Excerpted from an article by Z. Maier:
What does full participation mean?
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy offers little explanation as to what “full, conscious, and active participation” consists of, other than that it is inherent in the very nature of what liturgy is.
Participation is primarily internal
Active participation in the liturgy is primarily internal, no matter how much such external manifestations may be concrete indications of what is happening within. Active participation has to do with a kind of mindful engagement in the rites, an attending to the words and gestures, the symbols . . . the space, the season. Without interior participation the rites are empty formalism.
What is needed to achieve participation?
Preparation for the Sunday readings
Pope John Paul II touched on this issue in his 1998 apostolic letter, Dies Domini: The Day of the Lord. In it he suggested that in order for the faithful to benefit from hearing the Word of God in the liturgy each Sunday they must take steps to prepare themselves in order to draw life from its proclamation. Of particular benefit, he said, is bringing people together beforehand to reflect on the Word of God they will hear proclaimed.
Many parishes have among their people a small group of “cradle” Catholics who have discovered a whole new understanding of their faith when they were asked to sponsor someone wanting to join the Church and participated in the journey with the newcomer.
It is in the context of reception that the idea of mystagogy, a period of post-baptismal catechesis, was re-introduced into the current church experience. The word mystagogy derives from a Greek word meaning “teaching of mystery.” This time of catechesis suggests, is “of great significance for both the neophytes and the rest of the faithful,” and they in turn should “derive from it a renewal of inspiration and of outlook” (p. 145).
Mystagogical reflection in the early Church
Both the catechumenate and mystagogical preaching were at their height in and around the fourth century. Reflections on liturgy by teachers of the time – Cyril of Jerusalem (+386), John Chysostom (+407), Augustine of Hippo (+430), among others – are part of the Church’s legacy. It is from one such mystagogical reflection that we have the often-quoted words of Augustine: “If you are the body and members of Christ, then what is laid on the Lord’s table is the sacrament of what you yourselves are, and it is the sacrament of what you are that you receive.”
Judging from the Church’s experience of that time, mystagogical preaching is an important part of ongoing catechesis. The call is made to the baptized to enter into mission, to service in the world. At the end of every liturgical celebration, the dismissal rite sends the community forth in the service of Christ.
A mystagogical approach needed to engage the faithful
Making the liturgy accessible to “head and heart” is done best by a mystagogical approach. There are several characteristics of mystagogy as re-introduced in current church practice that make it particularly appropriate:
- It is for all the baptized and not just for the neophytes;
- Mystagogy is a lifelong process involving a commitment to learning and deepening one’s understanding and commitment that is never finished;
- The whole of the community’s sacramental life is appropriate material for mystagogical reflection;
- Mystagogy is focused on personal experience, a sense of an encounter with God, the many layers of meaning in liturgical texts and symbols, and sharing this experience in order to be enriched;
- The liturgy itself is the first teacher describing who the baptized Christian is.