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Dialogue Mass - VI

Participation, Vocalization & Vulgarization

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
It is evident that the Liturgical Movement, as conceived by Dom Lambert Beauduin, was an attempt to both disparage and discourage methods of hearing Mass that are quintessentially Catholic. As a result of its manifest capacity to desensitize priests and faithful to traditional values, few Catholics today, even among traditionalists, seem to grasp the broader significance of lay responses.

It has never been Church teaching that the faithful have an absolute, sui generis right to vocal engagement as a means of participating in the liturgy. In fact, Pope Pius X had never mentioned a “right” on the part of the laity in general to speak or sing during the liturgy.

Yet under Beauduin’s transforming pen, the exhortation of Pius X for participation in the liturgy – which did not specify any particular activity for the laity and certainly included attentive listening – became an unequivocal call to vocalization.

Neo Catechumenal Mass

Lay vocalization in a Neocatechumenal Mass

By artfully eliding the two concepts – participation and vocalization – Beauduin elevated the “dialogue” form into an unimpeachable necessity, arguing (without any basis in Catholic Tradition) that silence from the faithful indicated their isolation from the Church’s public worship.

He said that anyone praying in silence during the Mass is not associating himself with the prayer of the Church. He went on to heap personal abuse on devout Catholics, calling them distant, isolated, solitary, alien, deficient, concerned only about themselves and lacking any concern for the common good, edification or apostolate. (1)

It was, of course, a pure invention. Verbal responses are not required from the laity during Mass for their full participation. In the Mass, God’s grace is communicated by virtue of the words and actions of the priest, independently of any lay external activity whatsoever, and it is effective for the faithful to the extent to which they, internally, are properly disposed to receive it.

Besides, there is no objective evidence that reciting aloud actually increases interior participation for the laity. As true participation in the Mass is interior, only God knows who among the “activists” in the pews is actually participating. The idea of a “dialogue” purporting to provide everyone with a heaven-sent means of true participation in the Mass is demonstrably unsustainable.

Beauduin, whose art of deception had begun with the “Dialogue Mass,” would go on to build further grand theories (ecumenism, for instance) on similarly non-existent foundations.

Beauduin's manipulations

The basis for Beauduin’s insistence on the “dialogue” form of Mass can be traced to his misconception of the Church’s lex orandi (law of prayer): like his Novus Ordo heirs, he saw the Mass as essentially a fraternal get-together and believed that the aim of the parish liturgy was mobilization of the faithful around the priest for a social apostolate. (2) (See his work on the topic here)

In this way, he replaced the transcendent aims of the liturgy mentioned by Pope Pius X with his own subjectivity and bias. Beauduin’s idea of “active participation” would thereafter set the tone for a “politically correct” liturgical reform, which would eventually subvert the lex orandi as it had existed for centuries.

Beauduin also misrepresented the role of the priest in the Mass when he stated: “The priest talks to the people, and it is the people, rather than the altar boy, who ought to make the responses.” (3) We should not underestimate the magnitude of this error or the lethal threat it poses to a Catholic conception of the Mass and, consequently, to the lex orandi itself.

The ‘Dialogue Mass’ is a misnomer

As even the most unlettered pre-Vatican II Catholic knew, in the Mass the priest directs himself to God, not to us. The power of the ritual to convey this impression was evident in the traditional rite without any need for further explanation.

There was its sacred atmosphere, reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, strict adherence to the rubrics, its own liturgical language used by the ministers at the altar, the chanting of the choir, the silence of the congregation and the fact that the priest faces God, not the congregation.

Mass versus Dei

The people were never intended to be in a conversation with the priest who acts in persona Christi

This last point, incidentally, poses a conundrum for some modern Catholics attending the traditional Mass: they are genuinely mystified as to why the priest has his back turned to them when, in their estimation, he is supposed to direct himself to them. What they fail to realize is that the “dialogue” is not a conversation between priest and people, but a series of prayers addressed to God by the priest acting in the person of Christ, the High Priest.

