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.

A Liturgical Thought Experiment

Suppose for a minute (I know this will be hard) that The Church is RIGHT about the liturgy and the nature of the sacraments. Suppose that the Mass really is the memorial of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of God’s Only Begotten Son. Suppose it is the source and summit of our lives as Christians. More to the point: suppose that something actually supernatural and really (not metaphorically) divine is going on during the Mass.

Now suppose instead (I’m sure this will be much easier) that (either in addition to, or else in contrast with, this) that The Catholic Progressives are RIGHT about the liturgy. Suppose that the purpose is to teach and inform us about God and Christ, and to make us into a Worldwide community of love and unity, a revolutionary force to stand up against the greed and corruption of the world, and to care for the poor and downtrodden of the earth.

Now suppose instead that The Mainline Protestant Liberal Academics are RIGHT about liturgy. Suppose that the purpose is primarily instructive and cultural. Suppose there is no “magic” or actual supernatural efficacy, but that it’s important to preserve cultural and artistic practices that have been meaningful to previous generations. Religion is, of course, just a human-constructed metaphor- but (well, you know) it’s an important metaphor.

Suppose now (if your head isn’t spinning yet) that The Fundamentalists are RIGHT about liturgy church God, and that at any moment, the Second Coming is going to happen, and we are in SERIOUS danger of eternal damnation, and we need to understand just how small and sinful we are, how worthy we are of hell, and that only by God’s completely incomprehensible grace do we have any hope (no matter how small) of escaping the fiery furnace.

Suppose that Atheist Scholars of Myth and Psychology (Joseph Campbell, etc.) are RIGHT, and that the liturgy of The Church is simply one more among the world’s naturally-occurring religions. Suppose that the purpose of religion and ritual is to conform our psyches to the collective mythos so that we can function as healthy and productive members of society. Suppose that the shared metaphors of religion reveal the human person’s relationship with an inhospitable world, and that liturgy and belief serve to make that mysterious inhospitality understandable, allowing us to accept our eventual biological death without living every moment of our lives in terror and ignorance.

Okay… suppositioning over.

Questions for discussion:

1. In which of these understandings of the role of public worship in the life of the Church and society is “silly songs and folk dancing” an appropriate choice?

2. In which of these paradigms of liturgical worship would “making things up as we go along” be an edifying or helpful phenomenon?

3. In which of these modes or theories of liturgy (or any other one that is even vaguely coherent) would the ancient and traditional (and beautiful and terrifying) repertoire of chanted prayer be abandoned?

4. What am I getting at here?

Wonderful opportunity for composers

From Jeff Ostrowski of Corpus Christi Watershed:

We have a website where composers submit free settings of the Gospel Acclamation. So far, we’ve added about 2,000 scores. These items are high in demand. Individual scores have been downloaded as many as 800 times!

Would you be interesting in composing any? Here are the “terms” required:

1. Verses must be fully written out (notated) for each feast. [see the website if you don’t know what I mean.]

2. Organ accompaniment is required.

3. Submissions must be sent in PDF and a “congregational insert” is highly recommended.

4. You have to agree that once they are posted, they can remain forever. [Otherwise I would have pay somebody to take them down, and we don’t have funds for that.]

5. Once your Alleluia has been “accepted” you have to promise you will compose at least twenty (20) feasts [i.e. verses] — a total of twenty (20) scores — otherwise it’s not really good for the musicians who use the site. There are actually about 176 gospel acclamation texts for Sundays (all three liturgical years) — feel free to complete them all. That would be incredibly useful to Church musicians.

6. If we don’t feel your submission is right for our site, please don’t get hurt feelings. Just say, “Your loss, buddy” and move on. And don’t hate us.

7. The verse must be written in free rhythm (chant rhythm). The “Alleluia” can be chant OR metrical. Nice, simple, metrical “Alleluias” are useful and much appreciated. Do you know what I mean when I say a “circle of fifths” Alleluia? These are perfect! [And they can be descending fifths … or better yet, ascending fifths, like they did in the Renaissance!]

8. Submit your score using the “Contact us” on our website.

Josquin, I wish I knew how to quit you…

Despite JT’s olive branch in his previous post, he has spent most of today pummeling my preference for Byrd above all the other Renaissance composers. I cannot complain- I started the battle.

After spending almost the entire day listening to Josquin, I am forced to admit that, while I will always prefer Byrd, Josquin may be the superior composer.

Of course, that assumes he wrote the things I’ve been listening to. I understand there’s some confusion on this point.

I have decided, for the sake of peace and fraternal love, to stand down, and form a truce.

There’s no reason lovers of Byrd (and Tallis!) can’t join together with lovers of Josquin or even Victoria to sing God’s praises in all times and places, and to declare, in a one united voice, that all those guys are better than Palestrina.