Active Participation in the Liturgy: Misunderstood, and Full of Love

Fr. Bob Robeson, Rector of Bishop Bruté, celebrates Mass during Lent.
Fr. Bob Robeson, Rector of Bishop Bruté, celebrates Mass during Lent.

Here is my paper that I wrote for Moral Theology on how the Roman Canon (Euchristic Prayer I) leads us to love how Christ loves. I also discuss how Active Participation (though somewhat misinterpreted after the council) in the Liturgy is most closely related to the Eucharistic Prayer. (A Benedict XVI/Cardinal Ratzinger idea)

I REALLY enjoyed writing this and was very pleased with the “A” grade and how the paper turned out. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Written for Dr. Matthew Sherman’s Fundamental Moral Theology class at Marian University on 4-13-15:

Active Participation in the Eucharistic Prayer leads us to love as Christ loves. 

The life of a Christian is one thirsting for and seeking after truth. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The human person finds his perfection “in seeking and loving what is true and good.”” For Catholic Christians the closest we can get to actual truth is through our faith, especially through our worship in the Mass. The Second Vatican Council Fathers acknowledged this when they called for Active participation in the liturgy by all of the faithful.[1] This important document on the Liturgy known as Sacrosanctum Concilium further calls the Sacred Liturgy the “primary and indispensible source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit.”[2] This true Christian Spirit or perfection as Pope Benedict taught is found in loving, specifically through our interaction in the Liturgy, the source of what is true and good.

Pope Benedict XVI, (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) in one of his most famous works discusses the idea of active participation. He says that this was “very quickly misunderstood to mean something external…a need for general activity…as if as many people as possible, as often…should be visibly engaged in action.”[3] He goes on to explain how a deeper study of the sources for this call to active participation in the Liturgy points to the “the Eucharistic Prayer. The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is the oratio, the great prayer that forms the core of the Eucharistic celebration…”[4] Through the Eucharistic Prayer in the Mass the Christian people seek the truth (Christ, himself) and learn to love through it.

There are three main types of love, which exist in the Christian life: (1)Agape, (2)Eros, and (3)Philia. Authors of The Christian Moral Life, Patricia Lamoureux and Paul J. Wadell point to Jesuit Father Edward Vacek’s explanation of these three loves as being that “We may love the beloved (1) for the sake of the beloved, (2) for our own sake, or (3) for the sake of a relationship we have with the beloved.”[5]   Taking after Pope Benedict XVI if we look at The Roman Canon, known also as Eucharistic Prayer I, which has remained relatively, unchanged since the 7th century we can see an assortment of the three different types of love, that are present throughout it. These three loves help us to see the role of active participation in the Eucharistic Prayer and the ways in which it has affected different branches of Christianity throughout the centuries.

Fr. Bob, elevates the host in the chapel at the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor during our Holy Land Trip

Agape as Fr. Vacek states is, loving for the sake of the beloved. Many theologians tend to point to this love as being the primary Christian love, made evident through Christ’s sacrificial gift of himself upon the cross. Christ, through loving those in the world gave his life out of love for those whom he loved. One could say that the greatest proof of this love in the Roman Canon would be Christ talking of his sacrifice in the Institution Narrative: “Take this all of you… For this is my body, which will be given up for you.”[6] This total gift of self, of Christ’s body on the cross and then made present at every Mass celebrated demonstrates that way of loving someone so much for the sake of them, that nothing else matters. As Lamoureux and Wadell state, “agape does not require reciprocity.”[7]

Eros is love for our own sake,5 It does not require loving someone or something else for their sake, but rather what brings us joy, pleasure, and comfort. Lamoureux and Wadell go on to explain that Fr. Vacek “emphasizes that even though eros is self-interested, it is not necessarily self-centered because it does involve recognition of another thing’s value or goodness and, in that respect, is genuinely love of the other.”[8] One could argue that eros in the Liturgy could be found in the intercessory side of the prayer. Asking for something, (good) because we desire it and its’ effects in our lives is an example of intercession. The Mass by its’ very nature is as a whole intercessory, that is, it is offered up for the sake of someone. In the Roman Canon we see where the priest prays commemorating the living and offering a specific line of petition to God on their behalf. “For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them…”[9] I would argue that even though the priest is praying these prayers on behalf of the people, this is a moment, where the active participation occurs that Pope Benedict XVI alluded to. The priest says, “or they offer it for themselves”9 This offering up of one’s intentions and prayers with those of the mass is a perfect example of focusing on what is happening and being present and a living part of this living sacrifice. The eros, or love for the sake of oneself is beautifully demonstrated in this way of intercession, asking God to accept this sacrifice for something we desire. So often in our culture we line Eros up with erotic love, and while it is that, the basis for it, is love for the sake of oneself. One could argue that the love with which Christ gave up his life on the cross was as Fr. Vacek states, “love of the other”8 We see in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this love in a sacrificial nature, like Agape. “Even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.”[10] Fr. Vacek also states, “Eros emotionally unites the lover with the beloved and therein affirms the beloved’s value, but does so for the sake of the perfection that accrues to the lover.”[11] Thus, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross not only united him with his bride the church, but through it, and through the words spoken during the Eucharistic prayer, the goal of which Christ died is made present. Christ, through the incarnation in taking on our human flesh restored the sacredness and beauty to the human body that was removed by sin, thus his own physical body perfected with his divinity affirmed those redeemed by his action, as well as uniting him more wholly to his people.

