Preparing for Antiphons (Part 2 of 3)
One of the major reforms of the Second Vatican Council centered on the idea of active participation. If you read the documents on the Sacred Liturgy, there is frequent reference to the active participation of all the Faithful when celebrating Holy Mass. As the Council Fathers made clear, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy…In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore, pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work” (SC 14).
This is the primary reason behind our upcoming shift towards use of the antiphons at Mass, because, flowing from the Liturgy itself, the antiphons enable the whole body of worshipping Catholics to take an active part in the prayers of the Mass provided to us in the Roman Missal; it is the difference between singing the Mass and merely singing at Mass. There is often resistance to use of the antiphons because individuals argue they inhibit the active participation of the Faithful, and thus constitute a violation of this central tenet of the reforms of Vatican II. But this is a misunderstanding, and as we prepare for the antiphons it is a good opportunity for us to reflect on what is meant by “active participation” in the Mass.
The Church, when teaching on active participation, is not referring primarily to “action” or the mere “doing of things'' at Mass. When the Church speaks of active participation, she reminds us that this participation “should be above all internal, in the sense that by it the Faithful join their mind to what they pronounce or hear and cooperate with heavenly grace… [but] external also, that is, such as to show the internal participation…” (MS 15). There should be an internal uniting of oneself spiritually to what is being celebrated in the Sacred Liturgy. The primary way in which we unite ourselves spiritually to the Mass is through assenting in our hearts to the prayers we hear offered, and seeking to participate as much as possible in those prayers. I emphasize this because, by introducing the antiphons, we are introducing those prayers of the Mass specifically given to us by the Church to facilitate more active participation in the Mass.
The antiphons are especially suited to the task of fostering the participation of the congregation in celebrating the Sacred Liturgy. But this participation need not always be “externalized” which means that, even if at, first we, find it hard to physically take part in these chanted antiphons (because they are unfamiliar to us), we can nonetheless offer spiritual worship by uniting our hearts and minds to the words being chanted, which is a no less real or active means of participating, all with an eye to eventually becoming confident with these chanted antiphons such that each of us can comfortably and wholeheartedly lend our voices to them. Essentially, what I am emphasizing here is the hope that everyone will enter into this upcoming transition with a spirit of faith, trust, patience, and charity. It will be tempting to see these things as too different or too new (or just not what “I” like to “do” at Mass) and then stubbornly resist growing into them. But if we understand our participation at Mass, firstly as the internal uniting of our hearts, minds, and souls to each prayer as the first mode of participating in the Liturgy, then we will be able more perfectly to give external expression to this internal and wholehearted assent.
Please don’t hold back in this regard. I know that if each of us enters into these changes with that same fiat! with which our Blessed Mother always responded to the will of the Lord in her life, that will make all the difference for us moving forward as we all seek to participate more totally and perfectly in the work of our salvation offered by Christ to the Father every time we gather to celebrate Holy Mass. May God bless you in the week ahead and may Mother Mary lead you more deeply into the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus.