Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Actual Participation in the Mass

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 28, 2009 | In Reviews

Over the past generation, there has been considerable confusion over what it means to fully participate in the Mass as called for in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The Council Fathers emphasized the need for the laity to participate in the Sacred Liturgy in a manner which is “plenam, consciam, atque actuosam” (“full, conscious and active”). For years this mandate has prompted an insistence on vigorous responses, community singing, and a multiplication of lay roles in the liturgy, but very little has been said about the need to unite ourselves fully to the essential action of the Mass.

Clearly one cannot properly participate in the Mass unless one understands it, for without understanding one cannot become a part of what is going on. And what is going on is the work of God Himself, the representation in an unbloody manner of the sacrifice of Calvary, the offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in expiation for sin. Saying the responses more loudly, singing more enthusiastically, and serving as a “greeter”, usher, cantor, lector, altar server or Eucharistic minister do not of themselves unite us more fully with the sacred action. Instead, full and active participation depend very much on that third word consciam. We must at once be conscious of the essential action of the Mass and interiorly join ourselves to it in order to participate as we should.

A thorough yet concise catechesis on the nature of the Mass and our participation in it has been sorely needed for a long time. Successfully filling the gap is a new book by Jeffrey Pinyan entitled Praying the Mass. In thirteen chapters, Pinyan covers the parts of the Mass, and especially the responses of the people, in a way that focuses on how each part unites us to the sacred action, joining us to this magnificent work of God. From the Sign of the Cross to the dismissal, Pinyan’s explanations are uniformly on target, spiritually enriching, and easily understood. This book is also unique in that it is the first to use the new English translations of the Mass texts.

The author has a genius for getting to the heart of the matter quickly while drawing exactly the right support from Scripture, Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI, the Catechism and other appropriate sources to enhance his presentation without bogging it down. Here is just one of many possible examples, drawn almost at random. Introducing the “mystery of faith” in the Eucharistic Prayer, Pinyan notes: “After the consecration, the priest says ‘Mysterium fidei’ – that is, ‘The mystery of faith’ – referring to the miracle of transubstantiation which has just taken place on the altar.” Then we respond with the Memorial Acclamation because:

This mystery of faith involves us, too, for the Body of Christ is at once the Eucharist on the altar and the Church: as St. Augustine said, the mystery taking place on the altar is our mystery as well. In the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, we recognize the change taking place as we “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18) This change culminates in the resurrection of our bodies to their eternal glorified state, when Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” (Phil. 3:21; cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-52)

It is brief explanations like these that enable the layman to unite himself to Our Lord’s work in the Mass, participating in it more fully, consciously and actively.

Praying the Mass covers not only the principal parts of the Mass but its essential gestures, bodily postures and common responses. The first chapter helps the reader learn how to set the stage by preparing properly for the Sacred Liturgy. The book concludes with an appendix on “How We Offer the Eucharist”. Throughout, the emphasis is on understanding the Mass as a single prayer in union with Our Lord and Savior. It is admirably done. In about 150 pages, Jeffrey Pinyan provides an accessible, luminous and potentially life-changing guide to the most important action of our lives—participation in the Mass.

[Jeffrey Pinyan, Praying the Mass: The Prayers of the People. CreateSpace: 2009. 158pp, paper, $12.00. Support Trinity Communications by purchasing at]

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Retired01 - Jun. 06, 2018 2:20 PM ET USA

    Let's hope and pray that your analysis of Pope Francis is correct. In my opinion, Pope Francis would more clearly give us more reasons to be optimistic if he would answer the dubia, withdraw Amoris Laetia, clarify some of his statements to Mr. Scalfari, and would make it clear that he never stated that there was no problem with the homosexual lifestyle.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 06, 2018 2:38 AM ET USA

    I'm just glad that I don't hear from the Vatican so much about "global warming" anymore, and about China being the example of social justice and care for the environment.

  • Posted by: family-man - Oct. 08, 2009 7:22 AM ET USA

    This new book seems to address my struggle with transforming my 'attendance' at Mass into a true 'offering' of Mass (and then teaching my children likewise). I am excited to find that it does so using the new translations, so it is not instantly dated. (We have a lovely children's story about a little boy who must delay his first communion because he sipped some water before Mass when he should have been "fasting from midnight.") Perhaps you will post your review on Amazon to help the sales.