The fact that some of the priest’s prayers require a response does not indicate a verbal role for the laity. Of course, members of the congregation may follow the responses in their missals. But these prayers are meant to be alternated between the priest and the ministers at the altar – or, in the case of a sung Mass, the choir, which likewise exercise a clerical role, as Pope Pius X had explained.

Thus, no role was envisaged for the congregation to sing or speak during the Mass. Even the altar boys perform their tasks only by indult and are attired in choir dress as a sign that they are substituting, out of necessity, for clerics in the sanctuary, not for the laity in the pews.

Early feminist influence

Woman in the altar - John Paul II

A woman reads the Epistle in John Paul II's Mass

One of Beauduin’s initiatives was a series of retreats he gave in the early 1920s at the women’s Benedictine Abbey Ancilla Domini, in Wépion, Belgium. His objective was the formation of lay women in liturgical roles.

His disciple, Dom Virgil Michel, drew on the Benedictine initiative for women’s enhanced role in the Church, (4) and also supported the leadership of women in the liturgy. He appointed, for example, Justine Ward (1879-1975), who led and popularized mixed liturgical choirs throughout the U.S., as a member of the first editorial board of Orate Fratres.

Ill effects of the ‘Dialogue Mass’ form
  • Giving roles to all and sundry in the Mass obscures the unique role of the priest and leads to the vulgarization (in both senses of the word) of the liturgy, so that the sacred atmosphere is lost.

  • It anticipates the Novus Ordo insofar as it encourages an inappropriate lay familiarity with sacred things, starting with the liturgical language and chant.

  • life teen mass

    Abuses abound at a Life Teen Mass that emphasizes participation

    It gives the laity the impression that they share responsibility with the priest in the saying / singing of the Mass, thus generating confusion about clerical and lay roles.

  • It encourages feminization of the liturgy by giving women a spoken / sung role that was formerly forbidden as per impossibile.

  • It creates a two-tier system between those who can give the Latin responses and those who cannot, thus encouraging an odious atmosphere of competitiveness.

  • Those who get the Latin phrases wrong are simply talking meaningless nonsense.

  • A rag-tag set of responses uttered at different rates of speed and loudness by the congregation is unbecoming in the liturgy.

  • It is a source of distraction for those trying to follow the prayers of the Mass silently in English. It also disturbs meditation for others trying to pray in their own way.

  • It creates unnecessary tension and confrontation between pastors who favor the “dialogue” form and members of the congregation who prefer to pray silently at Mass.
In the next article, we shall be looking at ways in which Popes Pius XI and Pius XII gave an increasing degree of official impetus to the revolutionary idea of “active participation” including, specifically, the “Dialogue Mass.” Following Beauduin’s lead, they officially endorsed and validated this progressivist position by providing approval and direction for its implementation in the Church.


  1. “'Ils ne s'associent pas à la prière, au sacrifice”... “on n'est qu'un catholique distant, un isolé, un solitaire, un catholique étranger... un catholique qui ne s'additionne pas, qui ne s'occupe que de soi, qui n'a aucun souci du bien général, aucune préoccupation d'édification et d'apostolat.” L. Beauduin, Questions Liturgiques et Paroissiales, Louvain: Abbey of Mont César, 1922, p. 50
  2. Cf. L. Beauduin, Questions Liturgiques, pp. 51-52
  3. Ibid., p. 52: “Le prêtre parle au peuple, et ce n'est pas l'enfant de chœur, c'est le peuple qui devrait répondre.”
  4. These included radical activists such as Dorothy Day, Catherine de Hueck (both of whom he invited to lecture to seminarians at St. John’s Abbey), Ellen Gates Starr, who promoted socialist principles, and many others. He wrote on this topic in Orate Fratres, ‘The Liturgical Movement and the Catholic Woman’ and ‘The Liturgy and the Christian Woman” in 1928 and 1929.

Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted May 19, 2014

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