Traditionis Custodes and Active Participation

August 08, 2021
Source: FSSPX Spirituality
A sister distributing communion in a church in Nigeria

The letter from Pope Francis that accompanies the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes tries to show the continuity between the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo, relying particularly on the notion of active participation. What is it actually?

Here is the passage which seeks to establish this link: “Among the resolutions that the bishops [of the Council] have indicated with the greatest insistence, is that of full, conscious and active participation by all the people of God in the liturgy [Sacrosanctum Concilium I,2,14], in line with what Pius XII had already stated in his encyclical Mediator Dei on the renewal of the liturgy [§192].”

Active Participation Among Anteconciliar Popes

The term “active participation” is found in a text by Pope St. Pius X from 1903, Tra Le Sollecitudini or Instruction on Sacred Music. The holy pope makes “active participation in the most holy mysteries” “the foremost and indispensable font” of the true Christian spirit.

How would St. Pius X carry out this program? For the faithful, in two ways: by encouraging the restoration of Gregorian chant in a way to make it accessible to the faithful; and by promulgating two decrees: on the communion of children beginning at the age of reason and on frequent communion. This gives an indication of what St. Pius X meant by active participation.

In his encyclical devoted to the liturgy, Mediator Dei, dated 1957, Pope Pius XII takes up the idea, although the expression is not literally there. It is necessary to carefully follow its text, which contains an essential key to understanding the conciliar deviation.

“It is, therefore, desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the eucharistic sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest.”

“Now the exhortation of the Apostle, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,’ requires that all Christians should possess, …we must all undergo with Christ a mystical death on the cross…that in union with the immaculate Victim, we become a victim acceptable to the eternal Father.’”

“Therefore, they are to be praised who, with the idea of getting the Christian people to take part more easily and more fruitfully in the Mass, strive to make them familiar with the ‘Roman Missal,’ so that the faithful, united with the priest, may pray together in the very words and sentiments of the Church.”

Pope Pius XII will, however, give an explanation filled with common sense and pastoral concern:

“Many of the faithful are unable to use the Roman missal even though it is written in the vernacular; nor are all capable of understanding correctly the liturgical rites and formulas. So varied and diverse are men's talents and characters that it is impossible for all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers, hymns and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same individual.”

“Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them.”

A Change of Perspective

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the constitution on the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, contains the expression “active participation” eleven times. This expression is nothing more or less than a Trojan horse.

In fact, in the text of the Council, the term “active” participation has a double meaning. For many bishops it means participation as described and defined by Pius XII.

But for editors and innovators, it means an active participation, by which the faithful are entrusted with a greater or lesser part of the material realization of the liturgical ceremony. Examples include readings, acclamations, presentation of gifts, distribution of Holy Communion, bodily gestures, and attitudes (No. 30 of Sacrosanctum Concilium).

That this is indeed the spirit of the Council is confirmed in a text of Paul VI from 1974, which affirms: “It is a mistake to recite the Rosary during the celebration of the liturgy, though unfortunately this practice still persists here and there” (Marialis Cultus, no.48, February 2, 1974).

Thus, in less than 20 years (from 1957 to 1974), Pope Paul VI has condemned as an error what Pope Pius XII praised as an attitude in all respects in accordance with the spirit of the liturgy. This large difference makes it possible to measure the distance which separates the Tridentine rite from the reformed rite after the Council.


Contrary to what the letter of Pope Francis tries to make us believe, there is no homogeneous evolution between the Tridentine liturgy and the reformed liturgy. The intentions of St. Pius X and of Pius XII have been betrayed by liturgies in search of novelties.