In many quarters, particularly in my own special area of hymnody, mighty efforts have often been expended to horizontalize the Mass.
Full, conscious, active participation is undeniably a goal of the Vatican II reform of the Mass, as articulated in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. But has this “participation” always been rightly understood? It seems unlikely, not least of all because this participation has taken so many different forms over the years, as one fashion has replaced another successively.
In my youth, “participation” meant folk songs, Beatles hymns, and even the Broadway stylings of Fiddler on the Roof and Godspell. Participation meant that the popular culture was absorbed into the Liturgy.
Since then, “participation” has variously meant little children posting felt sheep on dioramas of the Good Shepherd as preparation for First Confession, banners in general, crumbly leavened loaves, offertory processions that have included endless sheaves of wheat and all manner of symbols of workaday life, songs that talk about how “the market strife” shows the presence of Jesus, and, let’s face it, “hymns” that are no more than progressive political protest songs.
What participation really means–and has meant since the days of the early Church–is not the liturgical expression of secularity. It is not about absorbing pop culture into the Liturgy.
Participation means, rather, that we are brought up into the life of God through divine activity.
In order for this activity, which is totally beyond our power to initiate, to happen, we need to do one thing: cooperate. And cooperation with God at its bare minimum means leaving room for God.
And that is the question. In our I’m-ok-you’re-ok, clapping, casual songfests in-the-round, is there room for God to maneuver? And in fact is there plenty-good-room? God can squeeze in, sure, and God is everywhere, and God can break in, and does, to the hardest of hearts. And God is present in many ways, pre-eminently Sacramentally and those who are disposed may receive Him.
But what would Mass look and sound like if we were to make His ways straight, the highways level and the rough places plain, and not only for ourselves, but for our congregations?