A Response to David Haas

In the comments on a thread below, David Haas raised an important and topical question.

…Is it really the case that you are going to knock the principle of ‘full, conscious, and active participation?’ This full participation should be “exalted” above all else! Read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy again, friends, and tell me that this principle of participation is not primary. It is not the “easy road.” It is THE road that the Constitution lines out. And then to knock it in favor of “beauty?” Is not the sound of a full throated assembly singing a “beautiful” thing? Do you think it is an ugly sound? And it keeps coming: “above prayer.” Are you saying that when the gathered assembly is participating, it is not prayer? Hello….

It is absolutely correct to say that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy said, abundantly, that the reform of the Liturgy should above all seek to engage the People of God in active participation. Examples of this exact sentiment in the document abound. The Council Fathers were well aware that in the decades before the Council, the ordinary way of attending Mass was “hearing” a spoken Mass, often enough with responses provided by the servers. They were evidently concerned that people must not only pray at Mass, but must pray the Mass.

Therefore, David is right to say that participation was the highest principle governing the reform. However, it is incorrect to suggest that participation–at least participation of a certain type–is the highest principle governing the liturgy. Participation is a richer concept than mere activity, and the Liturgy is a richer concept than participation.

Since the Council, our liturgical context has changed quite dramatically. Participation in one sense is at an all-time high. Almost every Sunday Ordinary Form Mass now contains congregational singing (although not many would qualify as sung Masses). Responses are always said by the people, and never, in my experience of the Ordinary Form, by servers alone. Lay people distributing Communion regularly outnumber the ordinary ministers. “Active” participation in this sense is no longer a problem. Reform in this sense has now succeeded. The mandate of the Council, in this sense and this style of active participation, has been accomplished–and then some. Or rather, it will be accomplished once some of the excesses have faded away (hopefully with the same weary inattention that caused the demise of felt banners), and once the dialogues of the priest and people have received their rightful attention.

However, the work of fostering FULL, CONSCIOUS participation has hardly begun. How can it possibly begin, until congregations are made aware of and have an opportunity to sing all of the texts that pertain to them? The people are regularly denied any contact whatsoever with some of the antiphons–the proper antiphons–that SC said they had a right to in paragraph 30, the paragraph which is the intradocumental touchstone of congregational participation. (Note that the paragraph did not say that the people must sing motets.)

And how can FULL, CONSCIOUS participation be achieved until the music that cantillates the Ordinary of the Mass heightens the words, instead of obscuring them?

And how can FULL, CONSCIOUS participation be achieved when the celebration of Sunday Mass is in most places said in a hurried and casual way, full of distractions, and with consistent disregard for the precepts of the Church? The Council Fathers rather insisted “that the faithful come to [the Liturgy] with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain.”

According to the Council, the Sacred Liturgy “is an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ, Head and members,” and to the extent to which the members are not engaged in the work of their own salvation, they are not participating in the Liturgy. It is almost completely inadequate to just show up and sing along with whatever song is being offered. There is an interior work to be done, and the post-Conciliar reform has barely begun to address this.

53 Replies to “A Response to David Haas”

  1. The first half of this post is laudable. Participation wasn't the only locus for liturgical reform, but it was one of the big ones.

    I would add that the notion of participation goes beyond liturgy. Christianity is not a passive religion; it requires a life of action. Pope Benedict's new formulas for the end of Mass bear this out, I think. Many of the conciliar documents, especially Ad Gentes and Gaudium et Spes underscore the proper place of the active Christian in the world.

    So while participation in the liturgy is a practice of sorts for heaven, it is also practice for the evangelical life to which all believers are called.

    As for the second half, I'm just going to register my comment that the case for the propers is overstated and not essential to singing the Mass, or really even to singing the Scriptures at Mass.

    But I'm certainly in agreement that there is a lot of work to do–possibly too much to get hung up on repertoire quite yet.


  2. Todd, I'm always pleased to see you weigh in first. I've come to recognize this as a sign of an essay I'll be glad to have written. Thank you.

  3. We would be better able to frame this discussion properly if we had a correct translation of the Latin in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

    It repeatedly uses the word actuosa "actual", not "activa" active.

  4. Excellent remarks. However, I would not put the feather-hatted Knights of Columbus, nor the Knights of Malta, on the same list with the daughters of Herodias, nor with Miss Piggy and the Swedish Chef.

