My position? It should be safe, legal and rare!

I was sent the following great photo by The Crescat.   o{]:¬)

In religious communities and seminaries, anywhere many priests were living, there were chapels with multiple altars where the priests could say Mass each day.  Seminarians and novices would generally serve.  In monasteries, the lay monks would serve.  In Rome, some clerical residences still have chapels with multiple altars.

This was, of course, in the days before concelebration. 

The Extraordinary Use, or TLM has an instance of concelebration: the ordination of a priest, wherein the newly ordained concelebrates with the bishop as he kneels before the altar, though he consumes only the Host.  In the Ordinary Use, we find concelebration all the time.

I am not much of a concelebration sort of guy.  I believe that, when it comes to the Novus Ordo, priests should say their own Mass each day.   There are those infrequent occasions when it is appropriate to concelebrate, of course. For example, for the Chrism Mass with one’s bishop, or perhaps a funeral of a priest. If I am visiting a parish and I see that it would be inconvenient for someone to set up, etc., I will concelebrate if the alternative is not saying Mass.  I have more than once concelebrated Holy Mass with the Pope. I have helped elderly priests say Mass by concelebrating.  I have sometimes concelebrated when traveling with a priest friend. 

Generally, I hold to one priest – one Mass.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with just being in choro.  This is something we priests should strive to revive: sitting in choir in choir dress.  Being there and participating, lending to the occasion without having to be up there doing something.

Also, unless I have a parish Mass where the Novus Ordo is used, I prefer the older form.  I wasn’t ordained for a book, so I am happy to say also the Novus Ordo when called upon, but I have my preference.

I have seen or been part of concelebrations where other priests are distracted or, in some cases, sacrilegiously paying no attention at all.  I have been in concelebrations where some priests vest properly and others just show up in a t-shirt.  I have been witness to priests not receiving both species of the Eucharist or not saying the words of consecration, while others do, without distinction.  Chaos.

I frankly don’t get worked up about "whose" consecration consecrated.  God can sort that out.  I have faith that if Holy Church says we can concelebrate, then we can concelebrate.  That doesn’t mean that we must concelebrate.

For a long time, in Rome, in many places priests and sacristans tried strenuously to force other priests to concelebrate.  I think that experience and the other bad examples of some, happily few, priests really soured me on the practice.

Some priests become quite overbearing about concelebration.  I had an exchange with one priest of long acquaintance not too long ago, who became very censorious about my decision to say Mass on my own rather than concelebrate.  I was deeply saddened and more than a little surprised.  He should have known better, frankly, and I lost a lot of respect for him in that moment.  I usually only found that attitude in  know-it-all liberal liturgists, the sort jokes are told about now.  I’m just sayin’….

To my mind, the bond between priests is very important, but that doesn’t mean that they have to manifest that bond by concelebrating all the time.  But for some odd reason, perhaps it’s insecurity or problems with control issues, if priests opt out from concelebrating, some take it as a personal affront.  "You don’t want to concelebrate?  You must have something against me!"  Priests are all too human.

Fathers, don’t force or pressure concelebration!  Always be happy to set up an altar and even serve if your schedule allows.  It is good for a priest to serve Mass once in a while.

I think concelebration should be safe, legal and rare.  That is, a) rubrics should be carefully followed, b) priests should be free to concelebrate or not without being picked on or criticized, c) it should not be the norm or anything close to commonplace.

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in I'm just askin'.... Bookmark the permalink.

65 Responses to My position? It should be safe, legal and rare!

  1. Ottaviani says:

    I have never liked concelebration a la Novus Ordo for the simple reason that when hundreds of priests are present, it looks like a sea of Nazi salutes.

    I also believe that the more masses said, the more graces that can be applied to the souls in Purgatory or living souls in general. Concelebration has no theological significance whatsoever [No. I think it does have some theological significance. What it is is a matter of debate, but it is not “none whatsoever”.] and actually reduces the chance for more masses to be said. [This we can agree on. I am not a theurgist, but I see good for the whole world from the faithful and reverent of Mass. Save The Liturgy – Save The World]

  2. TJM says:

    Father Z, I couldn’t agree with you more. I have seen concelebrations when they appeared totally gratuitous. Having one celebrant in my mind underscores the priest’s role “in Persona Christi.” All the best, Tom

  3. Caeremoniarius says:

    Love that picture–there’s a very similar one (even the vestments look the same!)
    in Fr Ellard’s book “The Mass of the Future.” It reminds me of the Sunday morning
    Low Masses in the Gnadenkapelle in Wigratzbad–one at the high altar, and two at
    the side altars. Beautiful. (In those days, we had to attend the Low Mass before
    going to the community Solemn Mass.)

  4. Megan says:

    What an appropriate anti-spam word: “do the red”

    Excellent points, Father. Tom also brings up a good point about “in persona Christi”. The more Masses said, the more graces gained. Thanks for writing posts like this – they are much appreciated. Pax Christi.

  5. Mila says:

    Thank you for the post, Father Z. You reminded me of a younger priest I know. A few years ago, when he had only been ordained two or three years, he told us that he did not like concelebrating. He said “Why be content with being the kitchen helper when I can be the chef?” Some may not like the comparison, but I’m sure we can appreciate his meaning.

  6. Etienne says:

    A first-time English translation of Fr. Joseph De Sainte-Marie’s classic work
    on the problems with concelebration will soon be released by Grace Wing
    Publishers (and English company). It’s called “The Eucharist: the World’s
    Salvation.” It is THE work on this subject. He looks at it from every angle:
    historical, VC II, theological, symbolic, etc.; and he blows apart all the false
    arguments. I highly recommend it!

  7. Ohio Annie says:

    I am just a convert and don’t know anything but I have been at Mass where there were 30+ concelebrants and I thought it introduced confusion as to the nature of the person and action of Christ in the Mass. I have wondered about this and now I see this posting and I feel I was maybe not too far off the mark. I like this blog very much. I learn something every day.

  8. When I was at a monastery recently, there was a group of Fraternity priests making a retreat there, and the monks set up all the private Masses for them to say while they were there. It was awesome seeing what seemed like an army of priests processing out to say their Masses individually. Ironically there seemed to be more unity there than I’ve seen in some concelebrated Masses.

