The Second Vatican Council called for all of us, laity and clergy alike, to a full, active and conscious participation in the sacred liturgy. There has been and continues to be a strong emphasis on ‘active’ participation but this is only one part of what the Council called for. It is also necessary to understand properly the meaning of “active” participation. If this level of participation is limited to those who sing in the choir, proclaim the scriptures or assist in the distribution of Holy Communion then the possibility of such “active” participation is extremely limited. Since all are called to active participation and since not everyone can participate in the “activity” surrounding the liturgy, the meaning of “active” needs to be seen in a broader context. It is here, more than fifty years after the Council, that we might find that we have not participated in the life of the Church in as full or conscious a manner as we might imagine.

There have been repeated attempts over the decades to make sure that the meaning of the Latin texts of the Council are properly understood. We have taken it for granted for decades that the Council called for “active” participation. At least in the United States, with our great propensity for activity, there was general acceptance of this term without questioning its origin.

The term in Latin in the Council texts is “actuosa”. Peter Kwasniewski points out that an authoritative lexicon says that actuosus “properly is one who is totally engaged in the act or motion of the body… such as an actor and a dancer, who for this reason are called actuosi.” He then writes: “The word actuosa itself is very interesting: it means fully or totally engaged in activity, like a dancer or an actor who is putting everything into the dancing or the acting; it might be considered “superactive.” But what is the notion of activity here? It is actualizing one’s full potential, entering into possession of a good rather than having an unrealized capacity for it.In contemporary English, “active” often means simply the contrary of passive or receptive, yet in a deeper perspective, we see that these are by no means contrary. I can be actively receptive to the Word of God; I can be fully actualizing my ability to be acted upon at Mass by the chants, prayers, and ceremonies, without my doing much of anything that would be styled “active” in contemporary English.”

In a sense the word “active” implies “doing” something whereas “actuosa” points more towards “being” something, namely more fully present, more attentive, more thoughtful, more receptive. This kind of participation is open to everyone without exception and is not limited to a few souls chosen for “active” participation. In fact, those chosen for the more active roles will have a more difficult time fulfilling the call of the Council since they will necessarily be distracted by the duties which they are called upon to perform so that others may enter more fully and peacefully into the “participatio actuosa” called for by the Council.

If our focus, for many years, has been on trying to find ways for more engagement in the activity of the liturgy, we might try, this New Year, to be more engaged (participatio actuosa) in the Liturgy itself.

Excerpt from Bishop Vasa’s column in the January 2018 edition of North Coast Catholic, the newspaper of the Santa Rosa diocese.