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Active Participation

Question  Where might I get a definition of "Full, conscious and active participation" (Article 13 of The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy)? Among other things, our parish has interpreted this as full congregational singing in the vernacular. No Latin music is allowed during the liturgy. The choir (what is left of one) is merely used to lead the singing. This has created serious problems with funeral and wedding liturgies. Certain Latin music is requested by the families (i.e. Schubert's "Ave Maria") only to be denied. A group of parishioners have rewritten this masterpiece in english and suggest that it be done in the vernacular instead. Also, the congregation is invited to sing all songs, so there is no place for a requested vocalist to sing. This has alienated some families and even caused some long time parishioners to have weddings or funerals at other parishes. It has also caused many parishioners to leave the parish. A group of us is attempting to have this policy rescinded. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated. 10/09/97

Answer The phrase "active participation" is one of the most frequently used and most frequently misunderstood phrases used when discussing the liturgy today.  The phrase did not magically appear during the Second Vatican Council, it had been used in the past.   The first instance of the phrase that I have been able to find when referring to the liturgy is in the document Mediator Dei, written by Pope Pius XII in 1947.  Pius the XII encourages people to learn how to use the Roman Missal, sing hymns at Mass, and answering prayers in accordance with liturgical law.  He also approves of the "dialogue Mass" where the people respond with the acolytes but warns that such Masses are not to replace the High Mass which by its nature deserves a more solemn attitude. Even though he approves of such forms of active participation he warns that "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."

Vatican II did not introduce some new idea on this subject, it simply reiterated what Pius XII had already said.  The active participation of the people includes fulfilling all the actions that their office calls for whether they are in the choir, acolytes or in the congregation.  (Sacrosanctum Concilium 28).   The people are also to be "encouraged top take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 30). Nothing changed between the two documents. For a complete list of the gestures and actions of the people see Notitiae 234b.

While the people are to be encouraged to sing, they are not supposed to replace the choir. "The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches." And further, The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30." Notice that Gregorian chant is to be the primary music of the Mass, followed by polyphony which requires a trained choir to sing it. Latin is not to be abolished from Mass. It is to be the primary language for hymns. Also, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that the people should be able to sing some of the common parts of the Mass, especially the Our Father in Latin. The American bishops have released two documents, "Music in Catholic Worship and "Liturgical Music Today" which are often used as a defense for a completely vernacular, throw out the choir liturgy.   "Music in Catholic Worship, while saying many questionable things, does say that "[musicians] must find practical means of preserving and using our rich heritage of Latin chants and motets."



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Related Documents

  1. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

  2. On the Sacred Liturgy

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You are here: Rubrics & Law > General Principles > Active Participation  Back one page.

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All contents © copyright, 1998-2014
The Catholic Liturgical Library
http://www.catholicliturgy.com