    I had to clean the coffee off my keyboard when I read the title post, however, it’s perfect for this topic. LOL.

  9. canon1753 says:

    I can hear it now…. But Fr. Z, you can’t take a stipend if you are in choir. [you can only take one a day, except on Christmas. So, Father should say Mass anyway.]
    (I can hear that argument)

    My take on concelebration for Diocesan Priests- Funerals, Mass with the Bishop, maybe even daily Mass when you are not at your parish.

    Concelebration, oddly enough, is the easiest liturgical action to do, but I suspect a lot of priests in their mind really wonder if that “counted” as a celebrated Mass for them. About the stipend.. I usually have celebrated another Mass or had celebrated another Mass already. I have a scheduled public Mass every day, so I rarely concelebrate, except funerals or Mass with the Bishop.

  10. dymphna says:

    There is one good thing to say about co-celebrations. On Holy Thursday when my diocese does the Chrism Mass it’s thrilling to here 100 plus voices saying the consecration. I don’t know if it’s correct or the sight and sounds of all those battered old priests, dewey cheeked young priests, thin priest, fat priests, tall priests, and Hobbit sized priests all saying the Mass is awesome.

  11. TNCath says:

    When I was a young child, seeing concelebrants fully vested was very impressive to me. As time went on, however, concelebration started to look “sloppy” and irreverent to me, with priests vested in albs and stoles of various sizes, shapes and designs. I have since come around to preferring assisting at Mass with either one celebrant or a celebrant and only a few concelebrants with the rest of the clergy in choro. From what I have observed, this seems to be the growing trend at Masses celebrated by the Holy Father.

    Additionally, one indirect result of concelebration was the disappearance of the wearing of the cassock and surplice. Prior to the widespread use of concelebration, cassocks and surplices were commonly worn by priests at Mass in choro. With concelebration, there seemed to be an eschewing of the wearing of a cassock and surplice, which to me is very unfortunate.

    Finally, can anyone tell me what the proper vesture for the Liturgy of the Hours is for priests? In Rome I have always observed priests in choro for Vespers, but in Paris (and in my diocese) priests wear an alb and stole. Are there options? I have always felt the alb was an “overused” vestment, substituting for the cassock and surplice far too often. But, perhaps I’m wrong.

  12. Father Bartoloma says:

    I would like nothing more than for the CDW to issue some sort of directive that churches which have side altars should not be stingy in making them available for priests to say Mass on, or at least keeping them up as altars; with an altar cloth, candles, etc. One of the tackiest sights to behold, and something that bespeaks the breakdown of understanding of the Mass and liturgical history, is when side altars are junked up with all sorts of pictures, posters, plants, and all sorts of other odds and ends. Even if an altar is in disuse, it is still an altar and should be treated with a certain amount of respect.

    In Rome, one of the most striking things for a pilgrim to see is St. Peter’s Basilica early in the morning in which multiple Masses are taking place at the many side altars. Imagine how inspiring this could be if throughout the world, at least in Cathedrals, (I’m thinking of, eg. St. Patrick’s in N.Y., Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, and shrine churches also) the side altars would be made available for visiting priests or small groups of pilgrims with their priest.

  13. Dev Thakur says:

    Ohio Annie: You aren’t “just” a convert. Welcome home!

    More relevant to the discussion: I also have been to masses with 30+ concelebrants … it seemed like a mess, with priests concelebrating from the front pews as well … and none of the vestments matched either (though at least they were all vested).

  14. The Extraordinary Use, or TLM has an instance of concelebration: the ordination of a priest, wherein the newly ordained concelebrates with the bishop as he kneels before the altar, though he consumes only the Host.

    The concelebrations I’ve seen at TLM ordinations are just about as different from the Novus Ordo mob scene concelebration as it is possible to imagine.

    At the ordination of two new ICK priests by Ab. Burke last year, during the canon the concelebrating ordinees, instead of hovering beside the principal celebrant, were placed at individual kneelers facing the altar — indeed, a considerable distance in front of it in the large St. Louis Basilica sanctuary. Each looked as though he were just following the audible canon — this being the only time the TLM is audible — in an ordinary hand missal, with a coped “assistant priest” kneeling beside him and ostensibly helping him.

    The bishop celebrant at the altar was attended by deacon, subdeacon, assist. priest, MC, etc, but all other priests present (including two additional bishops) were kneeling in choir dress at their own individual kneelers; all of these and the members of the bishop’s retinue at the altar received Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling. The whole scene was indescribably beautiful and holy.

    Early the next morning, well before the first solemn high Mass of one of the new priests, I arrived just after five separate silent low Masses had begun, each with just the priest and a single altar boy, at five different (one main and four side) altars. They were somewhat staggered, so in the space of 10 minutes I was able to adore our Lord at 10 separate elevations of Body and Blood. Wow!

    I was reminded of a remark attributed to then Cardinal Ratzinger several years back when he had a similar experience at Fontgombeault, having arrived early one morning while the monks were all saying their individual private Masses. “Now this is the real Catholic Church,” he allegedly whispered to his escort. I think so too, and thanked God for no concelebration that morning.

  15. Pseudomodo says:

    This is an interesting photo.

    I have heard of liturgical issues (abuses perhaps?) arising out of the situation where there were multiple altars and a priest at each one but only a few servers. Thus the servers would fly back and forth giving responses and elevating the vestements for different priests.

    From the photo it would seem that even though the altars were very close, the entire focus was on YOUR altar. There may be a consecration going on only a few feet away but it seems to be ignored with the attention going to your own particular altar. If I was present in this room, when and where would I genuflect or kneel?

    Father, if the situation illustrated in the photo were actually syncronized, would this not be in effect a concelebration? The only thing different is the multiple altars rather than one altar.

    I remember at the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission BC in 1976, the priests had thier altars in one long corridor. By the 80’s / 90’s the altars had all been donated to various churches in the Diocese.

