QUAERITUR: Our “presider” for this “liturgy” … as “we” pray the Eucharistic Prayer…

From a reader:

Today at Mass, the lector introduced Father as the “presider.” Is it
more proper to call the priest a presider or a celebrant?

Father said, “As we pray TOGETHER the Second Eucharistic Prayer….”

Do the people actually pray the Eucharistic Prayer WITH the priest?

No kneelers either… But I consider us lucky to have a priest at
all… After all, Mass is not offered every day at this Church…

First, most “lectors” in parishes don’t know their Ashur from their Eldad.   They read what is on the paper.  I suspect that this is not the “lector’s” fault.

Also, I seriously doubt that the person who read it was actually an instituted lector.  I will bet all the money in my pocket right now that the person was a reader substituting for a lector.

While priests do “preside” at the church’s “liturgies”, they are better called “priest” or “celebrant”, both more priestly words. Anyone can be a “presider”, but only a priest can be a priest.  Also, I think we should call what goes on “Mass” rather than just “liturgy”.

A “presider” at “liturgy” strips the action of its sacrificial character.  Mass is a Sacrifice.  For there to be a Sacrifice there must be a priest, not a presider.  Not all liturgies are Masses.  There is a circumstance in which a bishop or pope, for example, can “preside” at Mass celebrated by a priest or a bishop.  But that is not the usual state of affairs in a parish.

We should correct our sloppy, protestantizing language (vague “presiders” and “ministers” of this and that) with clearer more Catholic language which more accurately reflects what we believe as Catholics.

Today this “presider” language is very pervasive.  It is so commonplace now that many priests who are quite sound in their theology and ability to express themselves use this language unconsciously.

What the sloppy language does is erode the distinction between the priesthood of all the baptized and the priesthood of the ordained, which are qualitatively different.  In fact, the language erodes the idea of priesthood in itself.

That leads to the next part of the question.  Usually one question is enough, but these are related.

The congregation can and should unite their intentions with those of the priest during the Eucharistic Prayer.  But I am not sure about this “praying along” with the priest.  I am sure they mustn’t, whatever they do, pray aloud with the priest.  That would be quite wrong indeed.  However, do they pray the prayer, silently, along with the priest?  I don’t know.

First, it is a priestly prayer.  Yes, the baptized have a priesthood of their own, by which they are about to offer spiritual sacrifices.  No, the baptized are not priests as the priest is a priest.  Second, while sections of the Eucharistic Prayer are prayers as such, the institution narrative is something rather different.  It isn’t so much prayer as a priestly, sacramental relating of what occurred which has the effect Holy Church says it has according to Christ’s own command, etc.   I am not sure the priest himself “prays” that part in his role as priest.  You can tell by the different tone of that section and how the tone changes immediately after the consecration.   I digress.

I am not sure about this “praying” the Eucharistic Prayer with the priest.  I think people should at least pay attention, consider the meaning of the many petitions, consider their own petitions and strive to join them to offerings on the altar, etc.

It might be that this talk of “pray the Eucharistic Prayer with the priest” comes from a kind of sentimentality, a romanticism, or perhaps that oh-so-prevalent notion of “active participation” whereby everyone at all times has to be singing or saying every word like coordinated automatons.  There is also an odd, and I think deadly sort of clericalism at work in some cases, whereby lay people are driven to do what priests properly do, otherwise they aren’t “active” enough.  This is insulting, of course.  Lay people should not be made to do what priests properly do in order have a sense of their dignity or participation.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts.

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  1. Philangelus says:

    At my grad school parish community, we *were* supposed to recite part of the Eucharistic Prayer along with the priest. I flew in a panic back to another priest I knew, and I said, “I don’t think the Mass is valid!” and he said, “Pay attention. As long as the priest is saying the words of the consecration, it’s still valid.” Maybe not licit. He said, “If you decided on your own to just say the words of the consecration along with me, it wouldn’t invalidate what I was doing.”

    That’s how I survived worshipping in that particular community. “At least it’s valid.”

