What is this Participation?

Dr. Jerry Galipeau’s recent excursion to a Mass in the Extraordinary Form has sparked some interesting discussion and reactions. Perhaps the most interesting is his attempt to reconcile the experience of an “unreformed” Low Mass with the notion of “active (actual) participation” called for by the Second Vatican Council. There are interesting and worthwhile ideas to explore here, and I hope no one simply dismisses this out of hand with some version of “Vatican II doesn’t apply here!”

One related point I have been pondering a lot recently is- just what do we mean by participation?

I have written some of my thoughts on this matter in the past, and we all know that the ideas of participation range from the “active doing” advocated by many (so-called) progressive liturgists all the way to the “passive meditation” advocated by many (so-called) traditionalists.

But I wonder…

Both conceptions of participation – whether active or interior – seem overly focused on the individual person, and on a modern definition of “participation.” It’s as if we all agree on what “participation” means, we just have different ideas about what actions/activities rightly constitute appropriate participation in the liturgy.

But I’ve been reading Thomas Aquinas recently (this is a new experience for me). And I’m struck by how often he talks about “participation.” God is good absolutely, but we are only good inasmuch as we participate in God’s goodness. Fire is hot by nature, but something that isn’t fire only participates in heat.

I don’t have any conclusions yet- but I wonder what difference this theological conception of participation would make to our understanding of both the nature of liturgical participation and also the will of the Council in calling for participation of the faithful to be fostered.

Off hand, it seems to me that NEITHER active doing nor interior prayerfulness are “participation,” but rather are contributing causes: things we can do in order to help foster participation or to better dispose ourselves to participation.

I ask the rest of our community of readers here – particularly those with a better understanding of Aquinas than me (which I have to think would be almost anyone) – to chime in here and help develop these thoughts a bit further.

23 Replies to “What is this Participation?”

  1. Adam, thank you for this. I do think that a discussion of ontology is very relevant to the discussion of active participation. When we consider participation, we can better discuss each of the elements and how they relate to one another by their level of participation in liturgy as a greater concept rather than thinking of participation only as it relates to "this liturgy that I am at for this moment". We would then consider not the act of doing or the act of meditating, but rather on how much or little what we are actively doing or meditating upon participates in the concept of liturgy. (Low participation=barely related to the Mass, barely recognizable, regardless of if we're jumping up and down shouting while doing it or sincerely and completely meditating upon it, high participation=integral to nature of liturgy. Which of course, one could argue, is based on opinion, but I would say there are objective characteristics.) I would have loved to have this conversation with St. Pius X…
    I don't have time for a longer reply at the moment but I am looking forward to following the discussion.

  2. Adam, thanks from me too. I think you are really onto something. We've had the wrong end of the stick: the word "actuosa" matters much less than participation.

    Participation for St. Thomas begins with creation. God just plain is: "I am Who am." We too really are, but our being comes from God's being, by participation.

    So in worship, which is an act of the virtue of justice, we acknowledge our dependency on God for everything, beginning with our existence and ending with our justification.

    Here's a thorough but wonky treatment of participation in Thomas. http://books.google.it/books?id=TAvhcCGg7SUC&…

  3. My two cents, and yes Adam, I am less aquainted with St. Thomas' work that you are… I think that by FACP was intended so that the people knew WHAT WAS GOING ON. Yes, there are spots to stand, sing, respond, listen, etc, but the crux of the matter is that congregations know what is happening in Mass. A bit terse, but I wanted to reply, and have to run.
    You are on to something with this!

  4. Much of what St Thomas says on participation derives from St Augustine who was himself influenced by the Platonists. Aristotle was critical of Plato's doctrine of participation, in which this world of shadows participates in the real world of Ideas. St Thomas was able to re-introduce this doctrine into Aristotelianism because of St Augustine who had given a real place for these Ideas: in God's mind. The doctrine of the Divine Ideas is very important in Catholic metaphysics.