  16. Anna Jean says:

    Simultaneous Masses at the High Altar as well as the side Altars of Our Lady and/or St. Joseph are a fond memory that I hope to witness again and soon. Why waste an opportunity to offer God to God in an additional Mass??? If I’m not mistaken, that is what it would be when not concelebrated at a single Altar. The world can sure use the extra Mass, don’t you think?

    This concelebrating at one Altar seems to me, to be just another way of shortchanging God and His Church by dividing the number of Mass opportunities. What a diabolical way of creating yet another priest shortage, if true.

  17. PNP, OP says:

    …and then there are those all too common cases of priests being forbidden to concelebrate…this tends to happen in religious life during “family” gatherings of the Order where sisters or “fathers of a certain generation” are in charge of the liturgy…the declaration of “no concelebration” goes out and quite a few of us leave and return after that Mass to try again…Fr. Philip, OP

  18. It may be late in the thread, but…

    I’d like to suggest the arguments against concelebration not hinge on bad form–because that leaves the question of what about when concelebration is carried out reverently. If someone is going to argue that “reverent concelebration” is not a reasonable goal, that’s a point to develop.

  19. Will says:

    I don’t mind seeing the Mass concelebrated. As with Fr. Fox, I see no problem so long as the celebrants act reverently and uniformly.

  20. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    Concelebration looks and feels very right in the Catholic Byzantine tradition. Although, because of my still poor understanding about it, it may actually be priests assisting rather than concelebrating.

    Nevertheless, watching Byzantine Catholic priests and bishops moving around an altar looks like a dignified and proper display of communion and unity. Unlike many NO concelebrations at which many priests simply show up in alb and stole looking a bit like latecomers to a dinner, all doing different things for their veneration…some genuflecting, some bowing, some doing nothing. Very distracting.

    In theory, there should be no problem with concelebration, as long as everyone is doing exactly the same thing. This way the mob of priests at the altar doesn’t distract from the central action of the Mass. Synchronicity should be the catchword for concelebration…do that and it’s quite clear what the point of the Mass is.

  21. LCB says:

    In my opinion, too-frequent concelebration distracts from the uniqueness of the priesthood.

    When done rarely, it places great emphasis on the unity of the priesthood.

  22. David Nowaczewski says:

    Great picture. It was apparently taken at Ss. Cyril & Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan. Having spent some time there I do not think these altars are still in place in the main seminary building. That being said, however, there are beautiful private chapels in the main chapel on the Orchard Lake campus that are located in a corridor behind hte main altar.

    The top floor of the Jesuit novitiate in Grand Coteau, LA has a similar row of altars, though I recall they are someone more separated. Unfortunately, they are no longer used but have not been torn out (at least as of my time there about 10 years ago).

  23. ED says:

    When i see this photo i can see why we are in the state we are . All those masses (even private) that are not being said anymore,they held Satan back.

  24. RBrown says:

    In 1972 Cardinal Wright, in an argument against concelebration, told me: I think the salvific benefits of the mass should be multiplied.

    Now 36 years later, I have still not heard a better argument against concelebration.

    Habitual concelebration undermines the one-on-one relationship between the celebrant and Christ.

  25. RBrown says:

    When i see this photo i can see why we are in the state we are . All those masses (even private) that are not being said anymore,they held Satan back.
    Comment by ED

    The primary purpose of the Eucharist is not to hold Satan back. It is to make Christ present.

  26. RBrown says:

    …and then there are those all too common cases of priests being forbidden to concelebrate…this tends to happen in religious life during “family” gatherings of the Order where sisters or “fathers of a certain generation” are in charge of the liturgy…the declaration of “no concelebration” goes out and quite a few of us leave and return after that Mass to try again…Fr. Philip, OP
    Comment by PNP, OP

    The problem with that is that it creates the concelebration clique. And the community mass no longer involves the community.

  27. Fr. WTC says:

    In principle I have no problem with the concelebration of the Mass. How could any Catholic who is familiar with the history of the Liturgy have a problem with it? I do though have a problem with the way the revived concelebration of Mass in the Ordinary Form has been put together and how it is used.

    I have stopped concelebrating at large events, because of what I perceive to be a fundamental abuse of the concept of concelebrated Masses. A few years ago I attended the Chrism Mass at my Cathedral, all the priests entered the sanctuary at the start of the preface (a very correct act), and I found myself pressed against one of the walls behind a pillar and behind a tremendous number of priests. At the moment of consecration it dawned on me that as I said “This is my body” that I was stretching the truth a bit. My actions did not fully correspond to what I was saying. There was no “THIS” to speak about, rather the “THIS” had turned into “THAT”.(I fully understand that I was in fact consecrating—the Church tells me so, and I believe her)

    Now words must mean something in actuality, and if I am halfway across the sanctuary, no where near the Altar, in fact unable to see the host, the altar, or the principal celebrant, how can I honestly say “THIS” is my body, when grammar and logic clearly would have me say “That over there is my body”, you see my point.

    I would like to see a reform of the rite of concelebration. It should be limited to only the number of priests who can stand around an altar and have physical contact with the altar. I would like to see it limited to only those occasions at which the Bishop is present; this would be more in keeping with the tradition of the Church. I would also like to see it limited to particular rank of celebration, for example solemnities.

  28. In a purely EF ethos, concelebration seems at present almost impossible to conceive (even if it may have existed at some point in history).

    Doesn’t a human being instinctively feel that a sacrifice to God is something offered by a priest?

    So if a bunch of people in vestments are milling around the altar, which one is really offering the sacrifice? Anyone?

    Of course, if they’re only preparing a communion meal, who cares how many cooks are in the kitchen? (Now do we understand why “liturgists” invariably favor concelebration?)

  29. Gordon says:

    Regards concelebration in the older rites,I was told that the Carmelite “Jerusalem Rite” required 12 priests to do. Would love to see pictures of that. I think in general, it is unfortunate that in most monasteries of monks, concelebration is now the norm, and almost no private masses. This is a disaster in my opinion, for the good of the Church. Maybe the monasteries should be required to do less concelebrations. Perhaps only for big feast days and Sundays or something. But the present approach in many places prevents priests from ever getting to say a private mass. I think it is a spiritual loss for the communities also.