    But there, I think it had nothing whatsoever to do with the idea of active participation as much as eroding the idea that the priesthood was set apart. This diocese seemed to reeeeeally want the ordination of women and all sorts of other things, and I suspect they wanted to enforce that really, the priest was just some guy up there leading the bunch of us, but the congregation was enacting the consecration, not the priest. :-(

  2. JMody says:

    Father, another scary implication. You say:

    What the sloppy language does is erode the distinction between the priesthood of all the baptized and the priesthood of the ordained, which are qualitatively different. In fact, the language erodes the idea of priesthood in itself.

    Would that be an unintended consequence? Or intended?

  3. teaguytom says:

    I’ve never understood where the term presider came from. It just seems that over the years, parishes started announcing the priest celebrating mass as the “presider”. Is the term even mentioned in the rubrics for mass?

  4. Mike says:

    Interesting comments. While, it’s important to make a careful distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the common priestly nature of all the baptized, I would say I try to “live the Mass” at Mass and throughout my day. I am offering my life, talents, work, sufferings, petitions, etc. at the Mass, in union with the priest, precisely due to my baptismal character imprinted on my soul as an infant (in my case). A non-baptized person can attend Mass, but not receive, of course, and not receive the same graces as the baptized, or at least not in the same manner.
    DO I pray the Mass? Yes, as a layman. Not as a pretend priest.

  5. CarpeNoctem says:

    I absolutely hate the “presider” language also.

    I think I finally got people to see that “presider” is a lame term form the priest-celebrant by pointing out that it is possible for a bishop to “preside” while another priest “celebrates” Mass. To reduce the whole question to mere functionality, which is the higher function? Without a priest celebrating, there would be no Mass for the bishop to “preside” at. Thus, the best way to distinguish the unique function of the priest at Mass is that of the “celebrant”, rather than the “presider”.

    Think of it in terms of flying on an airline: I do not want simply a “responsible person in charge of the airplane” on the flight deck, I want a “pilot” flying.

    The other point I have made hay with is why we don’t have the term “co-presider” to mimic “concelebrant”? I think concelebrating priests being called “co-presiders” sounds much, much more “clerical” (that is, in the negative connotation of power struggles, undue attention, and the formality of respect for an office) than the alternative. To be a “presidential body” might actually appear to rob the laity of their rightful role at the Mass. Heck, to the other side of the argument, to be a mere “co-presider” might also appear to place priests “outside the circle” of what happens between “the priest” and “the people” and makes their role even more murky, if not totally surpurfluous… which seems to say that they would be better off “participating” as the laity do, rather than “co-presiding”.

    And then… would you be “co-presiding” when you attend “in choir” or only when you are concelebrating?

    –Fr. “CN”

  6. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Also, I think we should call what goes on “Mass” rather than just “liturgy”.\\

    In the Byzantine tradition, the Eucharistic Sacrifice IS called the Divine Liturgy. [Thank you for that perspective from the Eastern side.]

    Other Eastern Catholic Churches use this name as well.

    While the preside of the Eucharist is always a presbyter or bishop, the Divine Office of the Western Rite allows someone not in orders, even a woman, to be the presider, properly called hebdomadarius. This happens in monasteries and other religious communities all the time.

  7. Faith says:

    Fr. Z,
    I laughed/was offended by “most “lectors” in parishes don’t know their Ashur from their Eldad”. As a lector I AM given a piece of paper to read from. Do you think I’d be reprimanded for saying “celebrant,” instead of “presider?”
    If I were, maybe a discussion would result. So I think I will change the “presider.” [Let us know how that goes.]

  8. RichR says:

    I like what Bishop Gregory Aymond told his previous diocese (Austin) when speaking on priestly vocations:

    “No priest, no Mass. It’s as simple as that.”

    Austin is doing well with vocations, BTW.

  9. Jordanes says:

    Not only is “presider” unworthy language for a priest offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but it’s not even good English. The word is not “presider” — it’s “president.” “Presider” sounds like a inert piece of furniture. A “president” is someone with actual authority and responsibility.

  10. Sliwka says:

    Fr Basil,

    I think where the distinction between lower case “l” liturgy and Upper Case “L” Divine Liturgy (or the Mass) comes into play is that a Marriage that takes place outside the context of the Mass or Divine Liturgy (of Matins, or and number of liturgical acts that are not THE Liturgy) is still a liturgy, but is not on th same scale of importance in terms of what happens.

