15 July 2021


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". 

Sadly, the newer rites have reduced the Traditional Concelebration of the Consecration of the Chrism to the mere gesture of the Presbyterium extending its hands during part of the ancient prayer. But this is something ... and better than nothing.

My view is that presbyters among us should look forward each year 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 ...) 

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'. 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 once 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.


Shaun Davies said...

I would query why the traditional day for the Chrism Mass has been changed in many places and instead of Maundy Thursday it is often earlier in Holy Week. Is there a reason ? Priests are busy in Holy Week and although there are fewer priests there are fewer faithful. Many priests are all too eager to either cancel or shorten services or "omit " bits. It seems to me that many priests don't really "like Church. As a very churchy teenager I was always being told by priests to "lighten up" and "don't overdo things". I am sure that none of this would apply either to the author of this blog or his readers.
Why after all in the newer editions of the Holy Week Rites are parts of the Divine Office no longer of obligation ?

Anonymous said...

Our here in the Wild West of the USA, in order to arrive at the Chrism Mass, most priests take the Old Chrism Trail.

Vavsevekivekov said...

What I would love to see is the actual execution of what is prescribed in the Ceremoniale Episcoporum: a solemn pontifical Mass where all of the clergy in choir are in fact vested in the vestments proper to their rank. Imagine the choir stalls of some great gothic cathedral filled with men in chasubles, dalmatics, and tunics, all joined with their bishop in offering fitting worship! It certainly puts the wearing of burlap and oddly placed chairs (while deacons are relegated to wearing only stoles) to shame.

keynciontan said...

Father, having (relatively) freshly arrived home from my first Chrism Mass within the One Fold, I just want to say, that those who complain probably have no clue about what we had to go through in the CofE every Maundy Thursday — dreading what fresh hell may be unleashed upon us at the Cathedral — when we could attend there at all! The difference is remarkable.

frankh said...

You can view the 2021 Chrism Mass from Sydney Cathedral on YouTube.
My wife and I have previously been to Chrism Mass in Melbourne with a few hundred priests and deacons in matching vestments, choir and sung Mass. It was glorious.

PM said...

There is a legitimate place for prudential judgement here. In a compact urban diocese with good roads and public transport, there is no good reason for shifting the Chrism Mass from Maundy Thursday. A diocese in which some parishes are four or five hours' drive from the cathedral is another matter. (I lived in one once.)

Scribe said...

Father, you frequently use the terms 'presbyter' and 'presbyterate', which I always thought delineated the ministers of the various Presbyterian churches. Why not say 'priest', and 'priesthood'? Then I remembered John Milton's observation: 'New presbyter is but old priest writ large.' So that's all right, then.