  30. Re: “More Masses = more graces” idea…

    This point has been made several times as if it is obviously true. But is it? I’d like to ask my fellow priests to weigh in on this. Here’s my take, which isn’t meant to deny the point, but suggest it may not be so obvious as some think:

    Each Mass is a re-presentation of Calvary, which has infinite scope and power. Ergo, each Mass likewise has infinite scope and power. I have a hard time quantifying the grace of a Mass, insofar as it seems to me the answer is, “infinite.” I suppose it’s a mathematical question: is 2 x infinite more than 1 x infinite? Is this a meaningful question?

    I don’t mean to dismiss the question, because it goes to the question of efficacy of our participation in the mystery of Christ’s saving work–our part in it all has some value–but I really don’t know how to assert quantities.

    Each and every Mass is infinitely efficacious for everything Christ, head-and-members, cares about–is there any dispute about that?

    One more point: when a priest concelebrates, is that only “one Mass”–or is each priest in some sense offering “a Mass” in a joint way?
    Sorry I don’t remember the answer, but that’s pretty speculative for a parish priest!

    But note: when a priest concelebrates, he must have the intention to offer Mass, he can have his own intention, and concelebrating satifies for a promise to “offer a Mass” for an intention; the priest must personally do all that is necessary for the Sacrifice to be valid, including receiving both Eucharistic species (my understanding is that if a priest were not to do any of these things, the Mass itself would be valid, but he would not have validly offered Mass for his part.

    So this raises a question: insofar as all Masses are “one” because there is but one Mass, the Eternal Sacrifice of Christ, yet Masses are in another sense “many,” then in what precise and meaningful ways can we distinguish between (for lack of better terminology), a “wholly separate” Mass and a concelebration?

    Would it be wrong to see a likeness in the relationship between each Mass, and the Mass, and the relationship between concelebration and the Mass being celebrated?

  31. Charivari Rob says:

    Really, how common is concelebration?

    I mean, at the “average”, garden-variety parish, one doesn’t generally encounter a concelebrated Mass on the vast majority of Sundays or weekdays (especially considering the dwindling number of available priests) unless it’s for a funeral or the bishop coming for confirmation/some special occasion or Father Visitor in for the Mission Appeal. I can’t recall the last time I experienced a concelebrated parish Mass that wasn’t one of those special cases.

    I’ve certainly been at many other concelebrated Masses, but those are usually because of activities or commitments that have me intersect the orbit of regional/diocesan/archdiocesan events.

    Judging from what some folks have posted here, I’m going to guess that one answer will be “Too common!”

    Is it just a difference in perception between a layman and a priest? Or – Father Z., do you think you encounter the question more often than most simply because you travel somewhat often (as student, teacher or pilgrim) to centers of priestly activity (Rome, seminaries, shrines, etc…)?

    Perhaps this will lead to the next WDTPRS coffee mug – adapt the old Texas Rangers (lawmen, not baseball) slogan:

    ONE MASS
    ONE PRIEST

  32. By the way…

    My comments are not meant to say whether I’m for or against concelebration, or whether I agree or disagree with Fr. Z; I found his initial post very helpful, in making some very sound arguments.

  33. Sean says:

    In my opinion there seems to be something wrong with that picture. It looks like a factory of
    consecrations. What is the point? Is it to get your Mass in for the day?
    I understand that each Mass is heaven on earth but why would you do a Mass by yourself
    when there are so many people in the world who need priests and the Eucharist? I think those priests in
    the picture should be out in the world bringing the Mass to the people and showing them Heaven on Earth.
    I can see there being extraordinary cases in which a priest would say Mass by himself, but other than
    those cases it should be done with the people.

  34. Fr. Fox,

    I believe it’s commonly taught that, in contrast to its infinite intrinsic merit, the extrinsic efficacy and grace of a Mass depends on priest — the single-minded devotion, concentration, and perfection in manner and gesture of his celebration of it.

    IF several priests could concelebrate, each with the same single-minded and undiluted concentration and spiritual devotion as when he’s the sole celebrant, then perhaps the total efficacy would not be reduced.

    But I wonder whether you, as a priest, believe that condition is usually satisfied in concelebrations of many priests.

    As a layman, I must admit that it never looks that way to me when I observe concelebration, especially the “mass affairs” that (in my very low-ranking opinion) ought to be prohibited. (And so I was gratified to read a while back of Pope Benedict’s expressed desire to scale back on papal concelebrations.)

  35. Fr. Martin: Each and every Mass is infinitely efficacious for everything Christ, head-and-members, cares about—is there any dispute about that?</b?

    From my own reading, it seems to me that while the intrinsic merit of a Mass as a re-representation of the one sacrifice of the Cross is infinite, its extrinsic efficacy — in terms of the grace actually made available and received — is certainly finite, and differs from one Mass to another, depending on almost every imaginable factor involving the celebrant and people and their dispositions of the reception of grace, which surely depend on the beauty and reverence of the celebration, etc.

  36. Geoffrey says:

    The only time I see concelebration in my diocese is at the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass and during the Sacred Easter Triduum. All that seems to happen is the concelebrating priests gather around the altar at the Eucharistic Prayer and say the parts appropriate to them, just like at the Vatican. It doesn’t seem all that bad to me, though not all that necessary either.

  37. Sean says:

    Henry,
    By saying that the grace from a Mass is “finite and differs from one Mass to another” you remind me of
    2 heresies, one in which it was said that the Priest who is in a state of sin cannot validly consecrate
    the Eucharist, and the other heresy in which people who sinned after baptism had to be rebaptized.
    Both of these heresies deal with grace. If the grace in Mass was finite and differs from one Mass to another
    then how could one ever be sure that they are participating in the Sacrafice of the Mass fully? I think
    what happens is that the focus of your line of thought makes grace dependent upon the priests sinfulness
    as well as the peoples, instead of on God, similar to the heresies above. The amount of grace that flows
    from the heart of Christ is not dependent on the sinfulness of the people but on God’s judgement and mercy.
    . When Jesus died on the cross infinte grace came forth, but the amount of grace recieved was dependent on the openness to God’s infinite grace. Where the grace is finite is with our dispostion to recieve it not in our ability to contribute or give
    it from God. By the way I am not suggesting your line of thought is heresy. I could be incorrect as well.
    This is a matter of theological speculation.

