31 March 2015


Punk Catholic Thought of the (Holy) Week

Here we go again. If we're counting, this is Punk Catholic Thought of the Week XIX, though of course I've had two Punk Catholic Thoughts of the Year (and at least one sequel . . . or was it a postscript?) since then, and the order has been completely thrown. This new thought is the fruit of nearly a dozen Saturdays of Latin Mass attendance, in which "active participation" is exposed as the deformed golden calf it is.

Active participation is the mutant form of assistance.


Of course it's okay to pray the rosary during Mass!

Chances are that you, dear reader, don't regularly attend the Tridentine rite, so the Palm Sunday Mass that you heard a few days ago would have had the spoken parts of the Gospel divided up among the priest, two lectors, and the congregation. Just curious: how did your congregation do?

My congregation kind of fell on its face. Less than half of us had copies of the missalette and so couldn't follow along, even with one frustrated lector trying to cue us from the front of the church, and those who did have copies didn't want to stand out from their neighbours by reading too audibly. If I had remembered what to expect, I would have stolen one before the Mass began and read "my" lines with all the liturgical indignation I felt. (I've had theatre training, by the way.)

Why is "active participation" the ideal again? It's like jumping through hoops. Why can't we just show up?

Long before I became familiar with the Latin Mass, I came across the idea of "assisting" at Mass that I read in books by and about the saints, and assumed that my "active participation" at Mass was the same thing. I was responding promptly and correctly, wasn't I? And hadn't I studied up on what all the celebrant's actions mean, all the better to follow the movements and meanings with my eyes? What I didn't really understand was why some saints who already went to daily Mass seemed to make a distinction between just being there and assisting. Doesn't everyone already "assist" at Mass by virtue of standing, sitting, kneeling, and saying the responses? Perhaps they meant being fully conscious of those actions and words, rather than just going through the motions.

As expected, it wasn't until I found a Mass where I could just show up and not have to say anything that the mental tumblers started clicking into place.

That's because the Tridentine Mass is, as Bill Biersach and Charles Coulombe have explained, the priest's Mass. It is a prayer that he can say all alone, without a single other person around to say the responses for him. In fairness, this is also true for Masses in the Ordinary Form. (Several years ago, I was late for one of those Masses and walked in on Father going through the Liturgy of the Word all by himself. He was so pleased to see me that he asked me to do the First Reading.) But we don't get that sense of them, do we? Mass in the vernacular seems like a community effort, when what it is, is an action by the Head (as represented by the priest) for the whole Body. The rest of the members don't actually have to do anything; the Mass "works" the way Jesus's Sacrifice on the Cross "worked." Our faith, understanding, and assistance are neither necessary nor required . . . but we may offer them as a sacrifice, joined to the priest and Jesus's sacrifice, to make a very powerful prayer of our own.

Somehow, "active participation" distracts from this . . . (Starcrunch, would you happen to remember to which cardinal Biersach and Coloumbe attribute the quotation, "Participation is distraction"?) . . . while the rosary doesn't.

* * * * *

Several years ago, on my old blog, I stepped on a bigger landmine than I realised was underfoot when I said that "cradles" get things better than converts do. One convert person who disagreed with me said that all the old people who think it's okay to pray the rosary during Mass are cradle Catholics--which is just one huge thing that they get wrong and converts with better formation get right. By then, the argument was heating up so much that I was tempted to pray the rosary during Mass in order to be able to come back to the combox and say I had done it, too, so there. =P I didn't do it only because the ordinary form does require responses from the whole congregation . . . and it felt as rude as praying the rosary in the middle of a party instead of talking to the other guests. (Yes, fellow liturgical punks, I know how that simile sounds!) But you know what? I could totally do it during a Tridentine Mass and be perfectly pious toward God and courteous toward my neighbours.

In fact, I almost did it last Saturday, when Father announced before beginning that we would be using the propers for the memorial of St. Pedro Calungsod rather than those on the regular calendar. So would we all please turn our missals to a certain section I can't even tell you about because I don't have a missal? Since I started hearing the Tridentine Mass each week, I've been relying on the printouts of the day's propers, generously provided by someone else, in order to follow along. My copy having become useless (and this priest being a whisperer), I might as well have been deaf during certain parts. Which was fine: the altar boy is the only one who really needs to say the responses, and even then, his presence isn't absolutely necessary. Again, it's the priest's Mass . . . though anyone who can assist him is welcome to.

In the end, I again decided not to pray the rosary--but not because I still care about "active participation"! While I remain unfamiliar with the Extraordinary Form, I want every Mass to be another step toward memorising it. When I am able to recite it to myself, the way I've long been able to recite the Ordinary Form, I will feel okay with letting it overlap with the rosary--a prayer I love so much because I already know it by heart. Of course, the catch is that by then I won't want to. =P

(By the way, the original Punk Catholic Thought that I thought to use was: "The life of participation is memorisation." But then I realised that I was talking about assistance.)


