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Posted May 11, 2006

A New Debate Over the Old Question About Participation in the Mass

Reported in The National Catholic Reporter

Four weeks ago, I carried a summary of Bishop Donald Trautman's critique of the proposed new translation of the Order of the Mass, along with a defense by Fr. Bruce Harbert, executive director of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy, the body responsible for that translation. Among other points, Harbert expressed doubt about whether the phrase "active participation" best expresses the vision of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) for model liturgical practice.

That comment brought a response from Fr. Virgil Funk, the president emeritus of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in the United States. His response follows:

"It's a little unnerving that the gatekeeper for [Latin-English] language translation seems anxious to abandon the pedigree of participatio in English translation. From when it first appeared in Tra le Solecitudine down to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the II Vatican Council, participatio's meaning was accumulated. The fact that altar boys answered Et cum spiritu tuo rather than the assembly, that few people participated in communion, and that the gospel was read in Latin to the wall, these are but three examples of the assembly not "participating in" the liturgy. While they may have been "involved" and "drawn in" to the liturgy by reading the translations in their missals and making "spiritual" communions, the leaders of the liturgical movement, starting with Pius X and ending with Paul VI desired that the assembly "participate" in the liturgy. There is no mistake about its meaning in 1960. Clearly, Harbert wishes to place emphasis on the role of the Spirit in initiating the act of worship, rather than a Pelagian self-starting celebration by the initiative of the assembly. I applaud him for this effort. But, active participation has a historical pedigree worth keeping.