QUAERITUR: How to tell priests you don’t want concelebration.

From a reader:

Is there any way for the celebrant of a Mass to inform other clergy that he prefer that they NOT con-celebrate with him without offending them or seeming to be ultra-conservative or rejecting the accepted practice? Con-celebration seems to be obligatory whenever clergy are invited for a celebration. Attendance in choir dress seems to be non-existent.

You have come, perhaps, to the wrong corner for advice about anything having to do with concelebration.

WDTPRS thinks that concelebration should be safe, legal and rare.

Or maybe that is why you are asking me…. hmmm…

In any event, I think it is very hard for you to say anything, especially if you …

a) are not the locum tenens,
b) have not put it about ahead of time that there will be no concelebration,
c) are in a circle where the priests rush every altar, lemming-like, in their shapeless off-white moo-moos and finger-painted stoles no matter how many Masses they have already (con)celebrated that same day, so that they can stare about in fraternity with as little attention to this Mass as any other that they have …. okay… I am ranting.

If you aren’t the pastor of the place, or the guy who calls the shots, I think you have to keep your mouth shut and permit it. Even if you are the guy in charge, you probably have to permit it.  In some circumstances you have to invite it as well (funerals, for instance – it is simply expected by priests these days).

Similarly, you could, when notes are sent around about a Mass, indicate that there will be no concelebration.  Instead, come in cassock and surplice with biretta (stoles to be provided for communicating priests).  That ought to make some of them scratch their heads.  And it won’t win friends.

I suppose you could make a little speech, if you dare, about how concelebration is not foreseen at this Mass.  If any priest has not said Mass or has no other occasion, you would be happy to set up afterward and serve the Masses for the priests who otherwise would not have the opportunity.  I think such a speech would be met with confused and unhappy stares.

If you are worried about keeping the rubrics tidy, without the usual interlopers milling about, you could sequester concelebrants near, but not at, the altar.

This is all quite awkward.  There are good reasons to concelebrate.  There are good reasons not to have it.  I will not discount the reason of convenience.  Plainly, if you have a whole bunch of priests in one place, it is concelebration is convenient.  If you are a guest and the locum tenens isn’t inclined to help you out, well… concelebrate with a good attitude and smile.

You are going to be up against a certain mentality.

Even quite sensible priests, priests who ought to know better, have strange ideas about concelebration.  They would even constrain or look down on, or even gossip about, priests who for one reason or another chose not to.  I remember an occasion when I accompanied an old priest to a large Mass and he had the intention of being in choir without concelebrating.  One person after another harangued him and badgered him him, trying to get him to go along with everyone else, until he finally leaned in and said into one importunate fellow’s vacant face “I’m in the state of moral sin.”   That shut him up.

Anyway, this is an uphill battle

It is going to take a while to move away from the lemming-like approach to concelebration.  Young priests will be taking over soon.  They are more flexible and far less ideological.

To be clear, if I am with a group of priests, for example, in a fraternal setting such as an annual meeting of a priests’ group I belong to, I am okay with concelebration.  Holy Thursday, most ordinations, some occasions with the local bishop or one’s own bishop, funerals of priests …

Safe, legal and rare.

Very hard to do this, friend.  Very hard to say to a priest he can’t concelebrate in the Ordinary Form.

Perhaps priest readers…. priests mind you… have some suggestions.  I frankly have zero interest in the opinions of lay people insofar as this question is concerned.  This is priest stuff.  Lay people: don’t bother commenting.  Really.  You can eavesdrop.  That includes seminarians and deacons.  Bishops and priests only.  Some priests will want to defend concelebration.  Okaaaaaay… if you must.  Yes, we know that Eastern Catholic priests concelebrate.

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  1. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Simple answer: no. I don’t believe there is any way of disinviting priests to concelebrate without offending them, and in some cases, causing enduring rancor and enmity.

    If you are at the side altar of a church, at your own private Mass, fine, no big deal. In the reformed liturgy, however, if you are at a public celebration of Mass, at the main altar of the parish, and you tell visiting priests not to concelebrate, you are a horse’s rear end, plain and simple. Priests regard concelebration as one of those tell-tale signs that a priest doesn’t mind fraternity–that he is hospitable to brother priests and is willing to manifest the unity of the priesthood. Not to mention that some priest will see it as their only opportunity to offer Mass that day without grave inconvenience to their schedule or needs.

    If you show up to a gathering and say that you do not want to concelebrate, that is fine. If you are offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form, that is fine also, as most priests understand that form has very different rubrics. However, if you are the main celebrant in the OF, you are expected to allow concelebration, whether you like it or not.

    I have seen concelebration forbidden in two events that I recall. One, a convent of feminist, pro-abort, man-hating nuns quite clearly stated at one celebration that priests were not to concelebrate because it was enough patriarchy and male domination to have one priest on the altar (I’m not kidding). Another example was at a particular college where the priest in charge of the chapel Masses forbade concelebration because he said he needed to teach priests that saying Mass every day was not important (again, I’m not kidding).