  11. VetusMores says:

    I was thinking the same thing as Jordanes: It’d be one thing if he were referred to as the “presiding priest,” but “presider”? Sounds like something our previous, er, President would say. [Which brings another point: Why on earth does there have to be some long-winded introduction “Good morning… blah blah blah… todays liturgy blah blah is on page blah of the blah blah. Our presider is …. blah blah blah…” For the love of God, how about some peace.]

  12. Fr. Basil: true, “Divine Liturgy” refers to the August Sacrifice of the altar. But when the word “liturgy” is persistently used to the exclusion of the word “Mass” in the Latin rite, it is a sign that watering down is going on. I’ve never been able to understand this, and I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why, but I have noticed that usage among dissident Catholics.

    JMody: I think the watering down of the distinction is deliberate. There are people who are foolish enough to want and even like a priest shortage, pursuant to this theory that this is supposed to be the “golden age of the laity,” where the laity are supposed to step in and take over functions hitherto reserved for priests. It really amounts to a belittling of the laity, as Father points out.

    This creeping secularization and bureaucratization in the Church is quite widespread. The year I became a postulant in the Third Order of St. Dominic, there was a movement afoot to make chapters forego the use of religious-sounding titles for chapter council members (“president” or “moderator” instead of prior; “vice-president” instead of subprior, etc.). We opposed this, not only because taking away our free choice in the matter went against the democratic traditions of the Order, but especially because we felt strongly about maintaining our Catholic and Dominican identity. I am glad to report that my chapter is still headed by a prioress and a subprioress.

  13. Frank H says:

    This whole discussion makes me very glad that my parish doesn’t do all that introductory routine by a reader/Lector. The priest and servers ring a bell, the cantor announces the song, and the entrance procession begins. Sometimes a visiting priest might introduce himself.

  14. Gregorius says:

    I also dislike when Holy Mass is referred to as a “Celebration of the Eucharist”. It reminds me of how the Anglicans speak. I can always tell that a church is Catholic when it lists “Mass Times:” on its bulliten board.

  15. Catherine says:

    In my former parish, of which I was a member for thirty years, the term came to be “presiding celebrant,” which drove me crazy. It sounded so Protestant. It seemed to reduce the true meaning of the priest’s role in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

    By the way, Gregorius, I left that parish to join an Anglican-use Roman Catholic parish, in which there is no mistaking the terms used. It is so much more reverent and focused on the true meaning of the Mass that I often weep during the Mass. It is 100% Catholic, and there are no lectors.

  16. kallman says:

    The term “presider” belongs in the liturgical trash can, along with “welcomer”, “extraordinary minister”, “greeter”, and all the other such syncretic neologisms. What is wrong with terms such as ostarius, lector, exorcista, acolytha, subdeacon,deacon, priest (celebrant)?

  17. Sixupman says:

    My stomach churns when have to endure a Celebrant ‘presiding’ sat with his back to the Tabernacle! As a matter of exigency, I had to got to Mass at my parish church last evening, even more Protestant than when I last crossed the portals some twelve months ago. Usually I trave to a normal priest, not one who attacks the Pope, the Magisterium, et al.

  18. Central Valley says:

    I had a similar experience today when I was unable to attend mass in the Extraordinary Form and had to go to a back up parish. Why does it even matter who the priest is that is offering Mass? What matters is that the priest is a validly ordained priest with faculties in the diocese. The whole introduction thing of the priest and congregants is sooooo 70’s and outdated. This is high on the list of reasons to attend mass in the Extraodrdinary Form if you can.

  19. vivaldi says:

    At least you don’t have to put up with glass chalices and the priest making up his own Eucharistic prayers….this Priest is also a Vocations Director for a large Diocese!!!!

  20. vivaldi: If that is the case, then your concerns should be brought to the attention of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

  21. Gaz says:

    I think you’re right about terminology. Our Bishop has graciously been present in choir dress for the Extraordinary Form in recent years. I dropped him a note suggesting he might take a step up to “presiding” (I meant in cope and mitre) but I think he misunderstood me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m really grateful for His Lordship’s support.

