The Pope to put limits on concelebrations

At last!

This from the Italian Panorama.

Farewell to big time Masses – The Pope to place limit celebrations

No more big "show" Masses: The Pope want to put the brakes on huge concelebrations with hundreds of priests, often far from the altar, as we are now used to in the World Youth Days and papal journeys.  Benedict XVI has entrusted to the Congregation for Divine Worship the task of preparing, if necessary, an "instruction".

Concelebrations will be limited to precise circumstances with a reduced number of priests around the altar.  The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium fixed the cases in which it was permitted to concelebrate.  "It is necessary to return to the original meaning of concelebration, which is the sign of unity of priests", explained Msgr. Nichola Bux, a professor at the Theological Faculty of Puglia.


Msgr. Bux is a very smart fellow on the inside of things about Pope Benedict’s thought on liturgy.

Finally something is going to be done to put rein in concelebration, which occurs far too often.

I have gotten to point with the Novus Ordo that I will very rarely concelebrate.  I will happy do so for ordinations, for a Chrism Mass, for a few other instances, for example with my bishop or when the titular Cardinal, Card. Arinze, would come to the cathedral, etc.  I think concelebration should be safe, legal and rare.  Above, all rare. 

I have taken flack for this, as a matter of fact, from priests who oughta know better than to pressure priests to concelebrate or criticize them if they don’t.  The arrogance of it!

In any event, I am sure this story is really about the "mega" Masses, but it should help us rethink the smaller occasions as well.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Fr. Z, do you think this will go into effect by World Youth Day this year?

  2. RichR says:

    Is there anything inherently wrong with concelebration? What problems does it lend itself to, and what about it does the HF want to limit? Does it obscure the idea of Christ as the one high priest?

    I guess I haven’t delved into this topic as much as others.

  3. Caecilia says:

    If you have 5 Priests concelebrating you’ll have 1 Mass. Let these 5 Priests celebrate by themselves and you’ll have 5 Masses. Concelebration massively reduced the number of Masses offered.

  4. Kradcliffe says:

    Could you elaborate on why some instances of large concelebrations seem OK to you, but others don’t? This is honestly the first I’ve heard of this issue.

    The only time I’ve attended a concelebrated Mass was at Cincinnati’s Cathedral, the Mass said for JPII after he died. Most of the priests in the diocese were there and about half of them didn’t fit up on the altar, so they sat in the front few rows of pews. Was that an appropriate situation?

  5. TJM says:

    I am not a theologian but I always thought concelebration was confusing because it seem to detract in a very visible way the idea that
    the celebrant is an “Alter Christi”. I welcome Pope Benedict’s move and his appeal to Sacrosanctum Concilium as the basis for his decision.
    I think other priests should study Sacrosanctum Concilium with care, it might be very enlightening in terms of ad orientem, Latin, Chant,etc.
    Father Z, do you think it would be appropriate to begin to refer to our times as the “Benedictine Era?” Tom

  6. GOR says:

    I agree entirely Father! I think ‘mega’ concelebrations are a distraction and should be very rare indeed. Certainly no priest should be made to feel that he has to concelebrate.

    When I think back to funeral Masses for deceased priests in pre-concelebration days, I fondly remember dozens of priests in choir dress singing the Requiem Mass while the bishop or some of the senior priests acted as Celebrant, Deacon and Sub-Deacon.

    The haunting strains of Requiem aeternam, Dies Irae and Lux aeterna are still with me. It is how I would like to go but, alas, unlikely today…

  7. Michael says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf, somebody might be interested that in the Russian Orthodox Church a concelebration is a regular practice, rather than duplication of masses. They tend to avoid duplication of masses on the same day.


  8. Ioannes says:

    I have to admit that I often find myself wondering about who gets to concelebrate and how close they are to the principal celebrant. Concelebrations usually do a better job reinforcing ranking than the “unitas sacerdotii” they are supposed to manifest. The ranking of priests gets reinforced by their distance from the altar or whether they even get so stand in the presbyterium. Far too often poor old Fr. Smith stands somewhere in a desolate area of the cathedral nave with the tumbleweeds rolling around. Some priests “make the cut” and others don’t, or at least that’s what it looks like.

    I also don’t like it as much when the Holy Father concelebrates because his Latin is so beautiful, and I don’t like to hear the way his concelebrants sometimes struggle. But that’s just me.

  9. peretti says:

    “Benedict XVI has entrusted to the Congregation for Divine Worship the task of preparing, if necessary, an “instruction.” I assure you, it will be necessary.

  10. Diocese of Allegheny says:

    SC limits concelebration to only a few instances! Amen!

  11. Norman Lee says:

    When I was at Solesmes monastery, the monk-priests concelebrate at each daily Mass, and I think there are more than 10 of them. You only have 2 or 3 celebrations at the side altars (ad orientem, woohoo!) after Lauds.

  12. Ioannes says:

    Sac. Conc. allows for concelebration “at the principle Mass in churches when the needs of the faithful do not require that all priests available should celebrate individually” at the ordinary’s discression. This can certainly be interpreted to allow for concelebrations in more than a few instances–perhaps every Sunday and Holy Day in every church.

