Mediator Dei on participation

Following up on Adam Wood’s intriguing idea that “participation” might have been understood by the Council Fathers in a more metaphysical sense than we might understand it today, I thought these paragraphs from Mediator Dei might make for some interesting background reading.

102. All the elements of the liturgy, then, would have us reproduce in our hearts the likeness of the divine Redeemer through the mystery of the cross, according to the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, “With Christ I am nailed to the cross. I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me.”[95] Thus we become a victim, as it were, along with Christ to increase the glory of the eternal Father. 
103. Let this, then, be the intention and aspiration of the faithful, when they offer up the divine Victim in the Mass. For if, as St. Augustine writes, our mystery is enacted on the Lord’s table, that is Christ our Lord Himself,[96] who is the Head and symbol of that union through which we are the body of Christ[97] and members of His Body;[98] if St. Robert Bellarmine teaches, according to the mind of the Doctor of Hippo, that in the sacrifice of the altar there is signified the general sacrifice by which the whole Mystical Body of Christ, that is, all the city of redeemed, is offered up to God through Christ, the High Priest:[99] nothing can be conceived more just or fitting than that all of us in union with our Head, who suffered for our sake, should also sacrifice ourselves to the eternal Father. For in the sacrament of the altar, as the same St. Augustine has it, the Church is made to see that in what she offers she herself is offered.[100] 
104. Let the faithful, therefore, consider to what a high dignity they are raised by the sacrament of baptism. They should not think it enough to participate in the eucharistic sacrifice with that general intention which befits members of Christ and children of the Church, but let them further, in keeping with the spirit of the sacred liturgy, be most closely united with the High Priest and His earthly minister, at the time the consecration of the divine Victim is enacted, and at that time especially when those solemn words are pronounced, “By Him and with Him and in Him is to Thee, God the Father almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory for ever and ever”;[101] to these words in fact the people answer, “Amen.” Nor should Christians forget to offer themselves, their cares, their sorrows, their distress and their necessities in union with their divine Savior upon the cross. 
105. Therefore, they are to be praised who, with the idea of getting the Christian people to take part more easily and more fruitfully in the Mass, strive to make them familiar with the “Roman Missal,” so that the faithful, united with the priest, may pray together in the very words and sentiments of the Church. They also are to be commended who strive to make the liturgy even in an external way a sacred act in which all who are present may share. This can be done in more than one way, when, for instance, the whole congregation, in accordance with the rules of the liturgy, either answer the priest in an orderly and fitting manner, or sing hymns suitable to the different parts of the Mass, or do both, or finally in high Masses when they answer the prayers of the minister of Jesus Christ and also sing the liturgical chant. 
100. These methods of participation in the Mass are to be approved and recommended when they are in complete agreement with the precepts of the Church and the rubrics of the liturgy. Their chief aim is to foster and promote the people’s piety and intimate union with Christ and His visible minister and to arouse those internal sentiments and dispositions which should make our hearts become like to that of the High Priest of the New Testament. However, though they show also in an outward manner that the very nature of the sacrifice, as offered by the Mediator between God and men,[102] must be regarded as the act of the whole Mystical Body of Christ, still they are by no means necessary to constitute it a public act or to give it a social character. And besides, a “dialogue” Mass of this kind cannot replace the high Mass, which, as a matter of fact, though it should be offered with only the sacred ministers present, possesses its own special dignity due to the impressive character of its ritual and the magnificence of its ceremonies. The splendor and grandeur of a high Mass, however, are very much increased if, as the Church desires, the people are present in great numbers and with devotion. 
107. It is to be observed, also, that they have strayed from the path of truth and right reason who, led away by false opinions, make so much of these accidentals as to presume to assert that without them the Mass cannot fulfill its appointed end. 
108. Many of the faithful are unable to use the Roman missal even though it is written in the vernacular; nor are all capable of understanding correctly the liturgical rites and formulas. So varied and diverse are men’s talents and characters that it is impossible for all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers, hymns and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same individual. Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them. 
95. Gal. 2:19-20.
96. Cf. Serm. 272.
97. Cf. 1 Cor. 12:27.
98. Cf. Eph. 5:30.
99. Cf. Saint Robert Bellarmine, De Missa, 2, c. 8.
100. Cf. De Civitate Dei, Book 10, c. 6.
101. Roman Missal, Canon of the Mass.
102. Cf. 1 Tim. 2:5.