  22. gilisme says:

    We pray and beg the Holy Father (The Pope of Unity) will restore all the true traditional Catholic Orders, sacraments, traditions, the Mass of the Ages, and file away the “Pastoral” VII council to basement 3 of the Vatican, and restore the true one. holy, catholic and apostolic church (EENS) away from the protestant Pope Paul VI oecumenical mess. Pray for us St. Peter.

  23. To be fair, Justin Martyr said “president”; but he was trying to use terms that Romans could understand in terms of various pagan Roman religious and burial societies that held religious dinners and ceremonies. (And were entirely legal and unpersecuted.)

    Re: spiel, we used to have a long one at our parish, but now it’s down to “Today is the X Sunday in Y. Our opening song is….” That’s all you need.

    (Especially if the cantor tends to forget the spiel. Especially if the cantor is nearsighted, and can’t see what the heck priest is standing in back. Priests don’t like you making a misidentification or misremembering their names if they’re visiting priests. Nothing like honest sincere doomerazels like me to make the uselessness of long spiels evident. And I really did try, but two paragraphs of spiel is too much for human ability.)

  24. greasemonkey says:

    Gaz, when a prelate is present in the sanctuary for Mass celebrated by a lesser cleric that IS properly called presiding. There are different degrees of presiding in the Pontificale Romanum. There is a difference between presiding AND celebrating. So your bishop did, in fact, “preside” over the Extraordinary Form. You were making a request that he “celebrate” the Extraordinary Form. Another reson to correct our use of “preside”.

    Regarding the praying of Mass…. I pray it word for word with the celebrant (not presider!) using my hand missal. I think this is what P. Pius X wanted, and it makes good sence. One prays the Mass, using the texts of the Mass. Obviously it would be poor sence the pray these texts out loud, giving the external sign that the community is confecting the sacrament, etc….

  25. Gail F says:

    Sr. Anita said: “There are people who are foolish enough to want and even like a priest shortage, pursuant to this theory that this is supposed to be the “golden age of the laity,” where the laity are supposed to step in and take over functions hitherto reserved for priests. It really amounts to a belittling of the laity, as Father points out.”

    This is so true, and it is exactly the opposite of what should be happening, IMHO. I think this is indeed an important time for the laity, but the laity ought to be helping the priests, not trying to be them. With so few priests, it’s silly to expect them all to be great administrators, finance directors, and so forth — this is where the laity can really come in, to do these secular jobs under the direction of their priests, so that the priests can do their primary job. People stepping up to the plate and handling these non-priestly jobs honors the dignity of the laity, and allows them to participate in the work of the ordained by letting the priests concentrate on their priestly role. Instead, it seems that a great many people want the priest’s primary job! It shows that they don’t value their own role at all.

    Our parish had some sort of “commissioning” prayer for everyone this weekend. It was very trendy and included people with various “ministries” standing up until the priest got to the “ministry of the assembly” and everyone was standing up! Oh joy! Then the “prayers of the faithful” were said for all these different ministries, including the “ministry of the presiders.” I don’t know who writes this stuff in our parish, but I do think it is more a case of jargon heard in various seminars and publications rather than a deliberate attempt to usurp the “presider’s” throne. Sadly it ends up the same. The only good thing was that we weren’t asked to extend our hands in the Nazi-like salute and “bless” everybody.

  26. Gail F says:

    As far as the term “liturgy” goes, it is not used by Catholics the way it is used by Orthodox, and it is quite deliberately used to dumb down the mass — here is the drill: “The word liturgy means ‘work of the people,’ so everything we do is liturgy.” I was taught this in a class on sacramental theology, not in a one-hour seminar somewhere. By this reasoning (and BTW, the derivation of the word is correct) you can claim that everything we do in church is an equal liturgy, with the mass being just one thing among many. I do not think that the theologians who originally pushed this idea meant that interpretation, I think they were excited by the idea that other liturgies are also important. But it is a word to look out for when you want to figure out people’s underlying theology. Often people who throw the word “liturgy” around don’t think that the mass is anything special.