    GOR’s comment about clergy in choir rather than concelebrating is really valuable. That would be really lovely at ordinations, too. I’m afraid that many clergy these days can’t even pronounce the words “Requiem aeternam” correctly or are even trained to hold a note. Maybe this can be turned around.

  13. Fr Z: “…should be safe, legal and rare.”

    Wow, I never thought I’d read that description about the Mass. This comment is not a critique, it’s just that your choice to turn a phrase like this caught me off guard!

  14. Fr Z:

    I agree with the need for charity, and I know you agree, that should be true all around–meaning, on the part both of those who like concelebration, and those who don’t.

    I, too, would be interested to hear more of your thoughts, perhaps you posted something I missed?


    I understand your point, but I would not press the matter too much. There really is only ONE Mass, and each particular celebration of the Mass is a participation in the one Mass. There can be no “increase” in the power of the Mass nor its efficacy. “The Mass” is the Paschal Mystery itself, and it is supremely, infinitely, superabundantly efficacious. Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas somewhere talked about the merits of even the most minimal suffering of our Incarnate Lord being more than sufficient to accomplish what his suffering and death accomplished.

    So, perhaps the defect is in me, but I don’t see how there is any deficiency in the economy of salvation if priests join as concelebrants vs. individual Masses. For example, each concelebrant can have his own intention for which, in common parlance, he offers the Mass; that is no different.

    That is not to prescind from any other pros or cons…

  15. Chironomo says:

    I wonder aloud how much this has to do with the Masses at Nationals Stadium and Yankee Stadium. While Card. Ratzinger had certainly experienced such Masses before, thse were particularly MASSIVE Masses and may have seemed to him to be a bit “over the top”. Would the intent of this “instruction” be to limit run-of-the-mill concelebrations (parish funerals, etc..) or just the huge 3000 Priest Mega-Masses? How will this affect WYD?

  16. SM says:

    Too little too late…

  17. Maynardus says:

    The proliferation of large group concelebrations has bothered me for years but I could never seem to put my finger on WHY it troubled me so much. Of course there is the “big show” aspect, the aesthetic disharmony of dozens of priests garbed (typically) in polyester ponchos clustered around a tiny free-standing altar and making it look ridiculously small and insignificant. A stark contrast indeed with the moving recollections by “GOR” (above)!

    Then the other day I was reading the diocesan newspaper and I noted in the clergy assignments that two priests had been assigned to “team ministry” at St. So-and-so’s parish. Suddenly it hit me: concelebration, so-called “team ministry”, even (or especially) the shifting of power to the national episcopal conferences – all of these innovations represent the replacement of traditionally hierarchical forms with communal, “democratic”, substitutes. In general this mindset has pervaded a large percentage of the Church and especially the laity over the past 40+ years.

    Certainly one can envisage some good and valid uses of concelebration, even circumstances in which its symbolism enriches our understanding of a particular liturgy, but like anything else this meaning is lost – or perhaps worse, distorted – when it is overused.

  18. John says:

    If the priests that would distribute were at the altar instead of being posted hither and yon I would think they could be considered a con-celebrant. But with Papal Masses a priest can’t get near the Altar for the Bishops and Cardinals. I can’t but help but think of the parable about the wedding guests who rush to the place of honor. If they are going to be there as window dressing or in a vain show of status then they should be given the honor of sitting in the front rows in choir dress. Otherwise they should be hoofing it up to the nose bleed seats to administer to the people of God.

    If the Holy Father had gone to Boston would we have seen Cardinal Law come back for a visit?

  19. I wonder aloud how much this has to do with the Masses at Nationals Stadium and Yankee Stadium.

    I recall seeing somewhere a report that the Pope (likely through his MC) had wanted to limit concelebrants at the Washington Mass, but that the USCCB had held out for the “big blast” that it turned out to be.

    Apart from any theological argument, I have long felt subjectively that any Mass — whether a simple daily Mass in my local parish or a solemn occasion in St. Peter’s Basilica — seems somehow more reverent and sacral with a single celebrant than with concelebrants.

    And when I try to think of the diametric opposite of a single TLM priest-celebrant acting unambigously in persona Christi with his attention riveted on the altar, I cannot help envisioning a vaguely disorganized gaggle of priests concelebrating a Novus Ordo with varying appearances of seriousness and concentration, and perhaps even some 30-yard stares at times.

    So I wonder if anyone really feels differently, and really sees beauty and reverence in these big affairs.

  20. techno_aesthete says:

    I wonder aloud how much this has to do with the Masses at Nationals Stadium and Yankee Stadium.

    I recall Pope Benedict XVI making a comment about large concelebrations last year in a response to a question at one of his meetings with priests. The matter appears to have been on his mind for quite some time. The Masses in the stadia might have been the tipping point to get the ball rolling.

