In the public liturgical service and worship of God, there must needs be (as far as possible) both internal and external acts, the body of the worshipper subject to and serving his soul, and the soul energizing the body. There may, indeed, be internal devotion without external manifestation, in the body, of that devotion; but in such a case the devotion, at best, is incomplete.
If God is to be worshipped by men as men, thoughts must be expressed in speech, the inward devotion of the soul be manifested in bodily actions, and soul and body must act and re-act upon each other so as to bring about a closer union of the entire man with God. As the body apart from the soul is unprofitable, dead and rapidly tends to corruption, 30 silent internal adoration maintained apart from that complete service wherein the body acts for and with the soul, tends to aimless reverie, dreaminess, distraction of mind, heresies and spiritual death. This, indeed, is not to say that man cannot worship God, except with simultaneous exercise of the faculties of soul and body.
Man may adore God and pray to Him with that inward devotion which is primary and all important, without vocal utterance and without moving a muscle of his body. Nevertheless, with internal devotion alone, when speech and action are suitable and possible, man does not give to God that "tithe of body and soul" which is due, nor offer more than a partial service, which, if constantly and wilfully substituted for the entire service of both soul and body, cannot be acceptable to God, and tends rapidly to involve the worshipper in subtle and grievous heresies.
"I will cry unto God with my voice," says the inspired Psalmist, "even unto God will I cry with my voice, and He shall hearken unto me." Pious and learned commentators note the stress on the word voice, in this and kindred passages, as indicative of the importance of articulate speech in Divine worship. Prayer, whether public or private, must at times be made with the use of the voice. Hence all learned interpreters of the canon law of the Church, lay down the principle that the clergy do not fulfil their obligation of reciting the daily offices by silently reading them, nor by a hasty and muttered recitation, nor yet by being present while another person is reciting them, without taking part therein.
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord." Words of the mouth and meditation of the heart go together in all liturgical services, which always provide for and imply the joint action of clergy and people.
Our Liturgy is "Common Prayer," not alone in that the things to be done, and the praises and petitions to be offered to God, are prescribed and set forth so that all the worshippers may know beforehand what is to be done and said, and may have a common purpose and intention in their worship, as people who are one in nature and needs, but also because the service is common or general for all the faithful; a service in which every one shares and all are in duty bound to take part.
In order lawfully to celebrate Mass, the priest must have present with him at least one other person. That person (the server at the altar or some person in the body of the church), is expected to make audible responses, and to perform the bodily actions which the rubrics in the Prayer-book and the traditional customs of the Church require, not only because such is his personal duty, but as a representative of other Christian people who are not then and there present.
We have witness of this principle in the form of the confession which the priest makes at the foot of the altar-steps, in preparation for the holy sacrifice. He confesses to God Almighty, to all the saints and "to you my brethren," using always the plural form "brethren," even though the server be the only person besides himself, in the church at the time. Anciently it was the custom for all the people present to join with the server in his confession, in the psalm and the responses; a custom which we should do well to revive.
Treating of the Latin Liturgy the learned and pious Claude de Vert tells us that the people, jointly with the choir, at High Mass, sing the Kyrie, the Gloria in excelsis, the Creed, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei and the responses that occur in the Mass, especially the Amen at the end of the Canon (the prayer of Consecration); and that they also join audibly in the same parts of the Liturgy at Low Masses. [Explication des Ceremonies de L'Eglise. Paris A.D. 1709. Vol. I., pp. 303-305.] All this, the people in Abbé de Vert's time and country, did intelligently; for by constant attendance at Mass, and by the help of translations of the Latin rite into their own mother tongue (such as the same learned author declares no Christian nation has ever lacked), [Ibid. pp. 385. Note.] they were familiar with the Latin words of the various parts of the Mass in which they joined, and knew their meaning.
If this common traditional principle of audible responses and common utterance can be maintained where the language of the Liturgy is not the language of the people,--and this, be it remembered, is the case not alone in the Church of Rome, but also in the Russo-Greek and other Eastern Churches,--surely we are without excuse, if, with the Liturgy in our own mother tongue, we fail to bear our part in it, after the accustomed manner of our ancestors in the faith, and according to our ability.
The deaf and dumb cannot respond audibly, yet can they render the due bodily homage in other ways, and thus manifest and complete their interior devotion. Others to whom a musical ear and utterance seem not to be given, may be hindered to some extent from joining audibly in sung Masses; and there are many who cannot join with the choir where the music is arranged for the choir only: but neither of these exceptions apply to Low Masses, and in the latter case the difficulty may be obviated by the restoration of the ancient plain-song chant for the principal parts of the Mass.
