What “Active Participation” Really Means – Catholic Culture | Episode Movies


By Phil Lawler (bio article email) | November 14, 2022

The Second Vatican Council called the lay faithful to active participation in the Eucharistic liturgy. To my knowledge, nobody disputes that active participation is desirable. The question is: What does “active participation” mean? Let me give you an answer in a roundabout way.

Eighteen years have passed – and yet the memory is still fresh – since that happy evening when Keith Foulke snagged a bouncing ball, threw it to first base and the den in the Lawler household exploded with cheers. After years of painful disappointment, we had won the World Series!

Did you notice I said we won? Unless I’m grossly mistaken, no one wearing a Red Sox uniform that night knew of the Lawler family’s existence. We had thrown no pitches, used no flies, never stolen bases. We hadn’t contributed anything tangible to the win. But we had no doubt about that we has won.

The Red Sox would probably have won even if we hadn’t put so much emotional and psychological energy into them. Our cheering – in a cave far from the action – didn’t add to their performance. Nevertheless it was so our Victory. Why? Because while we didn’t hit or throw, we were—undeniably, unmistakably—active participants. If you had been in the cave that night, you would have no doubts about it.

If you were at our house that night but weren’t a baseball fan, you may have watched the same game as us with no real interest in the outcome. You would then be a Viewers, not an active participant. There is a difference.

The experience of going to a baseball game has changed quite a bit since I was a boy. There’s loud rock music between the innings, even between at-bats. The jumbotron blares news: player stats, ads and promotions, previews of upcoming games, cute little contests for fans, even suggestions on when to cheer. Video cameras pan across the stands so faces from the crowd can be seen on the screen. Some fans may be randomly selected to pitch the first pitch, shake off home plate, or introduce the starting lineup. So all these gimmicks make people even more enthusiastic fans? Not really. They give people something to do; They entertain; They may (or may not) improve the overall experience of a day at the ballpark. You can help create a friendly atmosphere among fans and make the game a community event. But they don’t do what a true baseball fan would recognize as active participation.

You know what I mean, I trust it. “Active participation” does not mean giving people something to do – something outside of the actual action. Active participation means being engrossed in this action. Not one own Action (raiding the video cameras, yelling out answers to the trivia questions on the jumbotron, doing The Wave), but in the central action, that’s the whole reason for attending the event: in this case, the baseball game.

Since Vatican II, the liturgists have given more to the lay Catholic things to do at Mass: singing the hymns, saying the answers or (for a few) bringing up the gifts (while the rest of the congregation looks on passively), exchanging the sign of peace. These promotions may or may not enhance the overall experience of attending the show; they may or may not enhance community spirit. I’ll leave that question aside for now. My point is that they don’t address the most important issue. Our goal is active participation; Yes indeed. But actively participate in what?

There is only one plausible answer to this question, I suggest. Active participation in Mass means immersion in the Eucharistic Sacrifice: in Christ Sacrifice. Active participation grows from the realization that we lay people are not the central actors. Neither is the priest unless he acts in the person of Christ. Active participation means walking in spirit the way to Calvary and from there to the empty tomb. Everything else is irrelevant.

Yes, we come together as a community; but what unites us is our common status as pilgrims on this path. Yes, we sing and pray out loud together; but we do this to praise our Savior and ask for His mercy. Mass is celebrated whether we are there or not, whether we are distracted or not. Christ’s saving sacrifice will be accomplished with or without us. We only decide whether or not we want to be united with this sacrifice.

So, perhaps paradoxically, encouraging active participation in Mass requires strengthening and strengthening the recognition that we are Not the main actors: that this is the act of Jesus Christ offering himself to the Father. Call the Sunday liturgy the Holy Sacrifice of Mass and that is a step in the right direction.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for over 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. He is the founder of Catholic World News and news director and senior analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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