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The Traditional Mass: How We Participate

QUESTION: Friends who are regulars at the Novus Ordo say that they like all the participation at the service, and that they don’t like the traditional Latin Mass because it doesn’t really have much.

I tell them that there’s nothing wrong with not participating, and that it makes for more reverence. Do you have any thoughts about this?

RESPONSE: Both you and your friends are somewhat mistaken in your understanding of what “participation” is and how that takes place at the traditional Latin Mass.

Traditional Catholics tend to look upon a sacrament as primarily something the priest gives and the layman receives. The priest is active, the layman passive. The priest confers the sacrament; the lay recipient cooperates.

This paradigm does not hold, though, for assistance at Mass. The layman is meant not merely to receive something passively (grace, Holy Communion, “credit” for fulfilling his Sunday obligation, etc.), but to participate and to give something actively. What? Active worship of God, because as a result of his baptism, the layman is privileged and obliged to participate, according to his state, in offering up Holy Sacrifice.

Please note the verb: participate.

Unfortunately, during and after Vatican II, the modernists appropriated this language, corrupted its real meaning, and used it to transform the Mass into an engine for doctrinal revolution throughout the world. Thus, they turned the priest into a president, the “assembly” into the primary agent of worship, and regimented “responses” into the only permissible indicator of participation —this is where your friends got their idea — with all present pummeled into submission by the Giant Amplified Voice.

Traditionalists, therefore, are understandably skittish about any talk of how they are supposed to assist or participate actively in offering the Holy Sacrifice. Nevertheless, active assistance and participation in the Mass, understood in the correct sense, is required of every Catholic.

At the traditional Mass, how do members of the laity manifest their active assistance or participation in the Mass? There are several ways, and this list is by no means exhaustive.

(1) By receiving Holy Communion during the Mass itself.

(2) Serving Mass for the priest at the altar.

(3) Singing in the choir.

(4) Singing responses as a member of the congregation at High Mass, or singing hymns during Low Mass, where either practice is the custom.

(5) Using a Missal to follow and pray on your own the prayers of the Mass as the priest recites them at the altar.

(6) Using a book of meditations or prayers that follows the actions of the Mass.

(7) Reciting the Rosary, while looking at the sacred actions taking place at the altar.

(8) Attentively following the actions of the priest at the altar while making the customary external signs of devotion appropriate to each part of the Mass (standing, sitting, kneeling, striking your breast, making Signs of the Cross, looking up at the Sacred Host, folding your hands, etc.)

(9) Physical presence, accompanied by the intention to assist at Mass and fulfill the Sunday obligation, together with a certain degree of attention during the rite.

In one or more of the foregoing, of course, the traditionalist reader will recognize the method he employs every Sunday when he goes to Mass.

But whichever of these methods the layman chooses, it does in fact constitutes a true and active participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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