When I was an undergraduate student studying Pastoral Ministry, I was privileged to take a class on Vatican II. One of the main documents that our course was devoted to was Sacrosanctum Concilium, or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium is a notable document for many theological and pastoral reasons, including for the allowance of the liturgy to be celebrated in the vernacular language of local communities (36), the restoration of the adult baptismal catechumenal process employed in the early Church (64), and also the elevation of Gregorian chant as having “pride of place” in the liturgy (116). Calling it a “sacred action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church” (7), the document distinguishes the liturgy as the principal act of prayer of the Church: “Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (10).
Besides naming the significance of the liturgy for a Church that was struggling to find her place in the midst of the modern world, Sacrosanctum Concilium also sought to form and instruct Catholics in celebrating the liturgy with “proper dispositions” (11) of their minds and hearts. In other words, for many Catholics, the liturgy was often misunderstood, attended only out of habit, or was participated in only half-heartedly. The document sought to remedy this by naming the desire of the Church “that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (14). Full, active, and conscious participation was the standard that Sacrosanctum Concilium set for celebrating the Mass as a part of Christ’s body, the Church. In other words, according to the document, liturgy is not a spectator sport.
In the liturgy, we actively remember and participate in the offering of Christ’s Body and Blood for the redemption of the world. When we attend Mass, salvation unfolds before our eyes through the words of Scripture we hear, the prayers we offer for the Church and the world, and the offering of the bread and wine by the priest on behalf of the community. In order to receive the graces of salvation that unfold before us in the liturgy, we must participate in the liturgy fully, actively, and consciously, ensuring that our “minds should be attuned to [our] voices, and that [we] should cooperate with divine grace lest [we] receive it in vain” (11). Though the liturgy is the principal act of the Church, salvation also unfolds outside of it, especially in our daily lives and experiences. Human experience is “a locus for the manifestation and realization of salvation, where God, consistently with the pedagogy of the Incarnation, reaches man with his grace and saves him” (General Directory for Catechesis, #152c). Like the liturgy, salvation unfolds right before us in our daily life; however, have we cultivated the “proper conditions” in order to receive its graces, or to even notice it? How can we apply these principles of full, conscious, and active participation in the “liturgy of our lives”? How might full, active, and conscious participation in our lives move us to a more mature faith?
When someone has asked us for our “full” attention, what comes to mind? We may think of putting aside our cell phones to listen intently, indicating our interest and presence through appropriate body language, or taking the time to ask clarifying questions. In other words, giving full attention is an act of the entire human person—mind, body, and soul. Do we give the grace unfolding in our lives the same attention? Are we ready to put aside the things that may distract us from God so as to focus on God more readily? Does our treatment and use of our own body indicate our devotion to God and our openness to the work of the Holy Spirit? Full participation in our life moves us closer to spiritual maturity because it helps us seek integration. This includes ensuring that our actions, words, disposition, thoughts, and use of our body communicates our devotion to God and “compose[s] a single movement towards doing the will of God” (The Art of Accompaniment, 19). Are we moving with our entire personhood towards the will of God? A life lived with full participation is one that seeks integration.
At certain points in our lives, it is easy to fall into a “maintenance” mindset instead of the mindset of mission. With an endless amount of decisions to make each day, an exhausting pace of life, or the constant struggle to catch up or move ahead, we can often fall prey to settling on surviving in our work, ministry, or lives in general. Additionally, we can be paralyzed by the multitude of paths and options in our lives. However, the work of a disciple is to continue moving forward towards Christ, even amidst uncertainty or doubt. As Pope Francis reminds us, paralysis in our lives caused by anxiety, worry, or exhaustion should not prevent us from living our call to be missionary disciples:
“Anxiety can work against us by making us give up whenever we do not see instant results. Our best dreams are only attained through hope, patience and commitment, and not in haste. At the same time, we should not be hesitant, afraid to take chances or make mistakes. Avoid the paralysis of the living dead, who have no life because they are afraid to take risks, to make mistakes or to persevere in their commitments. Even if you make mistakes, you can always get up and start over, for no one has the right to rob you of hope” (Christus Vivit, 142).
Though our progress in seeking holiness might not be linear and may involve many mistakes, it is always forward moving as long as we fix our hearts on Christ. A life lived with active participation is one that continually strives forward.
Being attentive to grace in our lives and seeking mature faith requires intentionality. No one seeks holiness by accident; missionary discipleship requires that we make intentional choices each day to follow Christ in both small and large ways. As Pope Francis says, missionary discipleship requires the initiative of “taking the first step”: “The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative—he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19)—and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). In order to take this first step, we must intentionally and consciously choose which way to walk. We must seek to grow in our faith on purpose. A life lived with conscious participation involves being intentional in directing our steps on the pathway towards Christ.
In examining our lives by the standards of “full, active, and conscious” that Sacrosanctum Concilium names, we can bridge the gap between liturgy and life. Like full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy, full, active, and conscious participation in our lives properly disposes us to notice God’s action and cultivate the conditions that will prevent us from receiving the graces of salvation in vain. Like liturgy, our lives are not a spectator sport. If we seek integration, commit to continuing to move forward, and intentionally make choices to walk towards Christ, we can make our entire life an offering to God through Christ in the Holy Spirit.