QUAERITUR: Communion for a non-celebrating priest

From a priest reader:

Perhaps you or your readers could help me with a question regarding communion etiquette for priests in the Ordinary Form of the Mass.  When a priest is in attendance at a mass and not concelebrating, should he self-communicate and take the host directly from the ciborium, or should he receive communion as would any layperson and have it placed on his tongue or in his hand?  Thanks for any help you could give myself and my confreres in this regard.

 

Whether the form of Holy Mass is the Ordinary or the Extraordinary, the Novus Ordo or the TLM, the priest receives, he does not self-communicate.

A bishop, priest or deacon, when in choir-dress, should wear the proper stole when receiving Communion.   Sometimes it may happen, and this would be pretty rare, that a priest might be in the congregation.  He would receive in the normal manner and not self-communicate.  But it is not the ideal that the priest should receive in the congregation with the laity.  He should be, if possible, properly dressed in the sanctuary and receive there.

UPDATE:

I couldn’t immediately remember the document for this, but it is Redemptionis Sacramentum 128.

Holy Mass and other liturgical celebrations, which are acts of Christ and of the people of God hierarchically constituted, are ordered in such a way that the sacred ministers and the lay faithful manifestly take part in them each according to his own condition. It is preferable therefore 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 thus take part as concelebrants, wearing the sacred vestments. Otherwise, they wear their proper choir dress or a surplice over a cassock.” It is not fitting, except in rare and exceptional cases and with reasonable cause, for them to participate at Mass, as regards to externals, in the manner of the lay faithful.

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25 Responses to QUAERITUR: Communion for a non-celebrating priest

  1. xatharnanandu says:

    Are there any citations from official ecclesial documents that address this situation?

  2. Henry Edwards says:

    I have attended two recent Masses, one EF and one OF, at which a bishop was in choir and not celebrating. In each case the bishop received from the celebrant, on the tongue while kneeling.

  3. Flambeaux says:

    I didn’t know that. Thank you, Father.

  4. Jayna says:

    If a priest was simply attending in the congregation and not in choir, would he also be required to wear his stole?

  5. Flabellum says:

    Can anybody point me to a rubric or official declaration concerning a preference for priests attending mass in choir rather than sitting unvested with the congregation?

  6. JGarrity says:

    I understand that it is a tradition for priests to wear a stole when receiving communion. When and where did this tradition originate? Typically the stole is worn when the minister is exercising some part of his ordained ministry, whether saying Mass or giving a simple blessing. By receiving communion is he exercising a part of his ministry?

    Thanks!

  7. Fr. Totton says:

    Flabellum, I cannot, off the cuff, provide you with rubrics or official declaration, but I would say that the practice of the priest assisting “in choro” i.e. vested in cassock and surplice, and seated at pre-dieu in the sanctuary, is indicative of an ecclesiology which emphasizes (properly) the ontological nature of the priesthood. This same ecclesiology is expressed by having a proper sanctuary (or should I say a sanctuary proper) as well. The custom of a [non-celebrating] priest seated among the laity and dressed in lay clothes [or even a clerical suit] is indicative and expressive of an ecclesiology which sees the priest as a functionary/minister. “If he isn’t exercising his ministry (read: function) then why shouldn’t he be seated with the lay faithful?” – the old question goes.

    These are subtleties, but then the devil is in the details – a fact we far too often overlook – to our peril!

  8. Dr. Eric says:

    When I was an EM, I had to give communion to a priest who was not celebrating. Was that correct? I felt weird for giving a priest communion and not vice versa.

  9. Paul Madrid says:

    Flabellum, perhaps this will be of assistance:

    Holy Mass and other liturgical celebrations, which are acts of Christ and of the people of God hierarchically constituted, are ordered in such a way that the sacred ministers and the lay faithful manifestly take part in them each according to his own condition. It is preferable therefore 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 thus take part as concelebrants, wearing the sacred vestments. Otherwise, they wear their proper choir dress or a surplice over a cassock.” It is not fitting, except in rare and exceptional cases and with reasonable cause, for them to participate at Mass, as regards to externals, in the manner of the lay faithful.

    Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum ¶ 128 (emphasis added) (footnote omitted) (quoting General Instruction of the Roman Missal n.114 (2002)).

  10. Maureen says:

    I’ve seen non-celebrating priests who weren’t feeling well come sit in the choir loft off to the side, and then slip out before the congregation could get down the aisle. Which is kinda in choro. :)

  11. xathar says:

    Again, is there any relevant documentation which describes how a priest who merely attends mass in the Ordinary Form receives Communion, whether in choir or not?

  12. xathar: It was posted above. It is in Redemptionis Sacramentum.

