Sunday, April 17, 2011

Holy Thursday: The first concelebrated Mass

Within certain traditional Catholic circles, the practice of priests concelebrating Mass is looked upon with some suspicion. I tend to sympathize, since it is duly noted that the practice of multiple priests celebrating a single Mass is not a regular part of the Roman Catholic liturgical tradition.  However, while one may object to certain practical applications of the rite of concelebration, it is quite certain that the theory or idea of concelebration cannot be rejected. Simply put, it is entirely possible for multiple priests to consecrate one and the same host at a single Mass.
Various abuses of the practice of concelebration have led some priests to adopt a truly disgusting and despicable phraseology regarding concelebration – they tell us that concelebration should be “safe, legal, and rare.” This, of course, is comparing the practice of concelebration to the murder of children through abortion (the phrase “safe, legal, and rare” being the cry of pro-abortion advocates). Rather than adopting such a ghastly catch-phrase, we will attempt to elucidate the ratio of concelebration. This will show why the practice is both valid and, at the same time, ought to be reserved to the most solemn of occasions.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Whether several priests can consecrate one and the same host?
Question 82, article 2 of the tertia pars of the Summa Theologica considers this question. In addition to the sed contra and the respondeo, St. Thomas proffers three objections together with replies. The sed contra, as is often the case in liturgically-related matters, is quite simple: “It is the custom of some Chruches for priests newly ordained to co-celebrate with the bishop ordaining them.” Let the custom of the Church stand, there is no more room for debate.
The body of the article is more interesting, and more theologically profound. Rather than entering into a metaphysical discussion of the causes of the sacrament, St. Thomas appeals to the Scriptures. The Common Doctor compares priestly ordination to the Last Supper, since it was at that time that Christ ordained the apostles as his priests. The Angel of the Schools tells us: “As stated above (Article 1), when a priest is ordained he is placed on a level with those who received consecrating power from our Lord at the Supper. And therefore, according to the custom of some Churches, as the apostles supped when Christ supped, so the newly ordained co-celebrate with the ordaining bishop.”
St. Thomas’ point is again very simple, but it is most profound. Just as the apostles concelebrated with Christ at the first Eucharist, the Last Supper; so too, it is possible for the newly ordained priest to concelebrate with his bishop at the Mass of his ordination. The reasoning can be extended: If the first Mass was concelebrated (by Christ, together with his apostles), then any Mass can in principle be concelebrated. Therefore, several priests can consecrate one and the same host.
Response to objections
First, we note that the consecration is not repeated over the same host by the fact that multiple priests say the words; as Pope Innocent III states (De Sacr. Alt. Myst. Iv), “the intention of all should be directed to the same instant of consecration.” (ST III, q.82, a.2)
Second, it is maintained that, although baptism cannot be concelebrated, the Eucharist is different. Since, while every baptism was instituted in a manner in which a single individual was minister, the first Eucharist was concelebrated. (ST III, q.82, a.2, ad 1)
Thirdly, we affirm that, although one priest alone suffices for the consecration, the addition of several others is not superfluous. Indeed, the individual priest does not act under his own power, but by the power of Christ the Priest. Hence, “since many are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28); consequently it does not matter whether this sacrament be consecrated by one or by many.” (ST III, q.82, a.2, ad 2)
Finally, we affirm that the multiplicity of priests need not detract from the unity of this sacrament, since the many priests are one priest in Christ. Thus, especially when concelebrating with a bishop, the unity of the Church is signified by the act of concelebration. (ST III, q.82, a.2, ad 3)
Perhaps concelebration should be restricted to solemn feasts
For all his defense of the theory of concelebration, St. Thomas does not advocate the practice, since it was (at that time) contrary to the rite of the Church. The Second Vatican Council, however, extended the practice of concelebration; and, according to the latest GIRM, it is even quite encouraged.
Still, we must notice that concelebration harkens back to the first Eucharist which Christ celebrated with his apostles in the upper room. It is founded upon a most solemn occasion. Thus, we may well wonder whether regular concelebration is appropriate – especially on non-solemn occasions and in “low” Masses.
Indeed, just as the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion occurs only once each year, so too the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is a singular event. Considering that concelebration is a quasi re-presentation of the Last Supper, one might conclude that the practice of multiple priests concelebrating a single Mass ought to be restricted to two occasions: The Mass of priestly ordination, and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (or perhaps, the Chrism Mass, which has taken on the characteristic of the unity of the priesthood which was established at the Last Supper).


Campion said...


Thanks for your post and I am glad someone has finally come out against this terrible phraseology "safe, legal, rare" apropos concelebration. I too am not the biggest fan of contemparary practice regarding concelebration but drawing an analogy between it and abortion is not only distasteful but, I believe, morally wrong.