    As a matter of a separate discussion, I’m not sure how you would defend such a disinvite by way of theological premise or liturgical justification. I personally am not impressed with the theological arguments I have heard, as they would necessarily preclude concelebration period, in all cases, if you take them to their logical conclusions. Most priests resort to “custom” or “Tradition” without necessarily having a theological grasp of what custom or Tradition is.

  2. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Fr. Z, I do not wish to imply that you have not presented good reasons for offering Mass individually, of your own volition. Rather, what I am saying is that I am not convinced of the theological reasons I have heard for forbidding brother priests to concelebrate with you at a parish celebration if they show up and wish to do this.

  3. Fr. Sotelo: Thanks for chiming in. It would indeed be a very awkward thing to say to priests – under normal circumstances – that they cannot concelebrate an Ordinary Form Mass. So awkward that it is hard to imagine doing it.

  4. Random Friar says:

    I will sometimes concelebrate. However, unless it is a conventual Mass, I always ask, and give the priest a graceful way out to say “no.”

  5. Random Friar: Right. This needs some flexibility in both directions, regardless of which side of the question you stand on.

  6. Fr Z: About 15 years ago, our bishop decided he was sick and tired of seeing all kinds of bizarre BILLBOARD stoles (the kind that advertize an ideology rather than edify one’s Catholic faith) and moo-moo albs. So he purchased simple but elegant concelebration chasubles and stoles for the entire presbyterate. We did not yet have those when I was ordained and I vividly remember knowing who each priest was at the imposition of hands by his stole and its decoration (and material substance). You knew who was on the right and who was on the left by their stole and alb. A FEW wore their cassock under their (lace) alb with an amice, cincture and silk stole (with fringe). SOME others wore the infamous VELCRO Alb without any amice or cincture and a huge, thick stole with more verbiage on it that symbols, and usually stuff like JESUS LOVES YOU or DE COLORES. The rest wore everything in between. Now, there is more propriety and good taste as we process into church as a presbyterate and all look alike as brother priests just as bishops do when they process behind us.

    One way of discouraging concelebration is to alert and inform clergy beforehand (and post in the sacristy) that Mass is celebrated AD ORIENTEM and the Eucharistic Prayer is said in LATIN. You would be surprised how many priests will mysteriously not show up for that Mass. Some do not like AD ORIENTEM and others do not know (or can even properly pronounce) the Latin of the Roman Canon.

    Other than that, if a priest were to refuse a visiting priest who has faculties (and even a celebret) he may get into hot water with the local chancery if not the local Ordinary himself. I may be wrong, but I do not think a priest has the canonical or liturgical authority to refuse concelebration at a Mass in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite if the other clergy are properly vested and have faculties and proper ID. The diocesan bishop may proscribe it, but I don’t think the pastor can. I have had situations in the past where priests mysteriously show up at funerals. They show their credentials (if out of the diocese) and have their white stoles. Some make a face when they see me wearing purple or black vestments, but I am the celebrant of that Mass and pastor of the parish, not them.

    One final note. While some may not like it (de gustibus non disputandum est), I enjoy the annual Mass for Life the night before and the day of the March for Life which is celebrated in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The evening Mass sometimes has a THOUSAND priests, hundred deacons, at least fifty bishops and about 500 or more seminarians. You would be surprised how many young men entertain the idea of a priestly vocation seeing all those priests concelebrate Mass. The sacred liturgy is celebrated with reverence and elegant dignity (can’t say the same for other Masses celebrated that same day elsewhere). All the priests wear the same chasuble and stole. Yet, I have been to other places and occasions where the priests just wear albs and stoles and it becomes a political or ideological advertizing event and the venue is often not sacred ground. I do admit, however, you make a very good point with sound argument.

  7. Father G says:

    As a priest in a religious order, concelebration is a common practice, usually if there are visiting confreres staying at the parish or at province gatherings or during the annual retreat. Certainly, it would not look well for me if I were to ask a fellow confrere not to concelebrate with me.

    P.S: The top photo of concelebrating priests is from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in the archdiocese of Los Angeles. I see some priests that I know.

  8. Random Friar says:

    black.biretta: See http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/concelebration.shtml

    “Visiting priests should be gladly welcomed to Eucharistic concelebration, as long as their priestly standing is ascertained…

    The whole scandal and subsequent reaction of some ordinaries has made it so that if you go to another diocese, it is almost like the old days: you had better give your credentials ahead of time, complete with where you expect to celebrate/concelebrate, or you may well be denied.

    That said, I still believe it to be good manners to allow the host priest the option out. He should welcome me, I guess, but if not, I am not going to demand or insist on a reason as a guest.