  13. xathar says:

    Fr. Z,

    The quote provided doesn’t really seem to answer the question whether a priest, in choir (or not, for that matter), should self-communicate or receive as would a lay person. If I’m missing something, please do make it explicit for my benefit. Thank you.

  14. Andrea says:

    Maybe slightly off topic, but Dr Eric said he once gave Communion to a priest. I understood that if a priest was present (assuming he is not sick or infirm) he should distribute Communion in preference to a EM?

  15. Andrew, medievalist says:

    I see quite often, and I don’t know if it’s correct, priests in the OF who otherwise are the most rubrically faithful priests around, receive in the hand from the celebrating priest. They then make a small sign of the cross with the Host (as they would over the paten or chalice) before receiving it. I always assumed it was because a) priests can touch the Host anyway, and b) the priest’s Communion is special.

  16. Christopher Milton says:

    So priests are to concelebrate unless there is a “good reason”, is there further instruction on what “good reason” is?

    I am getting married in October and have several priests I would love to be present, but is it required for them to concelebrate?

  17. dcs says:

    So priests are to concelebrate unless there is a “good reason”, is there further instruction on what “good reason” is?

    I would think that one good reason is that the priest has already celebrated Mass that day, or, if he has permission to binate, has already celebrated two Masses that day.

  18. Kimberly says:

    The associate priest in my parish made a habit of comming to mass and sitting with the people. When I asked why he did it, he said, he just wanted to be part of the congregation. It was very confusing. I searched and searched for the church’s stance on this and never found it. Thank you for clearing this up.

  19. Christopher: So priests are to concelebrate unless there is a “good reason”, is there further instruction on what “good reason” is?

    I think perhaps that he had already read Mass that day.

    Another good reason would be that he doesn’t prefer to concelebrate.

    Frankly, I think concelebration should be “safe, legal and rare”.

    Ordinations are good times for that, perhaps traveling with a fellow priest, visiting a parish if you can’t say Mass on your own, Holy Thursday, etc.

  20. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: Frankly, I think concelebration should be “safe, legal and rare”.

    Amen! From Ab. Ranjith in the current Adoremus Bulletin”

    “Worse still, some practices which Sacrosanctum Concilium had never even contemplated were allowed into the liturgy, like Mass ‘versus populum’ (facing the people), Holy Communion on the hand, altogether giving up on the Latin and Gregorian chant in favor of vernacular and songs and hymns without much space for God, and extending beyond any reasonable limits the faculty to concelebrate at Holy Mass. There was also the gross misinterpretation of the principle of ‘active participation’ (actuosa participatio).”
    http://www.adoremus.org/0609Ranjith.html

  21. Mark says:

    Concelebration should be allowed, even phased back more into the Old Rite, but it has to be in circumstances that make sense and show an ecclesiology of hierarchal communion.

    For example, I’m fine with the idea of monks concelebrating with their abbot, priests with their Ordinary, bishops with their Patriarch, Cardinals with the Pope, etc…though I think it shouldnt count for a stipend, and they should still be expected to say a private mass of their own that day.

    But for just random priests of the same level, possibly from all sorts of different jurisdictions, to come together and to arbitrarily have one be the celebrant, or for priests to concelebrate with bishops not in any sense their Ordinary…is confused to me. Rather the Orthodox model of communion than the Catholic one, which always has a clear “capstone” on the pyramid. A “hub” that the spokes of the wheel attach to, if you know what I’m saying. People should concelebrate only with immediate and direct superiors, and the superior should be the chief Celebrant. That is rightly ordered. Random “egalitarian” concelebrations…are not good.

  22. Seminarian says:

    “Otherwise, they wear their proper choir dress or a surplice over a cassock.”

    What would “proper choir dress” be, other than a “surplice over a cassock”? Simple alb, cincture, stole? Most concelebrating priests wear that anyway – then one could not tell if he was concelebrating or simply in choir…

  23. Seminarian says:

    Mark, if I understand correctly from previous discussions here on this topic, there is a sort of precedent for concelebration in the EF: at an ordination the newly ordained would “concelebrate”… but I get your point :)

    Also, good point about the importance of showing Catholic hierarchical communion… I hadn’t thought of that… I’ll file that away for future argument… I mean reference!

  24. Mark says:

    Well, I just find it odd and symbolically incorrect when, like, 5 mere presbyters come together from 5 different dioceses and concelebrate with one arbitrarily chosen as celebrant or on some sort of rotation.

    Really, a public Mass (in the strict sense) is supposed to show forth the local church, presided over by the leader of that local church (the pastor, the abbot, the bishop, etc).

