Those who know it but condescendingly assume that it is too difficult for the hoi polloi. I would be interested to know in which camp you place yourself.

  5. Neither. I studied it in high school, and I appreciate it as part of tradition. When my then-9-year-old daughter made noises about being homeschooled, I told her that from 7 till 10 am she would get a daily diet of Latin, math, and science before I turned her over to her mom.

    That said, she is investigating taking Latin for college credit online next summer–a move I thoroughly endorse.

    I view myself as a skeptic on Latin-at-worship, even in international gatherings. That said, if a diet of it were placed in front of me, personally, I would relish it. I don't think Latin is too difficult at all for people. My position is that as few obstacles as possible should be placed in front of people.


  6. Thanks again for replying, Adam.

    No, of course you didn't call anyone a pelagian. But this Café is peopled by some who do.

    As for #8, I'm of the belief that even non-sacred genres can be "sanctified" by their use in and association with sacred music. Even the pipe organ was once rehabilitated from its use in bath houses to be elevated to a certain position of honor.

    I do think some contemporary composers write music that is difficult to sing and works against FVCP. But there are also some people doing fine work in non-classical genres, and their music is very singable. Again, I think the beef is less with genre and more with the songcraft of the composer.

    "On Eagles Wings" id often cited as doing a lot of things wrong. But people sing it anyway. Why? Because Psalm 91 as well as the refrain have a deep appeal to Christian believers. I just don't think that Latin-language texts bring that to the table. At least if a vernacular setting stinks, the text might still be good. But with a Latin setting if the music stinks, for a lot of people, they get next to nothing.


  7. If it's not that difficult why should it be an obstacle? The vernacular is certainly an obstacle, unless one is conversant with it. Mind you, language is not the only obstacle when it comes to contemporary worship styles.

  8. Latin in the Mass: I would actually prefer Latin Mass – all Latin all the time. I could quite easily live the rest of my life without ever again attending a Mass in ANY vernacular. No, I am not conversant in Latin, nor do I need to be in order to understand those parts of the Mass that CAN be understood, i.e. nobody can understand Transubstantiation – it's a mystery by definition. Practically speaking, the only parts of the Mass that Vatican II actually envisioned remaining in Latin all the time (and prescribed it so) is the Ordinary and responses THAT NEVER CHANGE. Whatever you're local vernacular is, you've been mouthing these parts of the Mass for so long that you have them memorized. Do NOT tell me that you feel left out if these parts you have memorized are suddenly sung in Latin – or any other non-vernacular language!

  9. When interpreting what FCAP means with regard to the use of Latin, why not trust the same Council, the same document even, that encourages it so strongly? SC36, esp.54: "Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."

  10. You can see online the video where the Holy Father Pope Francis leads a mass where the congregation PRAYS during Mozart's Et Incarnatus est. The Pope did not select music such that the congregation must be able to fully, actively, and consciously sing it. He chose it for its beauty and ability to lift one's soul to heaven, as he has been quoted as saying Mozart is able to do.

  11. Just came across the article as I was preparing for a presentation. Thank you for putting it together. I would encourage the readers to also read "Tra le Solicitudini" by Pius X which speaks of "Participatio actuosa." It is a good read.

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