    @Fr_Sotelo: I’ve run into that situation more than a few times. I have been sorely tempted to push the issue, but thought better than to make a political statement in the Mass itself (which again, might put my host in a very difficult situation).

  9. Frater Raphael says:

    Dear Fathers,
    I do not enjoy concelebration, or being forced to concelebrate either, and quite by the bye, I do not think that it is healthy for the spiritual life of a priest not to celebrate a mass completely most days. However, as a religious priest, I cannot ´celebrate a conventual mass without there being concelebration.
    One good way, if one is invited to celebrate in a parish, or hospital etc., is simply to say that as a monk one always sings the orations and the preface/canon. Luckily for me in both the latin Missal and the German version there is notation for both the prefaces and the canon. My experience is that most saecular priests would rather not concelebrate than sing the mass, and if they do concelebrate than mostly they prefer me to sing everything alone whilst they quietly concelebrate.
    Thus we all end up singing/ saying the whole mass and I can be sure to follow all the rubrics faithfully.

    To ask one not to concelebrate, would be considered extremely insulting here in central Europe.
    Father Raphael (OCist)

  10. Fr Martin Fox says:

    As a parish pastor, concelebration doesn’t occur that often: confirmation, first communion, and some funerals. I would like to revive the practice of a priest attending Mass in choir, and I’ve thought about doing it myself one of these days; but I wonder if it wouldn’t be confusing to folks–why is father sitting way over there?

    I don’t see any way to refuse the request of a priest wishing to concelebrate without coming across very rude. I suspect the bishop would back up a priest who did refuse, but it would not go over well.

    Let me ask the other priests this question. Some priests are accustomed to attending Mass in the fashion of the laity, and this is inappropriate. When I think a priest is planning to be at a Mass, but may attend in that fashion, I have suggested he concelebrate. Until such time as attending in choir is revived, which is less bad? Concelebration, or a priest sitting the pew at Mass?

    It would be helpful if the bishop led the way in reviving “in choir.” Otherwise it will come very slowly.

  11. Random Friar says:

    robtbrown: #6 and 7 are not exclusive. A concelebrating priest acts in persona Christi as a concelebrant, offering the Most Holy Sacrifice.

    It might sound vulgar, but let’s bring money into this. Canon Law is very strict about Mass stipends. That a concelebrating is able to receive a stipend clearly points to at least what the mind of the lawgiver (the Holy Father) intends and teaches. If you wish to argue that it is not as clear and obvious a symbol, I might grant you that, but it remains that the (concelebrating) priest is acting as a priest offering the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  12. PaterAugustinus says:

    For what it’s worth, we Orthodox find it odd that the example of Eastern concelebration is introduced to defend the (modernist) approach to concelebration in Catholicism.

    For the most part, in the Orthodox Church a priest never presumes that he will concelebrate with another priest; he waits to be invited to concelebration. If he is not invited, he does not feel slighted, as though he were somehow entitled to a concelebration. Perhaps that’s the first thing that Catholicism should do: simply publish the notion, far and wide, that concelebration should no longer be the presumed norm. It is better for a priest to wait to be invited, and not to pressure or ask to concelebrate in a parish/monastery other than his own. Moreover, we also have the tradition of the priest as Alter Christus, and so “concelebration” in the Orthodox Liturgy essentially means sharing the Litanies and other mainly diaconal roles amongst the “concelebrants.” The main celebrant is the only one who reads the Anaphora.

    Finally, while a priest visiting a parish will almost certainly be invited to concelebrate, concelebrations of large amounts of clergy would be comparatively rare even in this set of circumstances. This is all the more true in monastic settings. At our monastery, even when multiple priests are visiting, the tendency is to invite visiting priests to be the sole celebrants for some of the days of their visit. Frequently at the monastery, a visiting priest – even a married parish priest – would be the sole celebrant for a weekday Divine Liturgy. The Eastern Churches have a different tradition about the priestly duty of daily celebration, and so this helped to share the load of liturgical duties. This rule was only broken, generally speaking, when the bishop was present. With the bishop, concelebration was usually the norm – though, once or twice the bishop himself preferred to celebrate the Liturgy more or less as a simple priest (i.e., without all of the Hierarchical rubrics and without any concelebrants, deacons, etc.).

    Fr. Augustine

  13. Joe in Canada says:

    I don’t offer patens and chalices around at the Doxology, and I stare at them if they go to venerate the altar at the end. Usually they don’t invite themselves back. I agree, it is very difficult to avoid concelebrants nicely.
    It is easier to avoid it, even belonging to a religious order. I am at the point where I pretty much only concelebrate funerals. I have been ordered to concelebrate at the Chrism Mass, which is awful.
    Equally difficult for me is being invited to be the main celebrant by a pastor who will concelebrate (if I am preaching or giving a mission), and who will then start interfering with my duties whilst I am performing them. Usually he doesn’t know the red.