Masses with song and fuller ceremonial are generally the principal or parochial Masses, to which a greater obligation of attendance binds the people. At Low or plain Masses there is, with us, commonly a greater opportunity of joining audibly in the service. But in neither case are individual persons, or the people as a body, free to make the time of the Mass a time for purely private devotion. When present at a Mass, all are morally and canonically bound to assist therein as far and as well as they can, observing the various bodily postures which rubrics and traditions call for, and making responses, as far as possible, in an audible, hearty and intelligent manner.
Of especial importance among the responses is the Amen at the end of the Prayer of Consecration, for the priest, who says that prayer in a tone of voice somewhat lower than that which he uses in the Mass generally, elevates his voice when he utters the last three words, as a sign to the people that they are to confirm and ratify the prayer by their response, which they should make heartily in a clear voice.
In this matter of the different tones of voice to be used in the Mass, the priest should be a guide. For example, the priest says the Creed or the Gloria in excelsis in a clear or comparatively loud voice, and the Confession (because of its penitential character), in a low, or as the Prayer-book calls it, a "humble" voice. In all public services the spirit and character of our Liturgy forbid silent recitation, murmuring or whispering, and require, of both priest and people, audible utterance of all that is appointed to be said. The responses of the people should be clearly audible to the officiating priest, and that which is said by the priest should be clearly audible to the people. [An exception to this general principle, in public worship, is such a case as that of the parochial mass, on Sundays, in this parish, when by dispensation of the Bishop, the Celebrant recites privately those parts of the mass which pertain more particularly to communicants, because ordinarily at that mass he alone communicates sacramentally.]
The liturgical principle of active common worship, holds good in the daily offices of Mattins and Vespers, as well as in the Mass. Whenever a priest recites an office, whether publicly or privately, he must use articulate speech, and if he be alone he must say the responses which are appointed for the people, as well as the other parts of the office which are more particularly his own. This is required by the principle of common liturgical action, for the priest says his office, not as a matter of private devotion, but as an official acting for himself and the people (and for all creation) towards God, and for God towards His creatures. Consequently, although the lay-people are not bound (as the priest is) to a daily recitation of Mattins and Vespers, yet when they are present while a priest is saying either of these offices, they are bound to take their part with him. This is equally the case when they are present at the beginning of the office, and when they happen to enter the church after the priest has begun his recitation thereof.
At both Mattins and Vespers the priest prays to God saying "O Lord, open thou our lips," and the people are expected to answer, "And our mouth shall show forth thy praise." After such a prayer and such a response what is it but mockery, if people hardly allow their lips to be opened, barely murmuring or whispering the responses allotted to them.
The utterance of the worshippers should be intelligent as well as audible. An over rapid, hasty utterance of the words of the psalter and canticles is likely to cause a loss of the rhythm or poetical measure, and in all probability some loss of the true devotional spirit, and of acceptableness in the sight of God.
People are required to make responses and to join with the clergy and choir in some of the principal parts of the Mass and the daily offices, not alone that thus they may share actively in the common worship, but also that thereby they may be the more attentive, and incited to greater devotion. For as the individual worshipper, who is careful to do and say all that is prescribed for him, obtains thereby a very real help to his interior devotion, so among the people, as a body of worshippers, by reason of the common utterance and action, there is a mutual provocation to greater earnestness, a unity of homage and an enthusiasm befitting the occasion and such as could not be obtained in any other way.
"The changing that is in God's service from one thing to another, is ordained to let it drive away your dulness, that ye should not wax tedious or weary, but gladly and joyfully, not in vain joy, but in joy of spiritual devotion, continue in God's service. Therefore sometime ye sing, sometime ye read, sometime ye hear; now one alone, now twain, now all. Sometime ye sit, sometime ye stand, sometime ye bow, sometime ye kneel. And all to the praising of our Lord Jesus Christ; and so to exercise the body to the quickening of the soul, that such bodily observances should not be found without cause of spiritual understanding." [The Myroure of oure Ladye, fo. 1., (A.D. 1530), Early English Text Society, Lond., 1873.]
Liturgical worship, or "Common Prayer," is at once our bounden duty and blessed privilege, by divine guidance so ordered of our holy mother the Church of God, that man, as man, may duly honour the Almighty with a lively devotion of both body and mind, in accord with the doctrine of Christ.
The history of the Church shows plainly that, at times, people have been indifferent and careless about their duties and privileges in Divine worship and sacraments, and that such conduct has sooner or later resulted in deprivation of privilege and loss of opportunity of personal service. The daily offices became practically restricted to the clergy, and the Mass so ordered that the people had little active share therein. Our own Liturgy, through Puritanical influences, has been shorn of many of the beautiful and instructive "responds" which abounded in the service books of the ancient Church of England, and has lost much of that fulness, variety and most suitable order of its parts, with which it was formerly in close agreement with the books in use elsewhere in Catholic Christendom. Wherefore, we have great reason to prize that which remains to us, which by the merciful providence of God is essentially complete, and to make faithful use of that which has been restored to us, namely, the most ancient custom of common prayer and praise in the mother tongue of the people.