Just as a heads up, the Italian publisher "Fede e Cultura" has just published a book on Concelebration by Gian Pietro who wrote the Doctoral Dissertation on Cardinal Antonelli's journals during the Concilium ad exsequendam. In this new book, Cardinal Canizares - the CDW Prefect - writes the preface in which he states concelebration as presently practiced needs to be reformed in line with the constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and therefore that priest need to learn again the practice of sitting in choir with cassock and surplice.

I sent the book to Alphonsus, so perhaps he could read it and give a nice book review on NTM. Alphonsus will listen to the words of Reginaldus; convince him.

Thanks for your writing on concelebration.

Campion said...

One more thing...

Cardinal Canizares only speaks of concelebrants who can touch the altar and therefore all others - even at the Chrism Mass - would sit in choir. I read it quickly in Italian, but that it is the gist of it.

He too encouraged it with the Bishop and seems to discourage it for daily Mass.

Nevertheless, all great signs to a more theologically sensitive renewal of the liturgy by returning again to the text of the Second Vatican Council and not the aberrations of those who wanted to "sing a new church into being".

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for the heads up on Canizares ... Now, if only I had not already forgotten all my Italian! :)

Blessings to you for a prayerful Holy Week! +

Blog Goliard said...

Long ago it became my habit to automatically recoil at the mention of the word "concelebration", no matter the circumstance; and I embraced the "safe, legal, and rare" jibe as more amusing than offensive.

I have come to realize that I was wrong on the first point. In fact, I agree with Bishop Peter Elliott that priests should always concelebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper whenever possible; and I believe you are quite right to regard this and the Mass of ordination as the only two generally appropriate occasions for concelebration.

On the second point, I am less convinced. When crying "That's not funny!", one must in our day expect to be indicted on a charge of priggishness as a matter of course; and I am sorry to say that in this case, I am not confident that an acquittal can be won.

In my day I've heard many ecclesiastical jokes--some told to me by individuals of unimpeachable character--that find humor in juxtaposing the merely vexing with the truly horrific. (The well-loved family of wisecracks that compare liturgists to terrorists comes especially to mind.) So even if the "safe, legal, and rare" line drew its humor primarily from its indirect reference to abortion, I'm not certain I'd find it objectionable.

But that's not actually the case. To my eyes, the heart of the jest lies in its direct reference to an enduringly mockable political statement; and especially to the paradoxical use of this infamously insincere phrase to state the joke-teller's presumably sincere position (i.e. that concelebration is certainly licit, but should in fact be quite rare).

P.S. Whether the joke is indeed good and acceptable, or disgusting and despicable...either way, I trust I've now managed to drain all amusement from it by means of that dissection. You're welcome.

matt haave said...

It would be nice to have the 7 deacons and 7 subdeacons of the old Chrism Mass. While I do not object to concelebration in the sense that it certainly is theologically possible I do object to it on the grounds that its better to have more Masses than less. On a less serious note, I also object to concelebration (as it is commonly done) on aesthetic grounds. It just doesn't "look" right to have all these priests crowded around the altar in bland diocesan chasubles. I can see the point at a Chrism Mass or an Ordination (and even then I like the old way better) but other than those two, I think we should push for more "private" Masses and sitting in choir.

JGP said...

Dear Father,

Thank you for your post!

I have trouble understanding why the Last Supper is considered an example of concelebration - this is most likely due to my misunderstanding of the term. The apostles were certainly not speaking the words together with Our Lord; neither do I see how they could have had the intention of confecting the sacrament: Our Lord only instructed them to 'Do this in remembrance of me' at the end of the words of institution/consecration. With both form and intention lacking in their 'concelebration', how could they be concelebrating?
It seems to me more like the apostles were attending this first mass 'in choir' in a sense, or at the most assisting/serving at the altar. (I have often joked with my friends that the Last Supper was the first example of Low Mass in the presence of the Pontiff)
Please correct me where I have gone wrong! The fact that the tradition of the Church seems to acknowledge the Last Supper as a concelebrated mass obviously means that there is a fault in my logic.

For me, the key to my preference for non-concelebrated masses is found in your previous article regarding the sacrificial nature of the mass. If Holy Mass is a sacramental re-presentation of the sacrifice on Calvary, since there was only 1 Christ sacrificing Himself upon the cross, there should only be 1 alter christus sacrificing himself upon the altar. Even understanding Holy Mass as the prefiguration of the Heavenly Banquet of the Lamb: from what I recall in Revelations, there was only 1 sacrificial lamb.

Thank you very much Father! Once again, your ministry is much appreciated!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Good questions, I was hoping someone would bring these points up!

The two most obvious objections to claiming that the apostles concelebrated are:
1) They were not ordained priests until the words "do this in memory of me"
2) They did not say the words of institution with Christ, "this is my body"

However, just as we are speaking by a certain analogy when we say that Holy Thursday was a "Mass" (it is a true analogy, not a fancy, but still an analogy), so too we speak analogously when we say the apostles were "Ordained" and "Concelebrated"...