Philia, also known as friendship makes up the third type of love. Lamouroeux and Wadell talk of how “even though we love our friends for their own sake (agape), as well as for the joy and meaning they bring to our lives (eros), more than anything we love the relationship that exists between us and our friends.”[12] This relationship that exists between us and our friends is made evident through the relationship which Christ redeemed with his people through his sacrifice. We see in the Roman Canon an example of this love as the priest prays, “so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.”[13] The relationship with which the people, priest, and Christ have through the celebration of the Eucharistic prayer shows the “perfection” which exists in a philia form of relationship. Thomas Aquinas discusses whether Charity is the form (origin) of all other virtues. He states, “that it is charity which directs the acts of all other virtues to the last end.”[14] Thus, Agape, and eros, point us towards our relationship with the one whom we love for the sake of a relationship.5

Through seeking the truth, man discovers God, and discovers him in the person of Jesus Christ, our beloved. This encounter happens most profoundly through the Sacrifice of the Mass, when those present are united to the one, “true and singular sacrifice”[15] of Christ on the cross. This union which forever bridged the gap between Man and God is renewed each time by those who participate actively in the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass. By seeking him who is true and good, we come to love Him, in a unique way and experience love in all its’ forms. The goal of our attendance and participation at Mass is a life of grace from the Sacraments. This love of Christ present in the Sacraments is brought out through Christ loving us for the sake of us, loving us for the sake of himself, and his human body, and loving us for the sake of the relationship he desires to have with us forever in Heaven. This union with God in the person of Jesus Christ is made present at every Mass. This relationship of lover to the beloved is made present to all who actively participate in the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer, through loving Christ who loved us first.

Fr. Bob and Deacon Cronin, elevate the chalice and host in the Church of the workshop of St. Joseph, Nazareth
Fr. Bob and Deacon Cronin, elevate the chalice and host in the Church of the workshop of St. Joseph, Nazareth

Through our active participation in the prayer, we receive a foretaste of the love which exists in the Kingdom of Heaven for all who lead a moral and virtuous life, a life, which Christ came to call all of us to, a life, which calls us to love ourselves, and others, for the sake of the union to come. For as John says, “I, (Christ) when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”[16]

[1] Paul VI, Vatican II: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1996), 7.

[2] Ibid. 8.

[3] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 171.

[4] Ibid. 172.

[5] Lamoureux and Wadell, The Christian Moral Life (New York: Orbis Books, 2010), 194.

[6] Eucharistic Prayer I, The Roman Missal, trans. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy, 3rd typical ed.. sec. 89 (Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, 2011), 639.

[7] Lamoureux and Wadell, The Christian Moral Life (New York: Orbis Books, 2010), 195.

[8] Ibid. 197

[9] Eucharistic Prayer I, The Roman Missal, trans. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy, 3rd typical ed.. sec. 85 (Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, 2011), 636.

[10] Ephesians 5:25 NABRE

[11] Lamoureux and Wadell, The Christian Moral Life (New York: Orbis Books, 2010), 197.

[12] Ibid. 198

[13] Eucharistic Prayer I, The Roman Missal, trans. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy, 3rd typical ed.. sec. 94 (Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, 2011), 641.

[14] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: Question 23 on Charity, (Handout, abridged from 2.

[15] Pius IV, Decretum de sacrificio Missae, (handout prepared by K. Harmon 2015, originally published in 1562) 1.

[16] John 12:32 RSV

Published by Father Corey D. Bruns

I'm a Priest of the Diocese of Owensboro, KY and Parochial Vicar of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Bowling Green, KY.

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