    In fact, even though the K of C is less well-armed than the Swiss Guard, they serve, at least visually and ceremonially, in a similar capacity. The "swords around the Cross" are not foreign to Catholic history, nor to the sacred liturgy. And laymen serving as ushers, porters, escorts and honor guards, are taking part in the liturgy in a way that is appropriate to laymen. There were two swords at the Last Supper, and there was a feather-helmeted Centurion at the Cross.

  5. At Mass, any kind of congregational or choral singing, and any other activity, is supposed to take place in the context of meditative prayerfulness, individual and collective. You are supposed to dispose yourself properly beforehand, during, and after. Both of these things are routinely made difficult, when the natural thing is to make them easy.

  6. "I would add that the notion of participation goes beyond liturgy."
    Wow, without Holy Mass to participate in, ' evengelical life' won't have a focus.

  7. Goes beyond = is found in more places than the liturgy.

    Not "more important than"


  8. I would like to affirm the position of actual participation and yet stretch it to the point of including active listening as well. We fully participate when we consciously and actively listen to the words of the readings and those of the anaphora, or to the offering of a motet by the choir.

  9. MPD, I agree that this is a valid argument. I didn't mention it because it seems to me that the reality is evident around us, even without addressing this linguistic concern that has so far gone unheeded by liturgists on the left.

  10. Your translation is not quite accurate. In Latin those adjectives are similar, and in practically every Vatican document since Vatican II, "actuosa" is translated as "active"

    What I haven't seen in the recent attempts to reclaim "actual" is the difference in Latin between the two. "Activa" in Latin adds a sense of "practical, something usable."

    "Actuosa" adds a sense of "vibrant, life-giving."

    With respect to the person who suggests liturgy has a context of "meditative prayerfulness," that is not the sense communicated by the council bishops. "Vibrant" communicates the intent of the Church better than "actual," which is something a bit more passive, and not in keeping with the evangelical tenor of the times.


  11. I hope we try to understand the true meaning of Holy Mass before one can talk about 'participation, or even a full participation. it seems many are misled last 40 years, especially by 'pop sacro' music. Seems that there can be a big conversion for those who advocate that sort of music in the Holy Mass.

  12. I agree, Father. And I would add, active praying, active thinking with the Church, active putting faith into practice in daily lives of service and holiness.

  13. One thing Jesus did when he was on earth was chasing out things that are niot worthy of God's temple. I think you are confused about the source of the evangelization and envagelization itself. Jesus ministry on earth was not in the context of the liturgy. Even in the last supper, who were there?

  14. I would suggest that people stop arguing from SC in support of their positions, whether they be 'traditional' or 'progressive'. It was the only schema to make it through to the first session of the Council, because it was basically the Bugnini draft with only minor alterations. It is ambiguous at best, and dishonest at worst. To suggest that it offers a template for the Roman Rite which had existed for a millennium and a half before Vatican II met is preposterous. Why should the 20th century liturgical movement, not to mention an avant-garde faction of it, call the shots? Many of its presumptions have already been challenged by serious liturgical scholars.

    As for David Haas, I consider him a philistine who writes execrable music. That is my own critical judgement and would apply to whatever genre he wrote in, and as such is subjective. I do object when it is suggested that critical faculties have to be suspended because someone has recourse to pietistic platitudes and his own interpretation of the mind of the Church.

  15. Jesus also gave a notable example in Mark 9:40. If religious music is not against Christ, it probably works in his favor.

    Evangelization is *the* mission of the Church. Nothing is above it.

    Do you mean who were at the Last Supper? Apostles and disciples, according to the Gospels. Probably a few dozen people.


  16. SC is Church teaching. It doesn't matter who wrote it. The bishops all endorsed it.

    I'm of the opinion JP is a cotton-headed ninnymuggins. 😉

  17. Cardinal Ranjith at the Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome this summer gave a moving discussion of participatio actuosa. He said that most fundamentally it is the participation of the members of the Body of Christ in His offering of an eternal sacrifice to the Father. All other aspects of participation have value according as they are conducive to this most fudamental purpose.

