One of the things that absolutely bothers me endlessly is the idea that one needs to be shouting from the rooftops (so to speak) in order to participate in Mass.
The popular idea tends to be that one must say all of the responses and sing all of the songs, otherwise you’re not participating. That the entire Mass needs to be catered to the need for exterior participation, otherwise, people aren’t participating.
So why do the externals count so much to these people? If someone follows the Mass and prays interiorly aren’t they participating in offering their prayers to the sacrifice on the altar? If someone reads the words to the prayers and songs in their mind, aren’t they participating interiorly by offering the prayer?
If someone wants to sing, then they can sing, but we shouldn’t judge others if they don’t want to sing. In the same way, we shouldn’t restrict the types of music that are sung/played during mass so that the people have to participate in every song. Doesn’t hearing Gregorian Chant or Polyphony lift up the spirit to God? Maybe for some even more so than a standard hymn. So isn’t just the act of actively hearing a form of participation?
How about the words, the responses? We’ve all seen the people who go to Mass and never even open their lips, are they not participating in the Mass? Maybe they are bored out of their minds and don’t want to be there. But what if that person just likes to say all of the responses interiorly? What if that person even says all of the words of the priest interiorly? What if that person offers up many prayers throughout the Mass for the sacrifice at hand? Are they not participating? Why judge these people?
I think the myth of an absolute need for exterior participation is something that really needs to be done away with. Instead we should stress active participation in whatever way helps you connect with the Lord in the Mass. That could be interior or exterior prayer.
However, let’s not forget that one can easily be saying all of the words and singing all of the songs and not be participating at all! Who’s ever prayed a Rosary and not started thinking about everything else but the Rosary? Isn’t it the same thing with the Mass? Sure I’ll sing the songs, say the responses, then get up and receive Communion, but I’m really thinking about what I’m going to do after Mass or people watching.
What’s going on inside is much more important than the outside. Sometimes both go together. Some people may feel more of a spiritual connection from the exterior participation and some may get nothing from it at all. It is important to remember. This goes for whichever form of the Mass that you like and in whatever language you hear it in.