21 Replies to “Mediator Dei on participation”

  1. MD 105 seems to back up the premise Mark and I suggested that participation is best thought of as a community act.

    That said, what Pope Pius wrote in 106-107, and especially 108 has been superceded in theology and practice. The laity as a whole have an office to perform. We assume validity and correctness in the Mass. So there's no concern about the point of lay involvement not affecting the liturgical act. This is wholly beside the point.

    SC 7 teaches that the Mass is a moment for the sanctification of the faithful, and the strong emphasis of the council document on participation suggests that grace inspires active participation as well as being the answer to what is, in part, an exterior prayer.


  2. Surely, there can be little doubt that for the Fathers of Vatican II, the term actuosa participatio (actual participation) must have retained the meaning–of spiritual action–that had been established in liturgical studies throughout the half century preceding the Council, from Pius X (1903) on through Pius XII. In the decade following the Council, the meaning of the term was hijacked and changed entirely.

  3. Or perhaps it was the movement of the Holy Spirit to open human understanding to something wider and more graceful.

    "Hijacked" and "changed" are caricatures. How things were done a century ago is not Gospel. Openness to God is. Today's liturgy, with a deeper sensibility for participation, offers much more than pining for days gone by. That the overwhelming majority of the world's bishops, clergy, and laity embrace this is a sign that movement, pilgrimage, and reform are part of the faith experience.


  4. I would disagree with the narrowing you cite.

    I believe that God is well able to work within human misunderstandings and mistakes. Even in parishes where participation is confused with serving, there are undeniable graces. Young people see lay people in roles formerly closed off to them, and if they don't immediately join the choir or the usher corps, their expression of faith is emboldened. So I don't think every parish has to get it 100% right by your standards, or even mine.

    I think I've already denied the narrow concept of participation as you cite it in paragraph 4. I suggest we confine our discussion to what the two of us are saying, and to cite documents and actual statements of others. And not make things up from our own perspectives.

    I'm not sure what you mean by your last paragraph. I can attest I do my best with aligning my "highest thoughts and ideals" with my "ideas and espoused practices." I think some on this site disagree with my methodology if not my incessant and annoying challenge to sloppy thinking and theology. And while I don't claim absolute perfection, I do think that more than thirty years of advocating for participation, empowering it, and getting it seem not to support your suspicion of my approach.

    The proof of the pudding might be for you to come and visit my parish for a weekend. Like Jerry, I'll happily treat you to dinner. But meanwhile, you'll have to take my word for it that it works.


  5. This article is a very good follow up to Adam Woods. I would note that you would have to see Mediator Dei informing Sacrosanctum Concilum, as argued by Aidan Nicols, OP in his book A Pope and a Council on the Sacred Liturgy. A wonderful contemporary explanation of Mediator Dei is found in Gerald Ellard SJ's superb book Christina Life and Worship. I do believe all of you would profit from reading the post 1948 editions of this book, illustrated beautifully by Ada Bethune. It has the best explanation of Mediator Dei I have found, and since it is by a leading figure in the American Pre-Vatican II liturgical Movement, a primary source to use. Traditionalists avoid this book (heck, Father Ellard is buried at the SSPX school in Kansas!), but it is an easy and enjoyable read, with study questions at the end of every chapter. And yes, I think all of you (Kathy, Todd, and Adam) would enjoy his understanding of "actual participation," which I find to be so much more patristic, so much more Byzantine.

  6. Thank you very much for these recommendations!

    By the way, consulting Mediator Dei was not my idea but MaryAnn Carr-Wilson's, on the MusicaSacra forum.

  7. Kathy,
    Another book I recommend to you, Adam, and Todd is Of Sacraments and Sacrifice by Clifford Howell, SJ 1953 Liturgical Press, made up of article he wrote for Worship magazine. In part two, Chapter 6 is a whole chapter dedicated to actual participation and is written in light of Mediator Dei. Father Howell was one of the leadings lights of the liturgical movement in Pre-Vatican II England. This book is illustrated also. Whereas Ellard's book was written primarily for college students, Howell's book more accurately reflects the attitude of the "liturgical cool kids" crowd. Ellard's book, which will make you enthusiastic about the Liturgy is superior and much more enjoyable, but Howell's more accurately reflects how the so called late 1940s-1950s "experts on liturgy" were thinking — in other words, Howell's book reflects the intellectual current that Alcuin Reid discusses in the Organic Development of the Liturgy. Ellard shows influence of Virgil Michel and Pius Parsch. I also would strongly recommend Pius Parsch's The Church's Year of Grace for his comments within about active participation and Virgil Michel's The Liturgy of the Church According to the Roman Rite.