  18. I'm a skeptic on that. It's very easy for some Catholics to suggest that people are doing a wrong thing because they are ignorant. If only people were smarter. If only they had hindsight. If only they had more information and learning. If only they knew what I know. If only …

    It seems more likely 2,000 bishops knew exactly what they were doing, that you, JP, don't agree with what they did, and you live in a state of tension within Catholicism because of it.

    Why not just confess the tension, and then live the Christian life as best you can without the name calling?


  19. And yet, Dr Mahrt, I don't think that's enough. Participation in the liturgy is a schooling, a practice, and a model for Christian action in the world, most especially in the mission of evangelization. The Scriptures are clear. And the Lord himself is clear: Christians have a mission, and while "sacrifice" has its place, it is not the place for a believer on this planet, in this life, to remain on the mountaintop with the Lord. In Luke's Gospel, the pivot section (9:28-53) begins with the Transfiguration and move to Jesus setting his direction to Jerusalem.

    The discussion about adjectives can be just quibbling, but the real adjectives are the ones that get people engaged enough by the liturgy to spread the Good News for another day or week.

    Why are some people so bothered by placing expectations on them?


  20. What does it matter if bread and wine are changed in the celebration of the mass if we, the participants, are not? And if our hearts are on fire with that belief, then we are compelled to go out into the world and share the story of this transforming love with others. Todd is correct in placing the emphasis on engaging the participants during the liturgy so that they want to go forth and evangelize the world. You who have the gifts are so fortunate in your ministry.

  21. Well, Cardinal Heenan went on record to say that if the bishops had thought they were voting to replace the Latin Mass with an ad hoc vernacular liturgy they would not have voted for SC. He was at the Council. You weren't. The whole sorry story has been well documented by Michael Davies among others and he spent years doing the research. I'm not in a state of tension because I can easily avoid bad liturgy and bad music, and make a point in doing so.

    Criticism is not stifled because some sanctimonious buffoons regard it as name-calling. You are entitled to your opinion, which on this blog at least would appear to be a minority one.

  22. Cardinal Heenan was one of the conservative bishops of Vatican II. He was one of the 5% who opposed Gaudium et Spes. I know you weren't at Vatican II, either–cotton-headed ninnymugginses weren't allowed.

    Not only did the council bishops approve SC, but after the council, they nearly unanimously endorsed a wide use of the vernacular in the liturgy.

    Your criticism isn't stifled. It's just exposed for being juvenile and petty.


  23. Could everyone please stop arguing with Todd so that we can actually talk about the Liturgy? Every volley takes us farther afield. That would be great, thanks.

  24. Charles, I reviewed my input here, I see that after the first comment I was responding to statements made by the commenters. At the risk of foxtrotting into a weekend, your suggestion may be better addressed to others. Kathy herself derailed the discussion from comment #2, and that was after I praised her essay, agreed with its conclusion, and dissented only on her fixation on the Mass propers.

    I don't think my initial response discussing a wider view of participation was out of bounds. I honestly believe that the Christian life provides much guidance for the liturgical sphere, especially in dealing with a matter of concern, like participation.

    Lastly, there are no comment guidelines here. People can call names. Contributors swerve in discussion. The main problem, as I see it, is that I offer too much dissent. And unlike other people who have been personally insulted, I don't leave.

    I actually think you should be grateful. If I weren't here, some of you might start turning on one another.


  25. What you say is true.

    And it has no bearing on "the Mass". It should be clear that this discussion is not about evangelization, nor good works.

  26. Charles, I didn't ask Todd to stop commenting, but for people to stop arguing with him. I hope you don't feel that I can't appeal to folks who, with the best of intentions, get pulled into this endless game of Todd ping pong. The rules of the game allow me to make an appeal, I hope.

    Now may I ask (beg, actually) that we please stop talking about him? Because Todd is not the subject of this thread.

  27. Charles,

    May I ask what in particular you liked about Dr. Mahrt's intervention? I did too. Seems like a good place to make a new beginning. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  28. I think it comes down to the inimitable manner inwhich Mahrt zeroes in to the nexus of a subject being examined. His is a soft, measured and thoroughly focused voice of reason, and one that doesn't engage in the folly of bias or conjecture. In this particular post of his he doesn't specify, qualify or quantify the primacy of all the faithful's participation, he simply restates the cardinal's point that the involvement of the people, presumably at its fullest extent by any and all means proper to themselves, remains sufficient to enact the unbloody Holy Sacrifice.
    I never see or hear Mahrt wanting to close doors of expression. He indeed is a man of deep principles, but he never, to my knowledge, inflicts those upon anyone as a tool for persuasion. His citation of Cdl Ranjith's statements seem to suggest an open ended approach to help musicians' perspectives on how they best can serve all in the realm of liturgical and sacred music live in those moments to the full. I hope that suffices.

