Back in April I did my bulletin article on “Full and Active Participation in the Mass,” which is a phrase from the Second Vatican Council, and before that from the Liturgical Movement leading up to Vatican II. One of the main purposes of the Liturgical Movement was to encourage people to actively participate in the prayers and sacrifice of the Mass. Since the priest faced the tabernacle with the people, the Mass was in Latin, and many of the prayers were said too quietly for the people to hear, people could get the impression that the Mass is what the priest, and maybe the servers, do, and everyone else just has to be there. They encouraged people to buy daily missals so they could follow the prayers and readings of the Mass, to learn about the Mass, and to actively participate.
Vatican II recommended a reform of the liturgy to encourage full and active participation. The Council Fathers wrote, “Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (SC, 11).
We might think that only the people who are lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, altar servers, ushers, etc., are actively involved in the Mass, but that’s exactly the attitude that Vatican II wanted to end. You aren’t supposed to sit there passively as the Mass happens around you; you should be actively praying with the priest and offering yourself with the Sacrifice of Christ.
Some people say that there’s no point in going to Mass if they can’t receive Communion. There may be many reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t receive. You may be allergic to wheat (the host for the Eucharist must be wheat bread). Maybe you haven’t made your first Communion yet, or maybe you’re not Catholic yet. Maybe you didn’t fast from food and drink (except water and medicine) for an hour before Communion, or maybe you have a mortal sin on your soul and haven’t gotten to Confession yet. In any case, you are still called to be actively involved in praying the Mass. If you do pray the Mass, pay attention to the readings and homily, and offer yourself with the sacrifice of Christ, then when you do receive Communion, whether you receive every day or go for years without receiving, it will be that much more powerful for you when you do receive.
The Lord God wants gave us the Mass as a gift, to draw us closer to Himself, and we are all called to participate fully and actively, no matter what our state in life or position in the Church, as the Council Fathers wrote, “To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross’, but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ [Mt 18:20]” (SC, 7).
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.