For their ordination: There was no laying on of hands or prayer of ordination (form and matter) -- yet they were truly ordained and consecrated as priests. Their ordination is the institution of the sacrament of Holy Order.

As a Mass: Holy Thursday is the institution of the Eucharist and of the Mass, it does not follow the typical rite of the Mass.

Likewise, for the idea of concelebration: The apostles do not concelebrate in the same way we mean it today, but by a true analogy we can say they "concelebrate".

"Form" and "intention" are not present in the normal sense -- but neither are they present in the ordination of the apostles. Still, as their ordination is the institution of the sacrament of holy order in the Church, we also say that their participation in the Last Supper is the institution of concelebration.

I would say that we need to take a less "strictly literal" read of the text -- much as with the other sacraments. Consider that the apostles were "confirmed" on Pentecost, but there was no bishop anointing their head with Sacred Chrism saying, "Be sealed..." or "I confirm thee...". Still, Pentecost is the institution of confirmation.

I hope this helps some...

Regarding the idea of 1 priest, 1 victim, 1 altar, 1 sacrifice -- the many priests are only one priest in Christ; just as, when multiple low Masses are offered at the same time (in the same church or throughout the world), there is yet only one priest, victim, altar and sacrifice.
Still, I do agree that concelebration should be somewhat limited, in accord with our tradition and also (on a pastoral level) to emphasize the sacrificial nature, which is often more easily recognized in a non-concelebrated Mass.

Peace. +

Anonymous said...

I thought concelebration meant a non-Catholic priest celebrates the Mass with a Catholic priest?

Anonymous said...

I believe the Abortionist-in-Chief and his party have stopped saying "safe, legal and rare" since they don't see any need for the 'rare' part.

Paddy said...

I'm glad JGP asked the question re. the Last Supper and concelebation as it answered the question I was about to ask!

Two other points. In Ireland at least it is very common to concelebrate a Requiem Mass. Also, at one or two monasteries I've visited I've noticed that it seems to be the norm for all the priests of the community to concelebrate at the morning Mass. Indeed at one there was a sign up inviting visiting priests to vest and concelebrate with them. In the first instance I presume it is intended to show greater respect to the person for whom the Requiem Mass is being offered. In the second I imagine it is done for the practical purpose of allowing all the priests in the house at the time to say Mass without having to tie up the chapel all day. Would you have any comments on concelebration in those circumstances?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr. Levi,
I would say that those instances of concelebration are very much in accord with what seems to be the norm for the Church today (it is strongly encouraged by the GIRM, especially for the monastic community).

However, it might be time for the Church to rethink the norms ... personally, I do not think that the practice of concelebrating at funerals and at "Conventual" Masses makes a lot of sense -- it is not part of our tradition, nor does it seem to accord with our theology (in my humble opinion).

Peace. +

A. T. Wallace said...

I agree with Reginaldus when he says that he does not think the practice of concelebration at conventual Masses makes sense, this not being found in our tradition. But I shall give you an interesting quote:

"From that standpoint [i.e. "concelebration as a manifestation of the unity of the ministerial priesthood"] the restored rite [of concelebration] must be declared a marked success. Catholic priests have learned once more to pray together. No longer are religious communities of priests faced with the supreme irony of a community prayer-life in which everything is done in common except the one thing Christ left them as the sacrament of their unity with him." (Robert F. Taft, SJ, Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding [Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 2001], 125.)

I think Taft fails to see that in monastic communities there would be a conventual Mass celebrated each day in which the priests attended in choro, having celebrated their own private Mass earlier in the day. I think this traditional conventual model better demonstrates the "unity of the ministerial priesthood" in Christ the High Priest.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I believe that Fr. Taft is mistaken ... it is ironic that his book is called "Beyond East and West" -- in his lectures (several of which I have attended), he almost always prefers the East to the West ... he seems to pit the two against each other, and generally downplays the western tradition.

dcs said...

What is most interesting (and perhaps ironic?) about this passage from Fr. Taft is that the Eastern tradition of concelebration is not akin to our modern rite of concelebration. Eastern priests were accustomed to accepting stipends and assisting at the Divine Liturgy in choir -- they did not consecrate. At one point the Pope asked that Eastern Catholic priests consecrate while concelebrating if they accepted stipends, and the Orthodox, interestingly enough, followed suit, sooner or later!

Robert said...

A more thorny theological issue is the current practice of counting intentions and stipends. Currently multiple priests may have different stipend-bearing intentions, concelebrate then count that concelebration for their individual intentions. The point of a stipend bearing intention is that it is prayed for by the sacrifice of a mass. The point of concelebration is that they are all celebrating the same mass. I don't see how priests are allowed to count one concebration for various intentions.

Marko Ivančičević said...

Is the Eucharistic Sacrifice multiplied during the concelebration i.e. is it true that there are as many Masses as many concelebrants there are?

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