    Of course Catholics can travel or visit another parish, and of course other priests who do not have the specific cure of souls can and should say their daily masses, and Catholics should be free to attend these, they may even be pseudo-public in character (say, an associate pastor or resident saying a regular Sunday mass at a parish).

    But the ideal, I’d think, is for there to be one Parish High Mass (the pro populo Mass on Sundays and solemnities), led by the pastor. For the Abbot to lead the Conventual Mass. For the bishop to actually celebrate the Cathedral liturgies.

    And then the canons could concelebrate with the bishop (but then also say their private masses). The monks could concelebrate with the abbot at the conventual mass (but still say their private Masses). Associate pastors could act as the deacon and subdeacon at the Parish Mass, and then could still say other masses on sundays to fit more people in or to make a more liveable schedule, but these would be Low Masses. If you see what I’m saying.

    It’s sort of like the question of provincial and plenary Synods vs “Episcopal Conferences”. Before Vatican II, there was a clear sense of hierarchal communion. The bishops of a nation might meet, but it was under the presidency of the Primate (ala, the Plenary Councils of Baltimore) for an extraordinary circumstance. Not a standing USSCB commitee with a rotating elected leader and employee structures that cross diocesan boundaries (and thus raise questions of confused chains of command). There was a logic to it. One See, the Primatial, had the presidency ex officio, and participation was expected of at least a moral totality of ordinaries from within that nation, and only from within that nation.

    For people to concelebrate with a direct superior makes sense. There is a fuller symbol in the monks concelebrating with their abbot, or the presbyterate of the diocese with their Ordinary.

    To me, this is very different from a bunch of random priests from all around the world getting together at some conference and all concelebrating as if our model of communion is “horizontal” instead of vertical. As if two parishes can be in communion with each other directly instead of THROUGH a central hub (ie, the cathedral parish as hub of communion in the diocese). Or as if two diocese can be in communion with each other instead of through the central hub of the Archdiocese of the province (or, going even higher up, perhaps only through the patriarchal church, or only Rome itself).

    Councils and Synods are always made up of the ordinaries of some logical territorial unit, and presided over by the ranking hierarch. A Latin bishop cant randomly vote in the Melkite synod just because he happens to be present. And even 1000 priests cant form any sort of binding synod if they are all from different diocese and have no one who is superior of them all presiding (in that case, the only possible superior would probably be the Pope himself presiding).

    Even in government…an Illinois legislator cant go and vote in the Kansas legislature, and even a vote of the majority of governors meeting in committee can’t bind the other governors unless the Federal government steps in.

    Concelebration as commonly practiced suggests a “horizontal” model of communion, when really it should only be practiced when the vertical subinfeudated model of communion can be shown.

  25. Mark says:

    So, in summary, the general rule I’d like to see established is…Priests should not be concelebrating together unless it is with a common superior to all of them as celebrant. Two priests even from the same diocese should not be concelebrating unless their bishop (or archbishop, or primate, patriarch, or the pope, common to both) is presiding. Two priests or bishops from DIFFERENT dioceses should not be concelebrating unless the Metropolitan Archbishop of the province is celebrating (or primate, patriarch, or pope common to both). And if they are from different provinces, then only if the Primate is presiding (or patriarch, or pope), etc.

    And even that might get a little confused, because all the priests of the a given nation or even province could not be present to concelebrate at one time, and so it might make the selection of those who did, even under the presidency of the Primate or Archbishop, seem arbitrary and not morally total…

    So I might even go so far as to suggest that priests should not just concelebrate only under a common superior, but only under their LOWEST Common Superior. So if the primate was celebrating Mass, the only people eligible to concelebrate would be the presbyterate of his diocese, the suffragan bishops of his province, and the archbishops of the nation. If the Pope was celebrating, only the Cardinals (who theoretically are the pastors of the dioceses of rome and suffragan bishops of the province), the Archbishops of Italy, the Primates of the West, and the Patriarchs and heads of the Eastern sui juris Churches would be eligible…

    Though such a vision of communion might suggest that perhaps the Archbishops of Italy and the Western Primates and the Eastern Patriarchs should be cardinals automatically for that very reason, without having to be assigned any lower position in Rome (ie, a roman parish or suffragan see)…since as Italian, the Archbishops of Italy are already directly suffragan to the Pope as Primate of Italy, since as Western, those Primates are already directly suffragan to the Pope as Patriarch, etc. In other words, have “cardinal-archbishops”, “cardinal-primates,” and “cardinal-patriarchs” above the cardinal- bishops…who would represent the pope’s direct inferiors in all his different hierarchal roles from most local to most universal.