  38. Large concelebrations (like the Chrism Mass in the Arlington Diocese) should be banned from the simple fact that never have so many ugly vestments been gathered together in one place.

  39. PNP, OP says:

    RBrown wrote: “The problem with that is that it creates the concelebration clique. And the community mass no longer involves the community.”

    I have absolutely no idea how concelebrating priests magically make the community disappear or deprives the community of their involvement. Never seen it happen before. No, the problem is that the sisters are angry b/c they cannot be ordained priests, so they attempt to prevent those of us who are from conforming ourselves to our vows. It’s a power play, plain and simple. When I was in the US I ran into this problem all the time…I would be called to celebrate Mass and then be told that sister would read the gospel and preach. Um, no, she won’t. Or that one of the sisters would vest and distribute communion while I watched from the front pew. Um, no, she won’t and I won’t….and so on.

    The liturgy is not about forming or trying to prevent the formation of cliques. It’s not about social symbolism or political position or gender revolution. It’s Christ on the altar for our sins. Fr. Philip, OP

  40. Sean,
    Every classical treatise on the Mass — I was looking at Fr. Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained, in his chapter on “The Value and the Efficacy of the Eucharistic Sacrifice” — used to discuss precisely and in detail the “line of thought” I tried to summarize in a sentence or two. I don’t think it has ever been regarded as heresy.

    As I understand it, the distinction that theologians traditionally made is between the infinite value of the Mass — and the infinite grace potentially made available — and the finite efficacy of a particular Mass in terms of the grace actually received.

    I assume from footnotes (which I haven’t studied in much detail) that these ideas go back at least to St. Thomas Acquinas and and hence may not be so controversial or speculative. They are necessary in explaining (as Fr. Gihr does) why we might offer thirty Masses rather than a single one for the repose of the soul of someone.

    I claim no insight except what I coble from standard works, but I understand this to be bedrock theology that all seminarians were taught back when they received priestly formation in the classical manner.

  41. David Osterloh says:

    Have this from the blog I started and since laid off from, after much prayer and thought I realized that I was using it as a rant, but this first post of mine is right of the same topic, the picture says it all, maybe someday, sigh :)

    http://germanegyptian.blogspot.com/2007/12/bet-you-dont-see-this-very-often-this.html

  42. Sean says:

    Henry,
    Sounds good. I will check some of my books at home. I have a good book by Abbot Anscar Vonier, a early 20th
    century theologian who was a devout Thomist. His book is a book usually referd to in seminaries as well called
    ” The key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist”. I think we are on the same page because my point is in the
    distinction betweeen the “infinite grace potentially made available—and the finite efficacy of a particular Mass in terms of the grace actually received”.

  43. Sacristy_rat says:

    When 100 priest are standing around an altar concelebrating the Church is 99 Masses short.

  44. mike says:

    Father, if you already know that concelebration should be rare, why can’t you just side with tradition and come out against it altogether? [On the side of tradition? Piffle. I think you misunderstand this issue.]

    It just seems that you’re often in this weird, novus ordo/traditional gray area.

    Just because the Church allows something NOW doesn’t mean it’s good.

  45. A Random Friar says:

    I must confess… sometimes I’ve concelebrated, partly as my own minor rebellion against the “concelebration is evil because it doesn’t involve ALL the people” group. I have been present when certain “liturgists” forbade us from concelebrating, and went out of their way to exclude those on the path to ordination, because it was “too clerical” if they served as acolytes, lectors, thurifers, etc. That’s me, sticking it to The Man (or in their case, The Human Being).

    However, in daily parish life I don’t concelebrate unless it’s a very big feast, and there’s “a” Mass for the day, then I do so. I have enough of my own Masses at schools and nursing homes that I don’t have to go out of my way to celebrate if I’m not on the calendar that day. And when I get together with all my confreres for a conference or whatnot, then there too.

  46. Matt Q says:

    “When 100 priest are standing around an altar concelebrating the Church is 99 Masses short.”

    Comment by Sacristy_rat

    )(

    I like that. Good way to look at it.

  47. Caterina says:

    I’ve lived near a Benedictine Monastery and attended Mass in an Abbey Church all my life, so concelebration is the norm to me, and I never had any problem with it. I guess it’s just one of the many things I take for granted.

  48. Fr. Gary says:

    Leaving aside the real and important discussion of the place of concelebration in the Roman Rite, I would like to respond to a few comments on its actual execution.

    – Vesture: I have not concelebrated anywhere in 10 years of priesthood where matched sets of albs, stoles and chasubles were not provided. Rather than the shabby and mismatched days of yore (which I do remember), the concelebrants are uniformly neat, clean and pressed. I know of several churches which have 150-200 set of matched vestments in all the liturgical colors (excepting, maybe, rose).

    – Prayerfulness: I have never participated in a concelebration where a concelebrant appeared disinterested or uninvolved. In fat, I usually note the opposite reality, that most of the priests are very attentive to their role in the liturgy.

    – Choir Dress: The disappearance of choir dress and the visual image of clerics participating in liturgy as non-celebrating priests is a great loss for the Church. To experience a Mass where all assembled are gathered as the Church in hierarchical rank to give praise to God can be deeply moving. As I have been known to say, it saddens me to see priests sitting in the pews offending the dignity of the laity by attempting to impersonate them.

  49. Anthony says:

    As a young man still discerning his vocation, I can honestly say that the first stirrings in my soul towards a vocation to the priesthood was Holy Thursday Mass during my senior year of high school. Our pastor was the principal celebrant of the Mass, with about a dozen retired priests in our parish boundaries as concelebrants. To hear thirteen men say out loud “This is my Body… This is my Blood” stirred my heart with a love of the Body of Christ that I consider my “wake up call” to live a life committed to serving Christ, not doing my own thing.