  21. Timmay! says:

    Father, there is one question that popped into my mind the first time this story came up a month ago, and you made brief mention of it above. How do you think a new instruction on limiting concelebrations would affect larger Masses such as the Chrism Mass an ordination Mass, or the funeral of a priest or bishop (for a few examples)? It’s not the thousands of concelebrants as at a large papal Mass, but a good size Archdiocese could have several hundred priests present on Holy Thursday with their Bishops. If a Mass with a thousand concelebrants loses the “sign of unity of priests,” as Msgr. Bux explained it, is 500 any better? Or 250? Is there some magic cut-off number?

    Or am I over-analyzing this? Would it be the nature of some of these occasional special liturgies (such as ordination) that having all the priests in the diocese concelebrate magnifies that unity? Are those the rare instances you were referring to?

  22. AnnaTrad says:

    I agree with you Caecilia. I have never seen the advantage of concelebrations myself. If all these priest, bishops and or cardinals were saying their own Masses how much more grace the world would have.
    But thats just me.

  23. Tony says:

    Did anybody read the post????

    “Concelebrations will be limited to precise circumstances with a reduced number of priests around the altar.”

    It seems pretty clear what the Holy Father is trying to do. Stop the debacle that is World Youth Day or Nationals Park, yes. Stop Mary’s uncle from concelebrating her wedding, probably not.

    Ordinations and the Chrism Mass are and have for hundreds of years been concelebrated, and I’m sure won’t be affected.

  24. FJ says:

    There was a coment by Caecilia (it was the third coment), that really does not make sense what you said, each celebrant has their own intention at the Mass,

  25. Ordinations and the Chrism Mass are and have for hundreds of years been concelebrated, and I’m sure won’t be affected.

    The concelebrations that occur at TLM ordinations are as different from the Novus Ordo mob scene concelebration as it is possible to imagine.

    During the canon the concelebrating ordinees are at individual kneelers facing the altar, not hovering beside the celebrating bishop at the altar. Any other bishops and priests (other than deacon, subdeacon, assist. priest, MC, etc) present are kneeling in choir at their own individual kneelers. The scene is indescribably beautiful and holy.

    As you can see for yourself from 11 am to 3 pm (Eastern time) on Friday May 20 when EWTN telecasts live the Pontifical Solemn Mass of ordination of two new FSSP priests by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, Nebraska,

    That’s right, FOUR HOURS scheduled for the telecast! Indeed, the DVD of Archbishop Raymond Burke’s TLM of Ordination in St. Louis last June is entitled “Four Hours of Heaven”, and so it was, and the experience of a lifetime for those of us so fortunate as to be present for it in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

  26. Sue Sims says:

    Henry: I don’t think you can mean ‘Friday 20 May’. Would it be June?

  27. Sue: Thanks, it’s actually Friday 30 May, a week from tomorrow. And there will be two broadcasts:

    LIVE 11 am – 3 pm ET, Friday, May 30
    ENCORE 12 am – 4 am ET, Saturday, May 31

  28. elizabeth mckernan says:

    Can anyone tell me the time in Britain for the ordination ceremony broadcast on EWTN at llam and 12 am ET (which I guess is Eastern Time?)

  29. Maureen says:

    England is five or six hours ahead of Eastern Time (depending on when the time changes are). So when it’s 12 noon here, it’ll be 6 PM in England. (At least, that’s how it works when I listen to the BBC over the Internet.)

  30. TNCath says:

    At Masses I have attended at St. Peter’s, it seems that the Holy Father only invites a limited number of concelebrants, usually cardinals. Everyone else is in choir dress. Although at my last papal ceremony last November at the “Ring Mass” for the consistory, I noticed that sevearl priests decided to invite themselves to concelebrate wearing albs and stoles and sitting far from the altar. I certainly hope these new guidelines address this issue. I also hope this brings back priests attending Mass in choir (cassocks and surplices).

    I have no problems with concelebration on a small scale, but these huge mega-masses are a bit ridiculous. The sheer distance is enough to discourage the practice. Besides, why does a priest need to concelebrate EVERY TIME he assists at Mass. Might be want to just be on the altar in choir and experience the fruits of the Mass without having to be a concelbrant?

  31. David O'Rourke says:

    Interestingly Concelebrated Mass almost overnight elimited Solemn High Mass. Since the priest deacon and subdeacon were normally all priests they just began to concelebrate. The original rubrics presumed that concelebrants would be in addition to the deacon and subdeacon but that didn’t happen.

    Similarly, in Pontifical Mass, the Presbyter Assistens was replaced by a concelebrant, The honorary deacons were alowwed to be concelebrants (and invariably were)and subdeacons were omitted. In practice the subdeacons were omitted even before the Order was suspended in about 1968. The loss of solemn High Mass and of Pontifical Mass in it’s traditional form were great losses.

  32. elizabeth mckernan says:

    Thank you Maureen – Greetings from England!

  33. Ron says:

    I personally do not see what the big deal is all about. I never knew that this was an issue with anyone and frankly I never thought of it as an issue ever.

  34. I don’t like concelebrations because of the following:
    If all the priest recite the words of consecration at a concelebration, which priests actually consecrates the Eucharist? If there are three priests and their words are not recited at precisely the same moment, is the Eucharist consecrated three times?

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