November 03, 2006

Active Participation

About a year ago, I attended my first Mass where the Priest was celebrating the Mass ad apsidem (facing the apse).

I have been told much of my life to fear and avoid any Mass where the Priest is not facing the people (coram populo). "That's the old way" "We don't have to do that anymore" "The people can't participate" "Vatican II abolished that" are just some of the arguments I heard.

I was surprised to discover I did not care that the Priest was not looking at me during the entire Mass. I am, furthermore, surprised to realize that I don't care if the Mass is celebrated coram populo, ad orientem (facing East) or ad apsidem.

I don't think it matters if we can't always see or hear the Priest. How often is the sound system bad? How often do you end up sitting behind a column or someone who's a lot taller than you?

I've spent most of my life thinking that I had to be using one of my 5 senses to fully participate in the Mass. Since I've made a resolution to work on my inner prayer life, which for most of my life was completely non-existent, I spend some time during the Eucharistic Prayers, and the Communion Rite meditating or reciting Catholic prayers in my head (the Anima Christi, Hail Mary, the prayer before and after communion etc). Because I am very easily distracted, I often have my eyes closed. I am so oblivious to what Father is visibly doing, he could probably be standing on his head for a minute and I would not notice.

Do we HAVE to use our 5 senses (tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing, touching) plus physical and verbal action to fully participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? What do Catholics do who are deaf, blind, mentally or physically handicapped do? They don't stay home, nor should they. My small parish has one blind member and several people who are mentally or physically handicapped. Obviously, they can't "fully participate" if full participation only means limiting ourselves to the 5 senses and physical or verbal action.

An animal may have 5 senses as well as mental capabilities and feelings. But, the mental capabilities and feelings of an animal are not as developed as ours. Why limit ourselves? Why not utilize all the gifts that God gave us to distinguish us from the animals?

I know God exists not by using my 5 senses only. My 5 senses help me appreciate and marvel at His creation but it's my mind that knows there is something created it and my heart that feels it was Him.

I have decided that full, active, and conscious participation, for me, means internally and primarily using my mind and my heart to unite myself with the Holy Sacrifice on the altar. The senses and physical and verbal action are secondary. Not irrelevant, but secondary, since I find the interior participation a lot harder.

I don't mean to indicate that you should completely ignore what is going on. If you are able: you should sing when you are called upon! Respond when you are supposed to! Listen if you can!

It's hard to concentrate on uniting the mind and the heart with the Sacrifice because I don't mean just sitting there like a zombie. I think we all see enough Catholic zombies in church! I believe it means "paying attention" but willfully using a different set of organs then we may be accustomed to using during Mass.


Blogger Georgette said...

What an interesting thought about not necessarily having to engage all teh senses to participate fully in the Mass! This is opposite what most people have been taught, of course, but it makes perfect sense. The Old Mass was based on this broader understanding, that engaging the entire SPIRIT of the person is the important thing.

It takes discipline, though, and I suspect for most people, they'd rather the easier, sensory route.

November 03, 2006 9:12 AM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 03, 2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

One of my gripes, and they are many, let me tell you, is that invariably, no matter where I sit, someone tall will sit in front of me, blocking my view of the altar.

The closer I get to the front, I find something else to distract me. So of course, I'm the real problem.

But I'm fairly tall, 6'. So there must be millions much shorter than me, not to mention the children, that always have a difficult time seeing what is happening at Mass.

You have provided a great service, Cathy, by raising the issue and letting people know that there are other ways than by sight in which they can participate in the Mass.

November 03, 2006 3:17 PM  
Blogger Angela Messenger said...

This is a GREAT post Cathy!

As for not seeing what is happening up front...try being one of the few people kneeling for the Consecration and the 5 rows in front of you are standing.GRRR.

November 03, 2006 10:17 PM  
Blogger mgibson said...

Not "other" ways, not "my way", there is only one way to participate in the Mass in the mind of the Church - with ACTUOSA participatio.

There is no single English word that this word actuosa translates too - "active" became the common one. But really actuosa means "actualized" participation, real participation and not superficial, passive (verbal or not!) participation.

Fr. Fessio wrote a pretty good article that touches on this, and what it is supposed to mean in our lives as Catholics in the pews, at the Ignatius Insight blog.

God bless!! Glad you brought this topic up, it's a very important one for us today I feel... As we await Benedict's post-synodal document (may it come soon!)!

November 06, 2006 10:27 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

+veritas+: Thanks for the Fr. Fessio link. That was a very interesting column.

November 07, 2006 10:30 AM  

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