    I currently serve as a sacristan at this same parish, and we now have about six retired priests who assist our pastor in any way they can. Each of the priests takes the lead in celebrating that day’s scheduled Mass. Some priests will concelebrate, while others will make an appointment to celebrate a private Mass later in the day or celebrate one of our many funeral Masses.

  50. Father Totton says:

    Where to begin on this topic?

    Let me first say that I am in agreement with Fr. Martin Fox on the “worth” of Mass (multiple individual Masses or a sole concelebration)

    That said, I am not a huge fan of concelebration, and I look for every opportunity to celebrate privately.

    I do concelebrate the Chrism Mass, Ordination Masses, the funeral Masses of priests.

    I have encountered what the Blackfriar, Fr. Philip, has described, where concelebration was outlawed because it stratified. In one such parish, both concelebration AND private Masses were equally verboten. There the prevailing notion (among the staff, pastor included) was that the Holy SAcrifice of the Mass was for the sole benefit of the community gathered together and the priest only served a (presidential) role as long as the community had gathered. In this same church one priest was denied concelebration another denied the opportunity for a private Mass – go figure.

    Many institutions have shriven themselves of multiple altars (on some real or perceived missive from the diocesan liturgical committee or some such thing) making private celebration a practical impossibility. I once went up to visit the local abbey of a Friday night. I desired to say Mass on Saturday morning before heading out. A priest I knew well was assigned to say Mass at the convent that morning. When I asked if I could concelebrate (knowing they frowned on private Masses) Father told me that the Sisters didn’t allow it (again with the egalitarian bit). The seminary chapel was closed due to renovation, so I wound up saying a private Mass (attended by a few seminarians) in the chapel of the Abbey infirmary.

    When I visit priest friends, I usually try to be a gracious guest. Some have no concept of “the private Mass” and seem like they would be offended if I were to request such a thing. In such cases, I usually concelebrate the parish Mass. When the host’s rectory seems to have an active house chapel, I know it is okay to request to say a private Mass, in which case the hosting priest always happily aquiesces.

    When I have priests as guests, I always extend the option either for private Mass (“I would be happy to serve for you”) or give them the option of concelebrating at the Parish Mass. They nearly always choose to concelebrate. Sometimes, I give the responsibility of the parish Mass over to the visiting priest (if he is willing) and celebrate privately myself (in the EF).

    When traveling with other priests, I think we nearly always concelebrate – usually out of consideration for the time – maybe not the best motive in such cases.

    I have been told stories of priests who were absolutely indignant at the idea of being invited to attend the first Mass of a newly ordained – in choro. There was one such cabal in my diocese who made it clear to a then-transitional deacon that if he didn’t invite concelebration at his first Mass, they would ostracize him for the balance of his priesthood (as long as it coincided with their lives on earth). I think this is also a poor understanding of concelebration.

    In short, I don’t think I would choose to die on this hill. I would rather opt for private celebration when possible, but there are issues of greater importance in the Church.

    If I may, I would like to air a few of my grievances about concelebration gone wrong:

    When concelebrating the concelebrants should extend both hands at the epiclesis (than extending the right hand indicating the elements during the separate consecration of the Host and Chalice respectively), and they should join the principal celebrant (at least by labulizing the words, even if silently) in praying those prayers which begin with the epiclesis, continuing on through the institution narrative all the way up until the point at which the prayer invokes the descent of the Holy Spirit upon those who are to recieve Holy Communion (sometimes referred to as a secondary epiclesis). Concelebrants should join the principal celebrant in reciting or chanting the final doxology (per ipsum…) (again, even if only labulizing in silence) and neither the celebrant, nor the concelebrants are to respond: “Amen.” This is clearly for the congregation (or the server commissioned to speak on their behalf).

    I would also like to see the sign of peace restored to the dignified use of the “Roman custom” radiating out from the presence of Our Lord on the altar beginning with the bishop, passed to the deacon and through him to the concelebrants. If the kiss of peace is bad in most parish pews, it is utter pandemonium at a concelebrated Mass. There are always the how-do-you-do handshakers, then there are the slap-you-on-the-back huggers (just so’s you know this is a “manly” hug) and the all-to-common handshake-cum-half-hug. When faced with the Roman Custom, very few of the priests I have encountered even have a clue – but what a dignified difference it would make if this were practiced!

    Finally, I would like to see the Communion of the priests be reconfigured at concelebrated Masses. A priest-mentor of mine was in Lucca, Italy a few years ago and he described a very worthy practice for the Communion of the concelebrants. Rather than having the deacon go among the priests with an over-filled ciborium and having each priest take a host (of course some deacons thought it was their role to administer HOly Communion to the concelebrants, saying: “the Body of Christ.” before handing the host to each concelebrant) the priests did not receive until after the Bishop. When the bishop went down to give Communion to the faithful, the priests approached two stations at the altar in an orderly manner, genuflecting in pairs and proceeding to take a host from a paten on the altar. Father then self-communicated (as is expected of a concelebrant) by intinction.

    I think I have said enough for now – at least I feel I have communicated my concerns!

  51. Gen X Revert says:

    When I was an altar boy a priest who resided at our parish would sometimes grab me after I served the 8 AM Mass. I would be ‘drafted’ to help serve his private Mass that he would say before heading to work as editor of the Diocesan paper. This quick Mass was interesting because it showed the dedication to the Mass by this great priest and it was quite a lesson for me, and I would suspect for others.

  52. Joshua says:

    I was assured by a priest that, some years back in Melbourne, at a large concelebration, he heard the M.C. quite clearly say to a concelebrant, while pointing to one of the many sacred vessels on the altar, “Intend to consecrate THAT ciborium.”

    Evidently he was taking no chances!

    That M.C. is now a bishop…

  53. Etienne says:

    Let’s put it this way: When you die, would you like us priests to say one big
    concelebrated Mass for you, or hundreds of Masses? Thought so. “In pluribus vero
    missis multiplicatur sacrificii oblatio. Et ideo multiplicatur effectus
    Sacrificii et sacramenti Summa Theologiae, I, q. 79)

    “In many Masses the offering of the sacrifice is multiplied, and therefore the
    effect of the Sacrifice and sacrament is also multiplied.”