  27. Sam Schmitt says:

    As to the question of the people offering the sacrifice of the Mass “with” the priest (different than “praying the Eucharistic Prayer with the priest”), see Pius XII’s encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy “Mediator Dei,” nos. 80-104, esp. no. 93:

    “Now it is clear that the faithful offer the sacrifice by the hands of the priest from the fact that the minister at the altar, in offering a sacrifice in the name of all His members, represents Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body. Hence the whole Church can rightly be said to offer up the victim through Christ. But the conclusion that the people offer the sacrifice with the priest himself is not based on the fact that, being members of the Church no less than the priest himself, they perform a visible liturgical rite; for this is the privilege only of the minister who has been divinely appointed to this office: rather it is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise, impetration, expiation and thanksgiving with prayers or intention of the priest, even of the High Priest himself, so that in the one and same offering of the victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite, they may be presented to God the Father.”

  28. thereseb says:

    Gail F

    I was so perturbed by what you described being taught that I checked here, where the issue is covered in context.


    It seems to be the usual case of the usual suspects cherry-picking the bits of history that support their case.

    Of course if you were to point out that none of the medieval or later visionaries, or any approved apparition tells us that the Roman Rite is wrong or defective over the last millenium – and that therefore god is presumably quite happy that we are not agape-ing away with our presiders….you would probably find out their views on apparitions, miracles, and approved visions are ………of a piece with their views on the liturgy.

  29. thereseb says:

    Sorry – God should of course have a capital letter

  30. irishgirl says:

    Father Z, you are so ‘spot on’! I can’t add anything else!

  31. Fr. Basil says:

    \\ I can always tell that a church is Catholic when it lists “Mass Times:” on its bulliten board.\\

    Some C of E, Epicopal, and Lutheran churches use the term “mass” as well.

  32. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    In “Spirit of the Liturgy”, Cardinal Ratzinger makes an interesting note regarding the term “actuosa participatio”, typically translated in English as “active participation”. He says it refers to participation in the “Actio”, which is a not-so-old name for the Roman Canon. He does not come out and say that the laity should pray it concurrently with the priest, but since reading this, that is what I have been doing when I attend mass. I find that prayer is a much more fulfilling form of participation than the stand-up, sit-down, hit-your-marks, say-your-lines kind of stuff I’ve been taught to do.

  33. Gail F says:

    Thereseb: Yes, it is disturbing, isn’t it? The people we read were Schelebeecx (sp?) and Vorgrimler (whose sacramental theology textbook is a standard in seminaries). The idea was the old “this is the way the patristic Church did it” which of course it isn’t.

    I simplified when I said that the word “liturgy” isn’t used the way it is in the Orthodox church, which uses the term “Divine Liturgy” for what we call “mass.” Mass is of course the liturgy par excellance, and there are various rites, but other things are also liturgies.

    Thankfully, there is now a new professor teaching this subject. Not all of us in the class bought this stuff, by any means, but a lot of the students thought it was great and — what surprised me — a lot of people didn’t see what difference it made how you thought about liturgy! I barely made it through that class, but in the end I was glad I took it because it helped me see where a lot of strange ideas have come from.

  34. Andrew says:

    The term “presider” and “to preside” and also “presidential prayers” is all over the IGMR (Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani). It seems very appropriate to refer to the celebrating priest as “the presider”. There are too many references to list, but here is a sample of three:
    27. In Missa seu Cena dominica populus Dei in unum convocatur, sacerdote PRAESIDE
    32. Natura partium «PRAESIDENTIALIUM» exigit ut clara et elata voce proferantur et ab omnibus cum attentione auscultentur.
    93. Etiam presbyter … populo fideli congregato PRAEEST, eius orationi PRAESIDET …

  35. pattif says:

    My understanding of the use of the word ‘presider’ is that is deliberately intended to replace the description of the priest as ‘celebrant’; the latter term is properly (according to the liturgy police) to be applied to the ‘assembly’. This same school of thought would hold that the ‘presider’ and the ‘celebrants’ properly pray the Eucharistic Prayer together, and that the transubstantiation (insofar as that word is retained) is effected, not by the priest saying the words of institution, but by the ‘celebrants’ pronouncing the Great Amen.

    A few years ago, some English bishops were deploring the ‘multiplication’ of Sunday Masses, calling for a single Parish Sunday Eucharist. It is hard to think of anything more Protestant-sounding. Increasingly, the expression Eucharistic celebration seems to be used as a replacement for the word Mass, for what reason one dreads to think.

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