  14. Reminder: I am inviting in this instance comments from priests only.

  15. mpolo says:

    I was invited to attend a Mass here in the area, but then told I could not celebrate, and could not participate in choir dress either. I declined the invitation…

    The tradition of my religious congregation is to have priests present in choir dress for most feast days, saving concelebration for the the most important liturgically or in the congregation. Essentially all of the priests celebrate Mass privately before or after the community Mass when we attend in choir.

  16. sgtjohn says:

    I know we’re talking moreso tactfulness and not so much legality, but perhaps a discussion of the canons my be helpful. I don’t have the 83 code right in front of me, but if I’m not mistaken a celebrant may never forbid another priest from concelebrating, so I would think that says something about the mind of the Church. Additionally, I believe the canons prohibit a priest from saying a Mass by himself when a concelebrated Mass is simultaneously taking place in the same church. So you could have several one-priest Masses going on at the same time in the same church, but as soon as even one of them involves even just one concelebrant, a priest is prohibited from saying a Mass by himself at that same church at that same time. Of course, this doesn’t really address a situation in which a concelebration is occurring in the Ordinary Form and another priest wants to celebrate an Extraordinary Form Mass. What then? Must he wait for the concelebration to finish/go elsewhere? A very hypothetical situation, I know.

  17. robtbrown says:

    Apologies to Fr Z for insinuating myself into a thread for priests. This will be my last comments on this matter.

    Random Friar says:

    robtbrown: #6 and 7 are not exclusive. A concelebrating priest acts in persona Christi as a concelebrant, offering the Most Holy Sacrifice.

    I never said they were exclusive. The point was that #7 doesn’t follow from #6, even though the word “therefore” was used. The (false) assumption of the document was that the choice was between a priest concelebrating or merely attending mass as a layman–it ignores the possibility of celebrating privately.

    Of course, so many of the auxiliary altars have been taken out–incl. those at the Angelicum.

    It might sound vulgar, but let’s bring money into this. Canon Law is very strict about Mass stipends. That a concelebrating is able to receive a stipend clearly points to at least what the mind of the lawgiver (the Holy Father) intends and teaches. If you wish to argue that it is not as clear and obvious a symbol, I might grant you that, but it remains that the (concelebrating) priest is acting as a priest offering the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    1. Canon Law is only as good as the theology behind it. That there are problems with certain canons in the new code (e.g., 230, 276, et al) is no surprise–the code can only be as good as the theology behind it.

    2. I resisted bringing up the matter of stipends, but canon law finesses the matter of concelebration by saying that a stipend is given for a priest’s intention. Previously, such a principle assumed that it would be ONE priest’s intention at ONE mass. With concelebration, however, the parameters have changed–it’s many priests intentions at one mass.

    3. I had hoped that the Cardinal Wright example would make obvious that the benefits of mass are not merely be considered subjectively (acc to the intention of the offerer and the receivers) but also to the objectively (the Sacramental Sacrifice, which re-presents Christ’s Passion).

    4. That having been said, even considered subjectively, there are questions whether a concelebrated mass disposes the affections (in the wide sense) of a concelebrant as well as an individually celebrated mass.

  18. Random Friar says:

    robtbrown: The “therefore” may not be totally clear, but in this context I think it’s fine, simply because the document is focused solely on concelebration (4. This document is limited to questions directly pertaining to Eucharistic concelebration.) . This document is not meant to address private Masses (and I think it would encourage numerous Masses by different priests, if possible, to meet the needs of the Faithful.) That is dealt with more elsewhere.

    As for point 2., I would say that parameter is not theologically exclusive. You can argue the pastoral “side-effects” of such, but it is still permissible.

    It is my understanding that the stipend is for the priest (con)celebrating the Mass. And I don’t think we’ve fully hashed this out theologically, but at the same time, it is not invalid, not in the sacramental sense, but in the sense of the application of the stipend for each priestly intention. This could be an interesting discussion on grace, but that would be a rabbit hole here the size of Krakatoa.

    I would personally say that concelebration is probably done too often, and perhaps beyond what the Council Fathers envisioned, but that all said and done it is still permissible. If a priest is only concelebrating, then I think we might inquire why.

  19. robtbrown says:

    Random Friar,

    Rather than respond individually to your comments (most of which I’ve already addressed), I’ll simply mention that permissions are not in dispute here (remember that the bishops had the permission to ruin their own seminaries) and note the following:

    The push for concelebration came from Karl Rahner, who in the 50’s was told not to write about it anymore. It is based on his typically equivocal phrase describing the Eucharist: One Sacrifice, Many masses.

    If concelebration hasn’t been addressed theologically, it might be because those opposed to it were ostracized (or worse): The highly regarded Piolanti was fired for opposing it.

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