    Read your St. Thomas, grace CAN be multiplied, not quantitatively but intensively.

  54. RBrown says:

    Each Mass is a re-presentation of Calvary, which has infinite scope and power. Ergo, each Mass likewise has infinite scope and power. I have a hard time quantifying the grace of a Mass, insofar as it seems to me the answer is, “infinite.” I suppose it’s a mathematical question: is 2 x infinite more than 1 x infinite? Is this a meaningful question?
    Fr Martin

    You have raised a very interesting question, one I raised to one of my Angelicum mentors, Fr Francois von Gunten, who was a consultor to the Cong of Rites and Sacraments (also SCDF).

    The merits of the mass are infinite, but they are received as finite because we are finite. The medieval maxim applies: Quidquid recipitur in modo recipientis recipiture.

    Otherwise, one mass for the dead would release all the souls from Purgatory. Or, to extend the principle, there is one of the Protestant positions: The merits of the Passion and Death are infinite, therefore, mass is superfluous.

  55. Fr Fenton says:

    Thank you, Father. Having been told that I was rude for not wanting to concelebrate with everyone else when on vacation, I know of what you speak. There is this complete lack of understanding that it isn’t necessary to show unity. It isn’t a slap in the face to other Priests. In fact the main issue was that I really didn’t want to have to use the lame-duck ICEL “translation” of the Mass. It’s actually quite hard to pray the Mass in English, knowing everything that is not being said, simply because it didn’t get translated.
    Safe, legal and rare is a good description. Ordinations, Chrism, perhaps one or two other times a year. There is no reason for concelebration every time two or more Priests are together.

  56. Julie says:

    I’m embarassed to admit this, but this summer, a friend of mine, a priest, mentioned that he was going to attend Mass “in choir”.

    I had NO IDEA what he was talking about and invited him to sit with the rest of us. Thinking that “in choir” was a term to mean “attend mass without concelebrating like I did before ordination”. (words between quotes coming only from my own puny understanding, not any other source.)

    * blush *

    My dear priest friend therefore had great opportunity to make fun of me, but chose instead to explain what he meant. It was totally alien to me, having grown up in the 70’s. But it was beautiful to see him on the altar in choir, and I realized I’d seen this before, although I hadn’t known the term. I had attended funeral of the brother of a priest I knew well, which the priest’s Bishop also attended. It was in another Archdiocese, and so the Bishop, apparently not having announced his intent to be present (as I heard later), was in choir. (neighboring archdiocese) At that time I saw his actions as an act of humility…a Bishop kneeling during the consecration.

    Sorry…I don’t have the words or the understanding or the liturgical formation to understand what I saw, but that does not deter from the beauty.

    I just wish that everyone knew that concelebration was not a requirement, and that “in choir” means something totally different than what some idiot such as myself might think.

    * still blushing *

  57. Josiah Ross says:

    I won’t bet on them being used, but these altars are furnished with altar clots, candles and missals, so it looks at least possible they they are being used.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/theologicalclowning/273505859/in/set-72157594357966694/

  58. Gravitas says:

    Can anyone tell me if concelebration ever happened between Trent and Vatican II?

    And if not, why it should be allowed now or seen as organic now?

  59. RBrown says:


    1. I have absolutely no idea how concelebrating priests magically make the community disappear or deprives the community of their involvement. Never seen it happen before. No, the problem is that the sisters are angry b/c they cannot be ordained priests, so they attempt to prevent those of us who are from conforming ourselves to our vows. It’s a power play, plain and simple. When I was in the US I ran into this problem all the time…I would be called to celebrate Mass and then be told that sister would read the gospel and preach. Um, no, she won’t. Or that one of the sisters would vest and distribute communion while I watched from the front pew. Um, no, she won’t and I won’t….and so on.

    2. The liturgy is not about forming or trying to prevent the formation of cliques. It’s not about social symbolism or political position or gender revolution. It’s Christ on the altar for our sins. Fr. Philip, OP
    Comment by PNP, OP

    1. I understand your point about certain sisters and other non priests being against concelebration because they are excluded. Such incidents merely illustrate my point: Concelebration, which is said to be intended as a manifestation of community, actually undermines it.

    The same is true for the vernacular and versus populum, which implicitly carry a false promise of democracy, undermining the priestly caste.

    2. By definition, social symbolism, here the unity of the priesthood, is the reason for concelebration. My point is that concelebration inevitably produces cliques of those who want and those who don’t want to concelebrate.

    3. The solution seems obvious to me–use the Dominican Rite.

  60. PNP, OP says:

    1…Such incidents merely illustrate my point: Concelebration, which is said to be intended as a manifestation of community, actually undermines it.

    Concelebration does not undermine community. If all it takes to declare some activity or another subversive to community is the objection of a few disgruntled participants, then we are in trouble indeed. I find so-called “inclusive language” subversive to community. Do you think for one second that the sisters and their clerical allies will rush to find a normal lectionary to soothe my hurt feelings? The failure of these people to grasp the theological significance of concelebration is not the failure of the community.

    2. By definition, social symbolism, here the unity of the priesthood, is the reason for concelebration. My point is that concelebration inevitably produces cliques of those who want and those who don’t want to concelebrate.

    The social symbolism of the priesthood is secondary to the theological reality of who the priest is. Again, yes, arguments about concelebration can produce cliques…but so do arguments about using TIVO on the community TV; how many scoops of coffee go in the machine; who gets to use the car on Sunday morning, etc. My point is that the fact that cliques form is no reason to inhibit the practice of concelebration. The practice is either theologically justified or it isn’t. If it is, then it must be allowed.

    3. The solution seems obvious to me—use the Dominican Rite.

    Now, on this we agree.

  61. Fr. Terry Donahue, CC says:

    For those who aren’t aware, here’s the relevant section on concelebration from Eucharisticum Mysterium, published in 1967 by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (the predecessor of the Congregation for Divine Worship):

    “Concelebration of the Eucharist aptly demonstrates the unity of the sacrifice and of the priesthood. Moreover, whenever the faithful take an active part, the unity of the People of God is strikingly manifested [Sacrosanctum Concilium, 57], particularly if the bishop presides [SC 41].

