Why did the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium) promulgated by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council emphasize "full and active participation" by "all the people" as the number one priority for reforming the liturgy?
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work. (SC #14)
This reference is not without precedent; in fact, St. Pius X promulgated a similar clause in his 1903 motu proprio on sacred music Tra le sollecitudini:
It being our ardent desire to see the true Christian spirit restored in every respect and preserved by all the faithful, we deem it necessary to provide before everything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for the object of acquiring this spirit from its indispensable fount, which is the active participation in the holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.
The differences in emphasis are striking; in 1903 it was for the sanctity of the temple. In 1963, it was for "full and active participation of all the people." These differences lay chiefly in the attitude towards the synthesis of all heresies, Modernism, and the reforms inspired by them.
The purpose of the liturgical reform was to focus on subjective experience after some Churchmen conceded to the rationalist-atheists that God could never be the direct object of science or history. This was especially urgent in lands conquered by the communists. Therefore, stripped of the witness of external signs and even nature itself, they were dependent on subjective experience to justify religion. This Pope John Paul II made the crusade and purpose of his entire life, attempting to synthesize St. Thomas and modern philosophy, primarily under the broad heading of personalism. The particular school of personalism Father Karol Wojtyla subscribed to was the phenomenology of Scheler, Heidegger, and Husserl. He believed that by locating the experience of the divine in man, he could justify the Gospel in a new way not dependent on history, Tradition, or objective authority. Hence, the top priority identified in Sacrosanctum Concilium, “full and active participation” was intended to discretely replace the definition of faith as intellectual assent to that which God has revealed to a subjective experience of the divine. All of this is condemned by St. Pius X in his encyclical On the Doctrines of the Modernists, Pascendi Dominici gregis. A few quotes are provided below:
Modernists place the foundation of religious philosophy in that doctrine which is usually called Agnosticism. According to this teaching human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that are perceptible to the senses, and in the manner in which they are perceptible; it has no right and no power to transgress these limits. Hence it is incapable of lifting itself up to God, and of recognising His existence, even by means of visible things. From this it is inferred that God can never be the direct object of science, and that, as regards history, He must not be considered as an historical subject. (#6)
But when Natural theology has been destroyed, the road to revelation closed through the rejection of the arguments of credibility, and all external revelation absolutely denied, it is clear that this explanation will be sought in vain outside man himself. It must, therefore, be looked for in man; and since religion is a form of life, the explanation must certainly be found in the life of man. (#7)
But let us see how the Modernist conducts his apologetics. The aim he sets before himself is to make the non-believer attain that experience of the Catholic religion which, according to the system, is the basis of faith. (#35)
How far off we are here from Catholic teaching we have already seen in the decree of the [first] Vatican Council. We shall see later how, with such theories, added to the other errors already mentioned, the way is opened wide for atheism. Here it is well to note at once that, given this doctrine of experience united with the other doctrine of symbolism, every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true. What is to prevent such experiences from being met within every religion? In fact that they are to be found is asserted by not a few. And with what right will Modernists deny the truth of an experience affirmed by a follower of Islam? With what right can they claim true experiences for Catholics alone? Indeed Modernists do not deny but actually admit, some confusedly, others in the most open manner, that all religions are true. (#14)
It must first be kept in mind that every quest of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and in the last analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The various religions arose precisely from this primordial human openness to God. At their origins we often find founders who, with the help of God’s Spirit, achieved a deeper religious experience. Handed on to others, this experience took form in the doctrines, rites and precepts of the various religions.
In every authentic religious experience, the most characteristic expression is prayer. Because of the human spirit’s constitutive openness to God’s action of urging it to self-transcendence, we can hold that “every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person.
(Address to the Members of the Roman Curia, 22 Dec. 1986, n. 11; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 Jan. 1987, p. 7).
Let's summarize. According to the philosophical agnosticism of the Modernists, God could not be the direct object of science, nor of history. This left churchmen with the only option to locate the divine in human experiences. The error here should be obvious: God is the object of the queen and mistress of all sciences, the science of divinity; He is the object of all history as He is its author and chief actor. To capitulate to the Modern error of agnosticism is to surrender to a false paradigm which the Second Vatican Council refers to as "modern man." This modern man rejects the entire supernatural order; places all the miracles of revelation in the category of myths; and sees in the God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord a mere human figure totally beholden to the requirements of his own epoch as a first century Jewish itinerant preacher. Any capitulation to such paradigmatic nonsense is to open the doors wide for atheism, as St. Pius X solemnly condemns in Pascendi gregis.
The old liturgy with its reliance on the objectivity of human and divine knowledge, the transcendence of its heavenward gaze and communion with the Triune God and His Saints was totally unsuited for modern man who rejected what he could not experience subjectively in himself. While these efforts to accommodate so-called modern man with a liturgy better suited to the false paradigm of philosophical agnosticism seemed imbued with a certain human empathy, they were and always will be doomed to fail. God is the primary object of science - all science, the supreme science being theology. God is no less the Lord of all profane sciences as the Creator of the material world; He is no less the object of true history as its originator, consummator and Lord.