Brandon said...

Our congregation did quite well, although (as has happened every year that I've attended this parish), when it comes to "Prophesy!" everyone instead shouts out "Prophecy!" and I have to prevent myself from cracking up laughing.

I'm a convert, but the no-rosary-in-Mass brigade irritates me to no end; the argument simply doesn't make any sense to me. The rosary has a theme appropriate to Mass, it's a prayer to Mary and Christ through Mary, and prayer is the single most important thing that matters for participation at Mass. You can even incorporate parts of the Mass, like the readings, into the rosary as you go along, if you'd like. So claiming one should not do it makes no sense at all to me.

Star Crunch said...

If the lector was giving us cues, I completely missed them, since he was obscured by all the palms.

The only Tridentine Mass I'm aware of here is well across the city and early Sunday morning besides. :/ If not for that, I'd probably go, and regularly. It was the same situation where I used to live, as well.

I tend to break the rosary up across my commute, and many days find myself coming into Mass mid-decade, usually #9. I doubt I'd ever do the entire remainder during Mass, but it probably would be less awkward rounding that last decade out, instead of picking up afterward.

As for the cardinal, I want to say Ottaviani, though then the best I can come up with is that it's summarizing LETTER ON NOVUS ORDO MISSAE, perhaps based on "the distracting atmosphere created by..." toward the end.

Turning the "participation is distraction" around, the EWTN link reminds me of an anecdote Fr. Pacwa occasionally brings up, where a woman said to him "the Eucharist is such a distraction". As you might imagine, this is retold with with some exasperation. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- Disapproving of the rosary at Mass seems to be less of a convert thing than a slavish adherence to Vatican II thing, though I can see why the lady whom I was arguing with focussed on it.

Star Crunch -- Your first sentence is so funny to me! As you may know, there are some things that I wish were always obscured at Mass--and palms would be the best way to do it. LOL!!!

The Sunday Tridentine Mass available to me is on the other end of the city as well. I'd need to drive about an hour to get there. =( Someday, I tell myself . . .

I used to watch a lot of EWTN, but I missed that anecdote from Father Pacwa.

Banshee said...

I fail as a punk Catholic.

There's an online friend on mine who just lost her baby overnight, before his scheduled Baptism.

We had earlier had a discussion about Baptism and how long it sometimes is before kids are baptized, and she had asked me if she should maybe do a kitchen sink baptism. And I said no, it should be okay, because it was coming up quite soon.

I know God knows their intention. I trust fully that He won't penalize the baby, and I expect that the little one is in Heaven.

But I swear to you, I wish I'd just told her to run to the sink and do a quick one. She and her husband and her family would have their minds at rest about it, then. I'm such an idiot that I can't hear what God is saying, and now I've given that poor girl another "If only." I can only hope she doesn't remember our online conversation.

Please pray for the baby and for the mom and dad and family.

Dauvit Balfour said...

This brings to mind something I've been encountering lately. Even if I arrive at Mass early enough to say all of my preparatory prayers before Mass begins, I still find myself wishing I had time to prepare better to receive Our Lord immediately before, after all the distractions that have crept in over the course of the Mass (some of them because of "participation", some because I started thinking about what I want for dinner). When I attend a Trientine Mass, I can do this. I can, after the consecration, turn my thoughts and my heart to preparing for the reception of My Lord, with perhaps a brief, appropriate, interruption at the Pater Noster and Agnus Dei, I can pray whatever prayers of preparation I want.

IIRC, St. Thomas Aquinas composed the Adoro Te, Devote for exactly this purpose. In an Ordinary From Mass, however, there is no such opportunity, and I have begun to find that this saddens me.

Of course, the best priests I know consistently point out that "active participation" should be interpreted the same way as "assistance". That is, one is actively participating when one is praying the Mass, offering oneself in union with Christ on the Altar of Sacrifice. Few people seem to understand it this way, however, and the current practice in the Ordinary Form certainly doesn't help matters.

Enbrethiliel said...


Banshee -- Oh, Banshee! *tearfulhug* Of course I will pray for them and for you.

Even with everything that has been said and written about "baptism of desire," "baptism of blood," and of course, the great Divine Mercy of God, there is just so much of the peace of Christ in simply doing the rite as we were taught to do. I pray that this peace can still come to your friends through some other channel.

Dauvit -- The Tridentine Mass that I usually hear seems to have been very influenced by the practice of the Ordinary Form. (Father uses a microphone so that we can hear him; everyone has a missal or Mass booklet and can "actively participate;" etc.) Perhaps after I have the prayers memorised, I will see that I don't have as much freedom to say the rosary as I thought! =P Praxis aside, what I really love about the Tridentine rite are the prayers. "Assistance" wasn't the only thing that finally made sense once I learned how to pray this way. Familiarising myself with the Extraordinary Rite has been like finally getting some glasses after a lifetime of not knowing I had myopia!