    Concelebration both symbolizes and strengthens the brotherly bond of the priesthood, because ‘by virtue of the ordination to the priesthood which they have in common, all are bound together in an intimate brotherhood.’ [Lumen Gentium, 28]

    Therefore, unless it conflicts with the needs of the faithful which must always be consulted with the deepest pastoral concern, and although every priest retains the right to celebrate alone, it is desirable that priests should celebrate the Eucharist in this eminent manner. This applies both to communities of priests and to groups which gather on particular occasions, and also to all similar circumstances. Those who live in community or serve the same church should welcome visiting priests into their concelebration.

    The competent superiors should, therefore, facilitate and indeed positively encourage concelebration, whenever pastoral needs or other reasonable motives do not prevent it.” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, 47)

  62. Fr. Terry Donahue, CC says:

    Here are the situations where concelebration is explicitly mentioned in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Third Typical Edition, 2002):

    Concelebration is “prescribed by the rite itself” at the Ordination of a Bishop and of priests, Blessing of an abbot, and the Chrism Mass (GIRM, 199).

    Concelebration is “most fitting” when the Bishop is present: “Whenever the Bishop is present at a Mass where the people are gathered, it is most fitting that he himself celebrate the Eucharist and associate priests with himself as concelebrants in the sacred action. This is done not to add external solemnity to the rite but to express in a clearer light the mystery of the Church, ‘the sacrament of unity’ [SC 26]” (GIRM, 92).

    Concelebration is “to be held in high regard” with one’s “own Bishop at a stational Mass, especially on the more solemn days of the liturgical year” (GIRM, 203).

    Concelebration is “recommended” at “a. The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper; b. The Mass during Councils, meetings of Bishops, and synods; c. The conventual Mass and the principal Mass in churches and oratories; d. Masses at any kind of meeting of priests, either secular or religious” (GIRM, 199).

    “It is appropriate, therefore, that all the priests who are not bound to celebrate individually for the pastoral benefit of the faithful concelebrate at the conventual or community Mass in so far as it is possible. In addition, all priests belonging to the community who are obliged, as a matter of duty, to celebrate individually for the pastoral benefit of the faithful may also on the same day concelebrate at the conventual or community Mass. For it is preferable that priests who are present at a Eucharistic Celebration, unless excused for a good reason, should as a rule exercise the office proper to their Order and hence take part as concelebrants, wearing the sacred vestments. Otherwise, they wear their proper choir dress or a surplice over a cassock” (GIRM, 114).

  63. Fr. Donahue: It seems to me that what you have cited supports my position that concelebration should be “safe, legal and rare”. That is a) rubrics should be carefully followed, b) priests should be free to concelebrate or not without being picked on or criticized, c) it should not be the norm or anything close to commonplace. The occasions which your quotations mention, such as “when the bishop is present” or “there is a gathering of priests” are when it is “fitting” that there be concelebrations. Fine! Fitting is great. It is not an obligations, therefore. Also, when priests have already said Mass, on certain occasions the “may” also concelebrate when it is fitting. Fine. That doesn’t mean they “must”.

    I am glad you took the time to put those quotes together. Very helpful to see them collected in one place.

  64. Fr. Terry Donahue, CC says:

    I agree that your “safe, legal and rare” position on concelebration finds support in the liturgical norms in that it is rarely obligatory and should always be done safely and legally.

    It also seems evident that other positions on concelebration (such as “safe, legal and (more) common”) may also be taken by priests. One might also find superiors encouraging priests in that direction: “The competent superiors should, therefore, facilitate and indeed positively encourage concelebration, whenever pastoral needs or other reasonable motives do not prevent it” (EM, 47).

    But if a priest feels forced into concelebration when it is not obligatory, then something is wrong. Manipulation, guilt trips, and intimidation by local liturgists do not equate with “encouragement” from a competent superior.

    I’m glad the collection of quotes was of help.

  65. Athelstan says:

    All offices and sacraments should be concelebrated. The unity of the priesthood is most clearly manifested when all priests present wear alb, stole and cope, or alb, stole, and chasuable. The practice of priests saying their own individual masses all lined up in a row, each at a different altar destroys this unity visually, symbolically, and in every other sense. Luther noted once seeing monks in Rome competing with each other to see who could finish his private Mass first. He strongly objected to this practice and I have to agree with him. As a Tridentine altar boy of the 1950s (there was no such thing as the “Tridentine Mass” then), I often noted priests celebrating Mass in different side chapels of larger churches in New York , Washington and elsewhere who seemed to be participating in those races Luther observed.

    I patiently wait for the Holy Father’s changes in the Novus Ordo AND the Tridentine Mass. It will be interesting to see how flexible he will be in permitting elements of one rite to be used in another rite, e.g. the Tridentine prayers at the foot of the altar in a NO Mass, a vernacular Canon out loud or sung in the extraordinary rite, use of incense for high and low Tridentine masses, or mandating the propers for all NO masses to be taken from the 1962 missal. Concelebration, a selection of fixed prayers of the faithful, and a third reading from the Old Testament to be added to the Tridentine form would help to bridge this rite to those who fear it . The SSPX and other heretics and schismatics want to abolish the NO outright and force the “extraordinary” form on all Catholics. I can think of nothing which will swell the ranks of the Anglican communion and the Eastern Orthodox churches faster than a parade of disgruntled and fed up Catholics tired of yet more imposed and rigidly inflexible prayer forms enforced by schizoid liturgists obsessed with their over reaction to the decade of the sixties. Get over it, the clown masses and much of the ugliness of the 60s liturgical orgies of lefty love-ins and other acts of togetherness so emblematic of America’s cultural decline in the first place are dying on the vine. Victims of culture death.
    What we’re witnessing today is simply the reaction to this death: a return to the past, tried and true liturgical practice filled with pomp, circumstance, smells and bells, wedding cake altars, the end of Calvinist ironing board altars, and the return of truly ugly vestments like the fiddleback monstrosities of the Baroque era and heavy lace undies for surplices, rochets, and albs. Let us hope the Holy Father will clear the air once and for all, and soon. He isn’t a young man anymore.