Rorate Caeli

Interior participation and devotions during Mass

The Catholic Church incorporates into its liturgical practices a significant number of devotions. The most notable and traditional of these is the devotion known as exposition and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. Others include stations of the cross, the recitation of litanies, recitation of the rosary, May crowning, statues and images of saints. One of the illegitimate interpretations of the liturgical adaptations of the 1960s was that such devotions were to be diminished and limited. The unfortunate interpretation seems to have arisen, in part, because of a previous overemphasis on devotional practices which sometimes eclipsed even the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. One still occasionally hears the stories of Mass attendees reciting their rosaries throughout Mass or engaged in other private devotions while Mass was being celebrated. My own recollections include images of my grandparents reciting Czech prayers and the rosary during Mass. The modern liturgist cringes at the thought of such a perceived aberration. Yet, I know that my grandparents had a tremendously deep and rich devotion to the Eucharist and while they may have engaged in other devotions during the course of Holy Mass they were never far in thought from the Lord whose sacrifice they were also recalling.

Nevertheless, those spiritual activities which were classified as “devotions” were frowned upon, discouraged and even forbidden. This was done, in many instances, without a suitable catechesis and without a legitimate interpretation of what full and active participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice entailed. Full and active participation, which is the phrase from the liturgical documents, was often interpreted in an inappropriately superficial fashion to mean physical activity. Thus there was a great increase in “participation” through recitation of the Mass parts in English, reading the scriptures, leading the prayers of the faithful, and singing, but whether this actually led to a deepened “full and active participation” in the Holy Sacrifice on the part of the congregation as envisioned by the Council is certainly questionable. It is legitimate to wonder whether my grandparents were not just as fully and actively participating in the Eucharistic Sacrifice even though their participation would have had all of the external appearances of great passivity. Our secular age certainly recognizes and praises “activity” and liturgical “activity” has been presumed to be the same as “active participation” and this is not necessarily so. In the training video for lectors and acolytes this active participation is divided into that activity which is from the neck down and that which is from the neck up. There has been a great increase in the neck down form of participation and this is not necessarily bad but the real goal is for greater “neck up” activity throughout the whole of the Holy Sacrifice on the part of all in the congregation. This is a much greater challenge.
Robert Vasa, Bishop of Baker, Oregon
June 11, 2009