  8. Well, I don't think people disagree therefore they are sloppy. I think there's picking and choosing of liturgical documents here. Not from everyone, but from some. And certainly among progressive liturgists, there's too much of that, too. But I never see them quoted. There's this vague assumption out there about burlap and strumming, how to categorize music, and what the Church permits, allows, and endorses. Much is just human silliness.

    As for my own blog, I'm the only Catholic musician/liturgist on either or any side to look at every major conciliar and post-conciliar document and write about them in detail, as well as inviting comment and discussion. I don't see you or too many others bother to discuss there. Nobody's ever been banned there, and disagreement is always welcome. I can't say the same about other sites, of either flavor.

    I have no problem addressing the good and bad of institutional liturgical theology. I'm certainly not unbiased, but the complaint of selectivity can't honestly be raised with what I do. And until a parishioner, current or former, chooses to come here to say otherwise, I can't be logically accused of being ineffective or unfruitful.

    Post-conciliar participation, the mainstream understanding of it, works. Not just for me, but rather widely in the professional circles in which I know people and parishes.


  9. I've always been very impressed by what you do on your blog and have noticed more than once that it is the only useful search result in Google for something liturgically interesting but obscure. Thank you for that.

    Pre-conciliar sources are good, too, though, and among this crowd you will certainly be accused of selectivity (perhaps even fairly), if you selectively dismiss parts of a 1947 encyclical on liturgy as superseded.

    If nothing else Mediator Dei represents a major step on the road to Sacrosanctum Concilium. It might even be fair to say that parts of Sacrosanctum Concilium are unintelligible without a solid understanding of Mediator Dei, which itself requires a grounding in yet older sources, etc. etc.

    In any case MD 106-108 address specific criticisms leveled every day against the Extraordinary Form so those paragraphs are not even superseded in practice. This whole multi-post thread began when Dr. Galipeau went to an EF mass and was distressed in particular by its apparent disharmony with SC. So the question arises as to how SC ought to be understood, because every Pope since Vatican 2, including Paul VI himself, has allowed the 1962 missal to be used, but if SC is normative, what can this mean?

  10. Sincere thanks to Kathleen and Adam for reaching us across time to Mediator Dei.

    In Christus Veritas

  11. Certainly "the implementation" of the Novus Ordo was orchestrated to defeat the purpose expressed in MD 105. "…to make them familiar with the "Roman Missal," so that the faithful, united with the priest, may pray together in the very words and sentiments of the Church."

    The central prayer of The Mass was and remains suppressed.

  12. I have Mediator Dei on my bookshelf. I acquired and read during grad school. I've done preconciliar music documents on my site. No reason I couldn't do MD someday. I dismiss a good chunk of Redemptionis Sacramentum, so I'm a skeptic on some post-conciliar documents too.

    Thanks for the reading suggestions. Maybe my parish library, which is fairly decent, has them on the shelf.


  13. I would agree with Adam that the prescriptions of SC should, ideally, be taken into account in any form of the Roman Rite. It's a significant challenge for some Catholics. I don't envy it.


  14. I just wanted to highlight a point made above by Deacon Fritz. The idea of participation fell into disuse for a time and wasn't prominent again until 1940 or so, and at that time was controversial. So it probably wouldn't have been an important part of the seminary formation of most of the Vatican II bishops. Hmmm.

  15. What the American Church establishment (along with that of western Europe) of the 60s-70s confected in their "ideology of reform" was not participation in the sense of Mediator Dei, that is, participation in and knowledge of the tradition and prayer of the Church, but rather, participation (whatever that means) in a new rite, cutting its children off from their culture, and up-rooting Catholic tradition, so to turn away from main elements of faith handed down through the ages.

  16. I think that for a lot of people "participation" means no more than singing along, saying the responses, and handholding.

  17. Possibly. And for some, it is enough to let the priest do all the work and they are there only from a sense of requirement, of minimal requirement to call themselves "Catholic."

    But for others, participation means entering into the deep heart of the Mass, and taking a more mature responsibility for their conduct at the liturgy, "fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects." (SC 11)


  18. But I think Deacon Fritz's point is only to the point if the principal authors of Sacrosanctum Concilium deliberately limited themselves to their old seminary textbooks when thinking about the liturgy — which seems improbable.

  19. "in a way analogous to creation's participation in the Being that is God's essence."

    I'm all about reading SC with the help of St. Thomas but this notion of participation is so general that I wonder how helpful it can be.

    Seems more interesting and potentially fruitful to look at the participation of the baptized in the one priesthood of Christ (see the Third Part of the Summa, question 63 article 3) and to think about how that is like and unlike the participation of the ordained in the same priesthood.

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