    However, I think the idea of "participation" as found in the Conciliar documents is not related to this except accidentally. Certainly we want to participate as fully as possible in God's Being at Mass, but the Conciliar idea originates on a more mundane level, that of having the faithful play a more direct role of the goings on at Mass. It originated with the Liturgical Movement to which Pius X subscribed at least in part. For Pius it only meant that the faithful be able to sing in Latin the Ordinary parts of the Mass. By the time this idea got to the Council it may have been greatly exaggerated depending on whose opinion one accepts. This idea of the faithful participation at Mass has become an Idol for some, yet the Conciliar documents are far from clear on its meaning, speaking, rather, in fairly general terms.

  5. As I see it, the theological grounding comes in baptism. The baptized are anointed priests, and so have a role in the rituals of Christ's Body–the parish or religious community. Participation is not an individual matter. That's why a psalmist, a lector, a server, or even an ordained minister are not participating. They are serving. I would reject wholesale the notion that serving equals participation.

    On the level of rubrics the people, as a community, say and sing and do the actions assigned to them. While some select actions of the priest might impact the validity or lawfulness of the proceedings, for the laity, this is not true, certainly in the Tridentine understanding of worship. The people are irrelevant. For the modern Roman Rite, the broad sense of participation impacts the overall sense of the celebration as well as the assembly's receptivity to God's grace.

    This was not emphasized in the 1570/1962 Missal, and this is likely why liturgy was addressed first at the Council and has been a matter of continuing concern ever since.

    One note about exterior participation: this is the only way for a pastor of souls to assess the degree of openness to God's grace in the flock. It is an important marker, though it doesn't tell the whole story. Prudence would suggest we cannot assess one's interior engagement (in anything) without truly knowing the person or people in question. A spiritual director. A spouse. A close friend. A pastor who has more the smell of sheep than burned resin.

    I don't necessarily think Thomas Aquinas is the best guide for this journey. But as one voice among many, he certainly has something to contribute.


  6. Ted,

    I think your account of St. Thomas' reappropriation of participation is accurate.

    Regarding your second paragraph, I think it might be important to consider that the seminary education of the Council Father's would have had a strong grounding in metaphysics. "Participation" would have been a loaded term, for the Fathers who voted on Sacrosanctum Concilium.

  7. Yes I think there is more than an accidental connection. Mediator Dei discusses participation at great length, and a good bit of that discussion is devoted to the question of how the faithful can be said to "offer" the sacrifice of the mass — i.e., in what way they *participate* in Christ's self-offering to the Father.

    I would think that the more mundane senses of participation must be rooted in that fundamental one.

  8. I'm perhaps older than many of you so I recall how the laity participated at Mass prior to the Council. Fortunately, I was a member of a parish where the liturgical movement had taken hold. Our standard Sunday Mass was a Missa Cantata where the congregation sang the propers and the ordinary. However, there were many parishes where the congregation was mute and focused on either saying the Rosary or looking through devotional books. I believe what the Council fathers were getting at with actuoso participatio was that the laity would set aside their Rosaries and devotional books and join with the priest in saying or singing the prayers of the Mass in accordance with the rubrics. In other words, take my parish experience and have that become the norm in every parish.

  9. TJM, my memories are similar to yours. As a child in the 1950s I remember the congregation singing the Asperges, Kyrie, Gloria etc. There was no choir to speak of, just a small group of men to psalm-tone the Propers. My favourite piece was the Webbe Vidi Aquam – the Gregorian setting was beyond the capabilities of anyone present.

    It was the Low Mass that the liturgical movement saw as the problem. From an early age I was taught to use a bi-lingual missal to follow the Mass. This type of missal was one of the fruits of the early 20th century reform movement. The "dialogue Mass" doesn't work well for the simple reason that not many parts of the Mass are intended to be a dialogue between celebrant and congregation; certainly not the Prayers at the foot of the Altar.

  10. Thanks for replying, Adam.

    I understand. But most mature people in ministry realize that they, in actuality, have very little control over such things. The harder one tries, the more one slips up.

