4 April 2009


[Last year, ending on November 1, I posted a long series of Notes on Concelebration. If anyone wants to criticise what I write below, I would be grateful if he/she would look back through those first.]

Concelebration is an ancient and venerable usage of the Western Church. But the culture of concelebration as we now have it is not. 'Traditional' concelebration is an expression of the unity of a presbyterium with its Bishop and, mediately, of each presbyter with each of his brethren who is also a member of the presbyterium of that bishop. It is particularly associated with Sacraments and sacramental rites; and it is not confined to the Eucharist. Presbyters join with their bishop in ordaining by the laying-on of hands in the ordination of a new member of the presbyterium: thereby being able with their bishop to do something which they could not validly do on their own. Likewise, they concelebrate the Consecration of the Chrism; before the Council, indeed, representative presbyters, fully vested, joined the Pontiff in the insufflation. Dom Gregory Dix wrote in 1936: "Though the bishop alone recites the prayers over the oils, these priests are real 'concelebrants' with him ...This 'concelebration' is one of several points in which the consecration of the Chrism has retained elements of the most primitive Christian liturgical practice which the consecration of the Eucharist has now lost". And newly ordained presbyters concelebrate with their Bishop. Concelebration, at such solemn celebrations of a Bishop with his Presbyterium, deacons, and People, is deeply proper and laudable. Long before the excesses of Vatican II reputable writers (including Benedict the Fourteenth) insisted that such ritual events were true concelebrations and - it's the money that proves it - that a newly ordained presbyter could accept a stipend for his true first Mass: his concelebration with his bishop.

In over-reaction against post-conciliar absurdities, there is a tendency for one or two traditionalist writers to dismiss the whole notion of concelebration; and to do so by simple assertion rather than by careful consideration of what the authentic and ancient tradition of the Western Church DOES put before us. They remind me of people who are insecure about their pronunciation and who overcompensate by inserting an H where there shouldn't be one, and by generally talking refained.

My view is that presbyters among us should be looking forward to concelebrating the Chrism Mass, and the consecration of the Chrism itself, with their bishops in Holy Week, and to doing so with joy, rather than tut-tutting in corners with precious like-minded chums about how this sort of thing really is something that we elite cognoscenti now know better about. (Not that I am convinced about this renewing-vows rigmarole. But one accepts for the time being what the Church sets before us.) And after all, Maundy Thursday is a day when we are not allowed to say private Masses.

But I certainly agree that very many of the concelebrations that take place nowadays, particularly where there is no bishop presiding qua president of a presbyterium, are indecorous and unnecessary. Traditionalists, in my view, should not be making (unsustainable) attacks on proper concelebrations, but developing a healthy new praxis. At the heart of it there should be the assumption that each priest should say Mass daily, either with his people or 'privately'. (I also wrote about this last November, and gave the facts about when it is lawful to say Mass without anybody else at all present, and how it is done.) There should be a restoration of the experience of seeing a whole lot of priests in choir, not because they're too lazy to have said Mass on their own and can't be bothered to concelebrate, or think concelebration is a 'status-conscious' thing, but because each of them has carefully and devoutly said his own Mass previously.

These are not the views - and this is not the praxis - which have been mine throughout my ministry. I believe that at this time of retracing interrupted continuities it is right for us all to reconsider questions which, perhaps, we had considered closed. And to do so on sound grounds - not just on the principle that pendula swing. I hope I am still learning and still rediscovering.


Giles Pinnock said...


Generally speaking, there being three priests here, the Parish Mass is concelebrated at the usuallywestward-facing High Altar, something I've not until recently really given any particular thought as to why it should not be.

Occasionally, when I lead the Sunday School, I properly don't concelebrate because I've not been present for the Liturgy of the Word and assist with the Distribution of Holy Communion in cotta and stole.

We don't concelebrate during the week unless (and even then not always even if) it is a Solemnity. (Weekday Masses are always said at one of the versus Dominum altars.)

One of my churchwardens recently drew my attention to an aspect of when we do and don't concelebrate that is principally aesthetic, but not I think superficial for that.

For Lent, the High Altar has been returned to versus Dominum use, and we have carried on concelebrating just as we would versus populum, except on one Sunday when I was the only priest vested at the Parish Mass.

What was said to me on that occasion was that by comparison with a single priest at the altar, versus Dominum does not look right concelebrated. Versus populum, it is reminiscent of Da Vinci's Last Supper, but versus Dominum, it just looks wrong.

On the aviation-derived principle of 'if it looks right, it will fly right', perhaps what we have here is another layer in both the concelebration debate and the debate concerning the direction of liturgical prayer.

Your thoughts?

Nebuly said...

Surely the normative form of the Western Rite is traditionally the High Mass rich with the Trinitarian resonance and expressive of the ministries inherent in the Body of Christ and realised through the Sacrament of Order?

The Mass is not a realisation or re-enactment of the Last Supper but an offering of, and participation in, the Salvific Sacrifice - the Oblation which Christ has given to His Church. All the more reason not to continue this misleading position of the celebrant at the Altar.

I am with Fr Hunwicke on the question of concelebration - as on so many.
He is quite the Chrysostom of these dark days

Anonymous said...

Yes Father, ones bishop is the central player; with whom it is appropriate, when appropriate, to con-celebrate. As it is typically practiced today con-celebration exemplifies the "sloth of disobedience." It brings to mind even the proper method for saying ones office, that even while said in quire the decanti should read along as the the canti are reciting.

Each parish priest necessarily says Mass for his congregation on Maundy Thursday; then he proceeds to the cathedral to con-celebrate with his bishop the other and distinct sacramentals. However, it is my understanding that subordinate priests (those not permitted to celebrate) should be "mere" communicants or hearers at Mass on that day(?). In the best of all possible worlds, con-celebration is an exceptional thing, but when it happens, as Fr. Pinnock points out, QED, it just "look right."