This excruciatingly beautiful clip of Vespers of Great and Holy Friday from the biritual Benedictine Monastery of Chevetogne is on Rorate Caeli. The power of this "liturgical experience" comes from the harmonious combination of the music in the form of chant, the liturgical action and the liturgical environment, the architecture, vestments etc.
What always strikes me when I attend Byzantine liturgies is the sense of being embraced by the liturgy, of being absorbed into it. The music enters into one's being like the smell of the incense, if there is something like a procession or the invitation to venerate an icon, or simply just the incensation of individuals by the deacon, there is a singular sense of "active" or "actual" participation.
Over the last 40 years liturgists on the right and left, progressives and traditionalists have been struggling with how the phrase "participatio actuosa" should be put into effect.
For many this has meant liturgical dance, country and western style folk music, filling the sanctuary with as many lay people as possible, or at its ultimate extreme the abandonment of the Church's liturgy and the development of something entirely constructed by the congregation, as at St Mary's Brisbane.
It is tempting for me to see "participatio actuosa" in terms of a "spiritual participation" or "raising the heart and mind to God" albeit facilitated by music, and the liturgical environment, but I have the vague feeling that behind this there a certain manichaeism tendency. People in the liturgy should be more than witnesses, the type of participation that is seen at low Mass, might well be a participation of the heart and mind but human beings are more than that and the Church has always understood that, High Mass with all its ceremonies was the norm.
Fr Alan Griffiths who taught me a little liturgy used to blame pews, "people pens" he used to call them, for stopping people from genuinely participating, they stop people from moving around the Church, moving to join in processions, stepping aside to make way for clergy to sprinkle or incense them, moving closer to here the Gospel. Certainly chairs or benches which have been introduced to Greek Orthodox churches in recent years tend to reduce people to witnesses rather than participants. One church I know of used to have people regularly pouring perfume over the priest as he made his way to the altar or strewing his way with flowers, with people bowing and prostrating and making the great Sign of the Cross during the liturgy, introduced seating and the people became sacks of potatoes.
So how do we really get people to be participants, rather than witnesses, or worst an audience?
I always think clapping is a sign of the people being reduced to the level of an audience.