    As a church musician, I've found that it's better to assume people will sing if invited. If the invitation is consistent and gently persistent, and the choir never or hardly ever takes over, they get the message.

    As for the notion that an outward participation leads to gracefulness, I prefer to think of the agency in reverse. When a soul is touched by grace, it cannot help but give praise, to love God and others, and to take actions in the world that simply but often gently facilitate grace for others.

    Pastors and music directors often resort to relentlessness. But I've found that approach to be singularly ineffective. Ministry is more effective when the minister sees herself or himself as porter: open the door and invite and see who goes through.


  11. Perhaps we are looking at this from a purely individual POV? The Liturgy is the work of the Body along with the Head, so perhaps we should rather ask what it it means to participate for each "group" (priest, laity) considered as a whole?
    Sorry if this doesn't make much sense (hard to think straight after a long nightshift)

  12. I actually think Ted K is more or less correct in his second paragraph. The importance of metaphysical "participation" in Aquinas only really begins to be promoted by Cornelio Fabro in the 1940s, and it remained controversial. More traditional, strictly Aristotelian, Thomist tended to stress efficient and final causality over participation and thought that Fabro's emphasis on participation over-stressed the platonic element in Thomas's thought. Which is all just to say that while Fabro's views might have been know by some of the Council Father, they were hardly part of the standard seminary curriculum. So I suspect the Council Fathers did not have anything so metaphysically lofty in mind, but rather a more everyday notion of "participation." Of course that doesn't mean that one cannot use Thomas to come up with a "metaphysically enriched" notion of liturgical participation. I'm simply dubious that this is what the Council Fathers were really thinking of.

    More useful, however, might be looking at what Thomas has to say of the role of external acts in the virtue of religion (Summa Theologiae 2-2 q. 84 a. 2), where he makes the point that because human beings are a composite of body and soul, we engage in external, physical actions in worship not simply to express interior devotion but also to incite it. The implication seems to be that kneeling in absolute stillness with your mouth shut is not, for Thomas, more devout that standing, kneeling, sitting, crossing yourself, beating your chest, singing, making responses, etc.

    (Thanks to Kathy P. for calling this discussion to my attention.)

  13. Perhaps looking at what the Liturgy is would help us in what type of participation is necessary and the various ways we can participate. Liturgy is where the Creator and his creatures come into contact and bridge between the eternal and temporal realities. I would argue there is a lot more active participation going on at a low or high latin mass that what meets the eye. One cannot judge the interior of a person based on pure exteriors. I would also argue that the result of changing the mass, albeit it may not necessarily be what the Council had in mind, but it is what it is, emphasizes more of a horizontal dimension than vertical and eternal realities are reduced to mere symbols and "We Are Church" mentality. Interior conversion, interior, active participation comes first, if it only be a physical/outward participation and not interior it does not mean much. Participation needs to be an active interior participation where we connect with our Creator and not necessarily an active physical participation at the mass (on the altar, reading, etc…) because that has nothing to do and no bearing on a creature coming into contact with his Creator. Interior prayer and meditation at mass sure in the heck is participation and should take place first above all other participation.

  14. Deacon Fritz,

    One of the reasons Adam's post struck me as compelling is that I'm working right now on ST II-IIae 23.2. In ad 2, Thomas explicitly invokes both the Platonists and participation as safeguards of the human-divine distinction in the soul.

    Regarding the physicality of religion, are you familiar with St. Dominic's 9 Ways of Prayer? It's a sort of trope for Dominicans.

    Thank you for entering the fray.

  15. But SC 14 expressly grounds lay participation in the common priesthood: "Such participation by the Christian people as 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5)', is their right and duty by reason of their baptism."

