Active participation

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has a post noting the distortions that follow from misunderstanding Vatican II’s call for “active participation” in the liturgy.

Some people will claim that active participation provides some warrant for a vernacular liturgy, but that view is untenable. It’s vital to understand that the council didn’t invent “active participation”; in trying to convey whatever point that it had in mind, it used an established term, and it is unexceptionable that terms of art are to be given the meaning that they have accumulated rather than a broader or narrower meaning that could be obtained from parsing the invididual words comprised. 1 Active participation in the liturgy had been the request of St. Pius X sixty years before Sacrosanctum Concilium. His call was renewed by Ven. Pius XII sixteen years before Sacrosanctum Concilium, and if we took a more granular look at the record, I would be very surprised if we didn’t find an antepian demand for the same thing and if no pope between ten and twelve made similar statements. Well, the Mass was in latin when Pius X called for active participation, and nobody thinks that Tra le sollecitudini was a misunderstood demand that it be translated. And the Mass was still in latin when Pius XII called for active participation, and nobody thinks that Mediator Dei was a misunderstood demand that the liturgy be translated. And even when we arrive at the Council itself, Sacrosanctum Concilium’s call for active participation stands next to its directive that the liturgy—which was still in latin—should remain in latin. A reasonable mind might wonder how full participation could be incompatible with Mass in Latin when the two have coexisted for more than a century?


  1. Cf., e.g., Standard Oil Co. v. United States, 221 U.S. 1, 59 (1910) (“where words are employed in a statute which had at the time a well known meaning at common law or in the law of this country, they are presumed to have been used in that sense unless the context compels to the contrary”); Crouch v. Norris, 251 F.3d 720, 725 (8th Cir.2001) (“‘second or successive’ remains a term of art that must be given meaning by reference to both the body of case law developed before the enactment of AEDPA and the policies that prompted AEDPA’s enactment”); Boutilier v. INS, 363 F.2d 488 (2d Cir. 1966) (“the term ‘psychopathic personality’ as employed in [the statute at issue] … was employed as a term of art to be interpreted by what Congress intended as a guide, and not to be left to the vagaries and honest but conflicting theories of psychiatry for determination”); NLRB v. Associated Machines Inc., 219 F.2d 433 (6th Cir. 1955).