Full, Active and Conscious Participation

Deacon Scott Maentz Vatican II, Year of Faith

One of the phrases heard often when speaking of the post conciliar liturgy is the call to “full, active and conscious participation”. The council fathers put it in these words,

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. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

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.

So what does this full, active and conscious participation look like?

First, full participation means that one must be present for the entire liturgy, meaning that one arrives early enough to prepare for mass and stays through the singing of the closing hymn. Growing up it seems to me that too much emphasis was put on what was the minimum amount of time one could be at mass for it to “count”. This seems overly legalistic to me and tends to promote the idea that we are somehow earning points with God by coming to mass rather than our worship expressing our thanks for the salvation he has freely given to us.

Second, actively participating means engaging in all parts of the liturgy while looking for the message God is sending to each one of us every time we step into the church for mass. This outward participation is not only for ourselves, but by doing all we can to participate we share the work of the liturgy and help each other to actively pray.

Third, it is not only the outward signs of our participation that are important, but that we are conscious of what it is we are doing when we gather to pray. It is not enough to simply say the words of the prayers, to participate in the singing, to make the sign of the cross, etc. if there is not something deeper happening within each one of us. This process of transformation should be deepening each week when we attend the liturgy together.

My hope is that by beginning with these three simple practices we can continue to deepen our prayer together and participate fully, actively and consciously each time we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist.

What are the things that lead you to a more active participation in the Eucharist?