When we turn our attention to the Latin Mass, the Extraordinary Form is frequently criticized for lacking "participation." Upon hearing this, the traditionalist offers a riposte about different theologies of participation, the deficiencies of this or that, you know the drill. Very rarely does anybody have success convincing either side.
I would like to do something different. I will freely concede that for a decent number of people, they are not participating properly at Mass. I myself have been guilty of this. I bet you have as well. My mind has spaced out when a priest speaks in English and in Latin. I have words I "understand" come off flat from my mouth, and a phrase spoken in Latin carry more meaning, and vice versa. Whenever the issue of participation comes up, we should just simply point out one fact. Catholics behaving badly is not the fault of this or that liturgical form. After stating that, we must then dismiss the issue at hand. Instead, let us focus on what true participation is. In order to do that, we must first focus on what we are as individuals.
Each and every person truly is a complex work of art. For one, we have a body. We also have deep knowledge of our bodies. Therefore in worshipping God, we use what we know best. That body conducts different motions that convey certain expressions and attitudes. When Moses encountered God, he is instructed to remove his sandals, for he was stepping on Holy Ground. What he did with his feet was significant in how he worshipped God. With feet and tongue, David worshipped God in dancing around the ark, and composing some of the most beautiful Psalms. Yet God also said that in true worship of him "all flesh will keep silence", as the prophet Habakkuk relates.
To add to this complexity we have our intellect. With our intellect comes reason, and with reason we find a path to God. Our God wants to be known and in many ways understood by man. Just as we use our intellect to ponder the depths of a friendship with someone, we can do likewise with God, coming to a greater understanding and love of Him by thinking of things concerning Him. Yet sometimes God appears in ways the intellect cannot fathom. The author of Ecclesiastes had knowledge surpassing all man, and yet found knowledge vanity when contemplating God. Paul spent his life plunging deeper and deeper intellectually into understanding God and His Holy Law. Yet the closest encounter he had with God involved him being struck dumbfounded and on the ground.
Finally, we can add emotional sentiments onto this complexity. Many times these are a mix of physical and intellectual things. These are also used in finding God. When King David recognized his sinful ways, he was overwhelmed with emotion. These emotions are also caused by gladness, such as when Zechariah proclaimed his joy in God's wonders upon the birth of his son John the Baptist. Yet for all the importance of emotions, St. John of the Cross describes encountering Christ, whose very touch suspended all senses and emotions.
Knowing all these facts, what can we say about worship? First and foremost, there is no one singular way to worship. As with all things human, there are limitations. The Mass overcomes these limitations by including all the different forms of worship. Not only is there something for everybody, everybody will experience the full spectrum of worship.
Considered from this perspective, the question about whether or not we are participating properly at Mass takes on new meaning. Not by mistake did the Council of Vatican II call for participation which is not just "active", but "full and active", that is, spanning the entirety of the human condition. If you approach every part of mass every time with nothing but stoic contemplation, you are missing the chances where we publicly and vocally affirm our faith in God. Yet on the other side of that coin, we cannot focus so much on the vocal aspect of things that we neglect the times when silent adoration is called for. Neither is inherently superior, rather both are superior in their own proper times.