This explains the contemporary preoccupation with 'getting everyone involved' in the Novus Ordo liturgy. The incessant noise, activity, and overutilization of laymen in liturgical functions is all required to foster authentic subjective religious experiences - not only as a way to concretize Catholic faith but the only way, seeing all external revelation and natural theology is excluded, or at least made optional.
Hence, we have the current campaign of Pope Francis and his Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to stamp out the old Mass. The old Mass isn't promoting this anthropocentric religion; it isn't focused on man and subjective experiences, but on the transcendent Divinity. The Mass of All Ages gives absolute credibility to the God Who is the direct object of science and history; it mediates supernatural graces through the offering of the Son to the Father in propitiation for the sins of the living and the dead. It is not difficult to surmise why the partisans of the New Theology wanted to obliterate every vestige of Catholic Tradition, especially in liturgy.
Where does this anthropocentric religion with its focus on human experiences lead us? According to St. Pius X, straight to atheism. And the precipitous and tragic decline in the Western Catholic Church would appear to corroborate this.
Finally, a clarification of the legitimate role of experience in Catholic religious praxis. As we noted from St. Pius X's motu proprio on sacred music above, the words active participation (Latin: participatio actuosa) should be considered without any negative connotation when we use the philosophy of St. Thomas and not the modern agnostic philosophies. This Scholastic philosophy of St. Thomas was in fact recommended by St. Pius X in Pascendi as a sure bulwark against the collection of heresies converging in Modernism. It fully acknowledges that God is the primary object of both science and history and as such places no exaggerated or strained emphasis on human religious experience. But stripped of Scholastic philosophy's sure foundation and left naked with only subjective experience as a guide, the role of active participation takes on a dangerous urgency which leads eventually to a loss of faith, apostasy, and atheism.
These key philosophical differences emerge from different attitudes towards the theories purported by profane science. For St. Thomas, theology is the Queen of sciences; for the modern philosophers, theology is only speculation about subject matter that cannot be finally and certainly known. The first major cleavage between profane science and the Church's magisterium occurred during the novel proposition by Galileo of Copernicus' heliocentric theory. This controversy fatally separated the profane sciences from the science of divinity as the former rejected the latter's conclusions; moreover, this opened wide an entire theater of polemical war against the Church's philosophical moorings which culminated in the super-heresy of Modernism, inasmuch as Modernism is utterly dependent on the theory of evolution. The collection of grotesque errors one may find in the literature of Teilhard de Chardin amply illustrates the bizarre lengths one may extend in order to synthesize Catholic religion with the theories of modern science unmoored from traditional Catholic philosophy.
For liturgy, the object must ever be the Transcendent Divinity; this object must be regarded as absolute, real, concrete, tangible, and accessible through the mediation of the Catholic Church. No amount of condescension to so-called modern man in new theories of liturgy can ever hope to replace the system of worship which came not from men, but from God. The focus on men and their experiences may have been inspired by a well-intended pathos, but in the end, it redirects men away from the Transcendent Good and toward their own weaknesses.
About this, Fr. Johannes Dormann, S.T.D. writes
A comparison of the principles of knowledge in Cardinal Wojtyla's [Pope John Paul II] New Theology with those of classical theology makes the fundamental differences clearly come to light. In classical theology, God is the material and formal object of theology. In the New Theology of Cardinal Wojtyla, the object is man. The diametrical opposition is manifest. Through the confusion of nature and grace in the axiom of universal salvation, the traditional "dualism" is entirely eliminated. The traditional distinctions of the natural and supernatural knowledge of God, of natural and supernatural revelation, of natural reason and supernatural faith, of natural and supernatural theology, no longer apply. The virtue of faith, which is constitutive for the process of justification, is no longer required for salvation...
Quote taken from Pope John Paul II's Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi, Part 1, pages 121-123, (c) 1994 by Angelus Press
The urgency and necessity in preserving the Traditional Roman Rite is not a matter of personal taste, preference, or attachment; it is the divinely provided bulwark against Modernism, as discussed in the Ottaviani Intervention of 25 September 1969:
...the Novus Ordo represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent. The canons of the rite definitively fixed at that time provided an insurmountable barrier to any heresy directed against the integrity of the Mystery.
The experiment of philosophical personalism applied to liturgy has had a 50 year run; there is ample data to make a judgment on the suitability of such reforms and to weigh their impact on the Church. God is and always will be the highest object of any true science, and sound philosophy will always validate this. Every effort to appeal to men who reject the God of history by directing their attention to their own subjective experiences will end up failing in the Church's divinely appointed mission of saving souls through the preaching of the Gospel, of which the most profound proclamation is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.