    And the common priesthood of the baptized is nothing other than a participation in Christ's priesthood, cf. STh III 63.3. To be fair Tanquerey cites that very article in his discussion of sacramental character, and does *not* mention participation (even though St. Thomas does), which certainly supports the Deacon's point. On the other hand in his discussion of the sacrifice of the mass, Tanquerey does distinguish the three ways in which the laity are said to offer the sacrifice, albeit "mediate et improprie" — and this to deal with the objection (which he grants) that both the Fathers and the liturgy itself speak clearly of the faithful "offering" the sacrifice. See the section headed "(B) Instant" on p. 449 of Tanquery's dogmatic theology volume 2: https://archive.org/stream/synopsistheolog01tanqg

    But stepping back momentarily — I thought one of the whole things about Vatican 2 (among many other things) was its radical departure from the "scholastic establishment," so to speak. Ratzinger and Wojtyla were influential in the drafting of some of the other documents — who were the principal authors of, and contributors to, SC?

    As a (related) side note, Lumen Gentium cites STh III q. 63 a. 2 in support of this point: "the faithful are destined by the baptismal character for the worship of the Christian religion".

    I guess my point is twofold: (1) the texts of Vatican II do indicate attention to St. Thomas on the question of lay participation in the priesthood of Christ (which participation is the basis of participation in His sacrifice) and (2) my understanding is that Thomists of the strict observance didn't exactly dominate the sessions of Vatican II, so perhaps the content of the standard scholastic manuals is not so important here.

  16. This is the sort of gibberish that has besotted and afflicted the entire Church for the last half a century. The writer strings together words in an abstruse manner so as to create the impression of insight. Then he concludes by saying that St. Thomas "is [not] the best guide for this journey." In reality, we all would have been better served if he had simply said "I don't care for Thomism." That would have been forthright and direct.

    Let's look at a couple of the more absurd comments in particular.

    "While some select actions of the priest might impact the validity or lawfulness of the proceedings, for the laity, this is not true, certainly in the Tridentine understanding of worship. "

    No, this is true, period. The ordained priest confects the Sacrament. The laity do not. This depends not one iota on any "understanding of worship."

    ". . . the Tridentine understanding of worship."

    What does this mean? The teachings of the Council of Trent are infallibly taught. They are not an "understanding." They are the Truth.

    "For the modern Roman Rite, the broad sense of participation impacts the overall sense of the celebration as well as the assembly's receptivity to God's grace. "

    What, in the name of all that is holy, is "the overall sense of the celebration" or "the broad sense of participation"? The sentence is devoid of actual content.

    And for the best part, skipping to the reply below, we have "When a soul is touched by grace, it cannot help but give praise, to love God and others, and to take actions in the world that simply but often gently facilitate grace for others."

    This simply is false. Man may resist the action of grace in his life. See Trent, 6th Session Ch. V.

    The discussion of what it means to be Catholic is not this complicated, at least as long as we don't insist on inviting Protestants into it.

  17. It is indisputable that "Thomists of the strict observance didn't exactly dominate the sessions of Vatican II." But there is a compelling argument that the new liturgical movement theologians whose were drawn on by the council fathers rely upon Thomism for their underpinnings, even where they depart from it in their particulars. So if St. Thomas is using a term in a particular way, I don't think we can dismiss his usage simply because the council was not dominated by Thomists, because the work of the ressourcement theologians assumes a Thomistic substratum.

  18. I agree in general. Deacon Fritz seemed to be arguing that if concept X could not be found in the standard pre-conciliar scholastic manuals, then concept X was probably not operative in the texts of the Council.

    But I'm certain that the men of influence at the Council felt free to read St. Thomas in ways that were not part of the standard scholastic-manual treatment.

  19. Some of your post is incomprehensible.

    I can embrace Thomism generally while not accepting this particular interpretation of Thomism. You seem to just be picking a fight, and you're out of your depth.

    I stated clearly that the laity do not impact the validity or liceity of sacramental confection. Are you arguing with that? If not, again, you just seem to be picking a fight.

    There is a Tridentine, counter-reformation understanding of worship that is not congruent to infallible Church teaching. It's a matter of culture.

    Your sense of Trent, 6th Session Ch. V is total wack, to use a theological term.

    Why don't you just say you disagree with everything I write, even when you agree with it, and you don't like me and you like to pick fights over lots of little stuff. Then we know where you're coming from too, eh?


Comments are closed.