    Off topic: I've come to the conclusion that the +/- ratings option is counterproductive to honest dialogue.

  29. " In this particular post of his he doesn't specify, qualify or quantify the primacy of all the faithful's participation, he simply restates the cardinal's point that the involvement of the people, presumably at its fullest extent by any and all means proper to themselves, remains sufficient to enact the unbloody Holy Sacrifice."

    Unfortunately, this is not what the Cardinal or Dr. Mahrt said. (I wasn't trying to trap you, Charles. I sincerely thought you would have understood the point that was being made and would amplify it.)

  30. The content. You may be right about the tone, but what you're talking about is not what Ranjith/Mahrt are talking about. They are most emphatically qualifying and specifying participation. And they are not saying that lay participation is sufficient for the sacrifice.

  31. I see. I did not articulate the point clearly as you should know that I'm NOT a proponent of the horizontal, equinanimous priesthood of all believers kind of fellow. So, I misspoke. The point about Mahrt in particular was that I believe he advocates FACP (Sorry, Geri) on the part of the faithful to every extent that the documents prioritize as proper and to which they are capable of performing, receiving, "actualizing," if you will. He doesn't, to my knowledge adhere to absolutisms, otherwise how could we have benefited all these years (and for St. Anne's, decades) from his rotation of chanted Masses, polyphonic Masses and even Viennese Masses?
    I kind of think we're saying the same thing, but I was, again, inarticulate. Thanks for the help.

  32. BRAVO! Well stated! I would like to add that achieving FACP in the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass would make more sense to persons who have had the benefit of AUTHENTIC fully, active, formation in the Roman Catholic Faith.

  33. I find it odd that he asked "Is not the sound of a fullthroated assembly singing a 'beautiful' sound?"
    If one looks around parishes where this type of music is prevalent, practically no one is singing. The voluminous sound is coming from the music ministers, who are amped to the max.

  34. Vanessa… speak for yourself in this regard. The experience and result is different from parish to parish – the quality or level of engagement of the singing assembly has nothing to do with the style of music… sometimes the amplification is most assuredly an issue, and I agree. But there many, many parishes where people are singing – and this includes organ-based music, chant, contemporary styles, bilingual, gospel – the whole gamut. And it is a most beautiful sound indeed… my favorite.

  35. Joannes… I am just curious… what have I done that you feel you have to take a cheap shot? It is not that I mind that you hate my music.. you are not alone in that opinion…. but that has NEVER been the topic of my posts here, nor have I used any posts to promote any of my compositions… so again, just curious… because it seems that you cannot escape a chance to really take a shot… I am not hurt, because as I have said, over the years I have received lots of venom regarding my music… but what is the purpose in this context?

    Sincerely, the "philistine."

  36. I believe this is a very fair question.

    There are excellent arguments that could have been forwarded instead, and it's a shame that the conversation stopped there.

    On the other hand, Vanessa's comment was also a fair question, and should not have been dismissed with "speak for yourself."

    We could all do better with these discussions, I believe. Why don't we give it a try.

  37. Mr. Haas,

    At the risk of having a bucket of hot coals heaped upon my head, I would like to go on record as saying that I find your melodies to be absolutely beautiful. For many decades now, the music you have written has lifted my soul toward heaven. I thank you for the vast repertoire you have contributed to the Catholic Church.

  38. I'm not singling you out. I find the whole genre you represent obnoxious, and could name quite a few other names. It's not simply a critical judgement either – I believe the liturgy has suffered greatly as a result of this sort of 'music' and this is a serious matter.

  39. My dear Joannes Petrus,

    You are, I'm sorry to say, wrong in your interpretation of my words. I meant what I said, and I meant it most sincerely. There was no irony intended. I love David Haas's music, and it has lifted my mind and heart toward God for many, many years.

  40. 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.

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