The Importance of Listening as Participatio Actuosa
by Andy Milam
In continuing my exploration of participatio actuosa (see parts one and two), there is an importance placed upon listening and understanding the internal action of the human person as it relates to worship at Holy Mass. In my first blog in the series, I made the following observation:
The most demanding of human actions is that of listening. It requires strict attention and summons up in a person his total constructive effort. It is possible to sing, especially a very familiar tune, and not be conscious of actually singing. However, one cannot truly listen without attention to that which he is hearing. Especially in our day of media attention, whether it be radio, television or social media, we are able to tune out almost every sound we wish. To listen attentively demands full, conscious and active human concentration. Listening can be the most active form of participation, demanding full effort and attention.
The Church does not have the entire congregation proclaim the gospel text, but rather the deacon or the priest does it. It is the duty of all to listen. The cannon of the Mass is not to be recited by everyone but all are to hear it. Listening is the most important form of active participation. This is why it is often referred to as “hearing Mass.”
The concept of active listening has been promoted for centuries within the Church, however, since the time of Vatican Council II, it has taken a new distinction. One which seems to be overlooked in favor of doing. So much so that some of the leaders in the Church today have coined a new phrase, “doing the Liturgy.” Not only is it a clunky expression of the English language, it is also very vague. If the faithful and those leaders would take to heart what some of the Popes of recent memory have suggested, as opposed to imposing their own version, there may be a more intimate relationship between the worshipper and the worship at Holy Mass. In turn, this could stop the lamenting of those same leaders that there is a “flight” away from the Church.
Pope Francis has said:
A synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening “is more than feeling.” It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. Faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: we are one in listening to others; and all are listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), to know what the Spirit “is saying to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
The Holy Father was speaking to the Synod of Bishops, but it applies equally to all Catholics. There has to be mutual listening. This active listening, which is how Catholics commune with the Holy Spirit, is how they worship. The faithful shouldn’t look to find their completion in ministering, for that is not their role. Their role is to worship God the Father. To minister is a specific calling within the Church. It is not something the Catholic person should seek out or expect. It isn’t a right, it is a need. That is why those actions are extraordinary. Those actions, while good in and of themselves, are a distraction to the active listening which the Holy Spirit is calling all men to do. That is why a vocation to minister is rare, but necessary. It is also the reason why a priest gives up a family, so that he can devote himself to the actions which would otherwise divide his time, unfairly. It is a unique and special calling to devote one’s life to the harmony of participatio activa and participatio actuosa.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI taught us this:
We should be clearly aware that external actions are quite secondary here. Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio. It must be plainly evident that the oratio is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking
together toward the Lord and going out to meet him. The almost theatrical entrance of different players into the liturgy, which is so common today, especially during the Preparation of the Gifts, quite simply misses the point. If the various external actions (as a matter of fact, there are not very many of them, though they are being
artificially multiplied) become the essential in the liturgy, if the
liturgy degenerates into general activity, then we have radically misunderstood the “theo-drama” of the liturgy and lapsed almost into parody. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, (SF, CA: Ignatius, 2000), p. 170)
Benedict XVI goes on to say:
I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur: in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the world-wide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless. And, because the ecclesial community cannot have its origin from itself but emerges as a unity only from the Lord, through faith, such circumstances will inexorably result in a disintegration into sectarian parties of all kinds – partisan opposition within a Church tearing herself apart. This is why we need a new Liturgical Movement, which will call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council. (Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (SF, CA: Ignatius), p. 149.)
This concept of the finding the real heritage of Vatican Council II and the New Liturgical Movement is paramount. It is, quite simply, the most important work of our time. The purpose of this article will be to challenge the reader to look at the Mass and at Catholicism in a different light. Not as a “doer,” but as a worshipper. Catholics are called heroic virtue, but not heroism when it comes to actions.
Full, conscious and active participation in the Liturgy isn’t heroic because the Catholic ministers; but rather because he worships God the Father, through God the Son, by the power of God the Holy Spirit.