The modern novus ordo Mass is the culmination of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement’s notions about active participation. The flaws of the Movement’s interpretation are blatantly obvious. Modern novus ordo Masses, even the ones offered reverently, are often little more than sing-along, group therapy sessions with thrown-in rote responses, the meaning of which is seldom dwelt upon by those mumbling them. The responses sound more like mantras than prayers. This is because liturgical prayer has been reduced to vocal response. When prayer is reduced to simple vocal responses, it ceases to be prayer at all. St. Teresa of Avila wrote:
I do not say mental prayer rather than vocal, for, if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation. If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips. (Interior Castle, 31-2.)
If the Mass has been reduced to simply the moving of the lips and body, without consideration of the mystery taking place, what benefit do the laity gain from the Mass? How profitable can their Communions be when they have utterly failed to prepare their minds and souls for that august and awesome gift?
Active participation does not consist primarily in exterior, physical acts, but it primarily consists in this consideration of the mystery taking place during the Mass. This is particularly true for the laity, who have the freedom, owing to their station, to assist principally by meditation and contemplation. The fact that the laity do not have to say the prayers and follow the rubrics that the priest is obliged to follow during the course of the Mass provides the laity the freedom for a deeper mediation and contemplation not afforded to the ministers at the altar. This isn’t a mark of inferiority, but a great gift that if used properly renders infinite value for those who “hear” the Mass. (This is why it is a laudable practice for priests to occasionally hear the Mass in addition to their daily offering of the Mass. If only more priests would hear Masses, their appreciation of the mystery would grow, and the better they would offer the Mass!)
Therefore, it is critically important that the laity consider the nature of the Mass. It is not enough to just focus on the actions and words of the priest, but the laity must also, and more importantly, be aware of what is mystically taking place right before them. St. Leonard of Port Maurice wrote:
The principle excellence of the most holy sacrifice of the Mass consists in being essentially, and in the very highest degree, identical with that which was offered on the cross of Calvary: with this sole difference, that the sacrifice on the cross was bloody, and made once for all, and did on that one occasion satisfy fully for all the sins of the world; while the sacrifice of the altar is an unbloody sacrifice, which can be repeated an infinite number of times, and was instituted in order to apply in detail that universal ransom which Jesus paid for us on Calvary… It may be said, with all truth, that in every Mass Our Redeemer returns mystically to die for us, without really dying, at one and the same time really alive and as it were slain--vidi Agnum stantem tamquam occisum, “I saw a Lamb standing as it were slain” (Apoc. v. 6)… Opus, says the Church, opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur (Orat. s. in Mis. Dom. 9, post Pent). Yes; excetur; in Mass there is effected, there is continuously practiced, that same sacrifice which was made upon the cross. Oh, awful, solemn, and stupendous work! (22-3)
Many saints contend, and have even witnessed in visions, that the heavens open during the course of the Mass, and the priest and people are surrounded by the cohort of heaven, the saints in their glory, all giving witness and worship to Christ the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In such company, what a pity that the Church militant is mindlessly responding in rote without a care to the sacrifice taking place.
In order for the laity to participate in the Mass in such way that said participation becomes authentic and profitable prayer, meditation, i.e. consideration of what is taking place and Who is being sacrificed and Who is making the offering and who is witnessing and why, is indispensable and necessary. With our earthly eyes we see the priest following the rubrics of the ritual, and with our earthly ears we hear him intone the prayers of the ritual and hear the melodious chants and hymns. However, without the spiritual eyes and ears of meditation the laymen fails to witness the Sacrifice mystically taking place. To those who are spiritually blind and deaf, the actions and words and chants are empty and meaningless ritual. If these were the rites of some other religion there would be no harm. However, the rites of our Catholic religion, wherein Christ is truly present, renders the disposition of those who assist without meditation, I dare to venture, a heinous act of blasphemy. It is simply wrong to repeat the prayers of the Mass out of a prayer book in a formal manner with the lips, but not with the heart.
Meditative prayer allows the faithful to unite their supplications with those of the priest offering the Mass, but not necessarily by using the same prayers as he uses. Whatever method facilitates this goal is both legitimate and laudable when properly applied, and this includes using the Rosary. Because the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is “identical with that which was offered on the cross of Calvary”, praying the five sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary is a suitable devotion for Mass. But there are still other methods that employ the Rosary that can be used.
(Part III: Various Methods of Hearing Mass that Employ the Rosary, coming soon.)