Safe, legal and rare

For two summers in Rome I lived with Ukrainian Catholics.  They had their Divine Liturgy each morning and I attended.  They appreciated the contribution of my bass singing voice.  

One of the things I noticed in their Rite that was so different from our Roman way of doing things was the concelebration of all the priests in the house.

Frequent concelebration is not Roman.  

This is one of the reasons why I say constantly that concelebration should be “safe, legal and rare”.

There was a near mania for concelebration for a while.  Many were the times when great pressure was put on me not to say my own Mass daily, but rather to concelebrate.  I even got pressure and criticism from a priest “friend” who ought to have known better. (No, I haven’t forgotten.)

I note with interest that the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Antonio Card. Cañizares Llovera recently commented on concelebration:

“[C]oncelebration, in the genuine tradition of the Church, whether eastern or western, is an extraordinary, solemn and public rite, normally presided over by the Bishop or his delegate, surrounded by his presbyterium and by the entire community of the faithful. But the daily concelebrations of priests only … do not form part of the Latin liturgical tradition.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. APX says:

    I don’t know if i necessarily agree with the aforementioned. I think sometimes because of the sheer number of priests, concelebration is more of a disruption that takes away from the solemnity

    The last time I was at a Mass that was concelebrated was at the ordinations last year. It was ridiculous. Literally every priest in the diocese piled into the sanctuary (which was too small for everyone) and everyone of them read a part from EP#1. Because there wasn’t enough room for them to move easily they had to rearrange themselves to let each priest get to the Missal in order to read a few lines. It was absolutely distracting.

  2. wmeyer says:

    “I think sometimes because of the sheer number of priests, concelebration is more of a disruption that takes away from the solemnity”

    APX, I think that is what Fr. Z was suggesting.

  3. Further, from Card. Cañizares’ paper:

    As Benedict XVI stated: “I join the Synod Fathers in recommending ‘the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present’. This recommendation is consistent with the objectively infinite value of every celebration of the Eucharist, and is motivated by the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness. If celebrated in a faith-filled and attentive way, Mass is formative in the deepest sense of the word, since it fosters the priest’s configuration to Christ and strengthens him in his vocation.”

    For each priest, the celebration of the Holy Mass is the reason for his existence. It is, it must be, an entirely personal encounter with the Lord and with his redemptive work. At the same time, each priest, in the celebration of the Eucharist, is Christ himself present in the Church as Head of his body; and he also acts in the name of the whole Church “when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice”. (emphasis added)

    It seems that the Holy Father implicitly is recommending that every priest celebrate Mass individually–a private Mass, if necessary–contrary to the common practice of all priests in residence concelebrating, as is common practice in parishes with multiple priests but only one scheduled daily Mass.

  4. PaterAugustinus says:

    In the Orthodox Church, there is also the understanding that the priest stands in the place of Christ and offers the Sacrifice as an Icon of the Lord, and so concelebrations should be rare, and should not obscure the clarity of the main celebrant’s unique role. A lot of Orthodox theology is currently under attack from revisionists within the Church, who essentially seek to combat “Latin influence,” whether it exists on a given topic or not. As a result, many genuine parts of the Orthodox patrimony are being re-labelled as products of “Latin influence,” and the durned fools become enemies of Catholic, Orthodox and Apostolic Tradition in their quest against it.

    We had several priests at my first monastery, and for almost all Liturgies, there was but one celebrant; we only had concelebrations when the bishop came, or when special occasions (such as great feast days) had attracted some visiting priests. And, contrary to the innovative abuses I have observed in many Antiochian parishes, the concelebrating priests are NOT all supposed to read the anaphora together. One priest is supposed to stand out as the main celebrant – in the person of Christ – and he should pray all the major prayers, ceding lesser parts of the service (like the deacons’ litanies) to other priests in turn. The order of the shared parts (and of communion) goes in order of seniority – i.e., all celibate priests (usually, but not always monastics) first, and then married priests, with each group observing their internal orders of seniority.

  5. acardnal says:

    @APX: I think you misunderstand Fr. Z’s sentiments and you actually concur.

    If my memory serves me correctly, prior to the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae in 1969, concelebration was not permitted in the TLM missal/rubrics of 1963 or perhaps only in exceptional circumstances. I am please to learn that the CDW is reminding the bishops and priests that concelebration is not part of the Latin church’s liturgical tradition.

  6. Nicole says:

    It seems like for the last 500 years it’s been “all the rage” to “easternize” the Latins… :)

    I, personally, have seen a LOT of concelebration since moving to Kansas, but NEVER saw it in the parish I attended in Michigan. But then again we had such a drastic priest shortage in Michigan at the time, that I’m really not surprised.

  7. PaterAugustinus says:

    It just occurred to me – what I said above was not intended to be a disparagement of the Antiochian Archdiocese in any way. I’ve seen lots of odd things popping up here and there, across all jurisdictions. Just like in Catholicism, one finds priests with oddities from their varying formative institutions or personal eccentricities. I was just saying that this particular oddity – of all concelebrating priests doing everything in chorus – is something I’ve only observed in Antiochian parishes. A couple of times, we had to explain to a visiting and concelebrating Antiochian priest, that this was not at all normal!

    I tell you, my experience at every concelebrated Liturgy has confirmed me in the notion that they should be “safe, legal and rare,” as Fr. Z so often says; priests who are otherwise good celebrants and don’t have to put their eccentricities on display when they celebrate alone, suddenly shine a bright light on every pecadillo they have as liturgists, when concelebration pops up. Some of them preen and puff up like peacocks – “archimandrites” who rule over vast swaths of square feet and shepherd monasteries with as impressively large a numer of monks as three or four, show up with their fanciest episcopal regalia and most obscure Russian paraments, asking if they should wear them as a special treat “on occasion of the concelebration.” Priests who normally only elicit eye-rolls from their parishioners when closing the anaphora with the ecstatic ejaculation of “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!” …now find themselves soliloquizing amidst eight bewildered and wondefully admiring priests, who thought the prayer had ended. And every priest feels like an altar boy again, standing around waiting for the main celebrant to expect something of him.

    So, it’s nothing against the Antiochians: these eccentricities exist everywhere; concelebrating just brings them into sharper focus. Which isn’t an argument against concelebration, but an argument for good taste and sobriety in all liturgizing.

  8. Phil_NL says:

    In fact, it never ceases to amaze me that this can still be an issue, with the priest shortage being as it is in most parts of the western world. Of course you cannot always plan things, but if there’s a somewhat stable supply of priests that can concelebrate, I’d say they can use their time better – there’s almost always a stable supply of Mass-less parishes a stone’s throw away. That would make concelebration rare anyway.

    (And it often is; the only occasions I’ve ever seen concelebration were 1. ordination anniversaries, where the priest invited 2 other priests to concelebrate in a high Mass (presumably building on a tradition that in olden times, the two priest-friends would fulfill the deacon and subdeacon parts, but now morphed into concelebration for the OF), 2. visiting priests, in which case it would be one or two weeks anyway.)

  9. Tina in Ashburn says:

    For many years I attended the Ukrainian Liturgy in the DC area, and I do not remember EVER seeing a concelebrated Mass – if it was, only one celebrant said the prayers.

    I have never understood concelebrated Mass. If there is only one set of host and chalice, who exactly consecrates? Is it the first priest who finishes the last breath of the consecration? If so, what effect do all the other priests have on the bread/body and wine/blood if the consecration has already occurred? And is this only ONE Mass being said or several separate Masses by each priest? I assume it is one Mass, because all the prayers are not said by every one of the celebrants. If I am guessing right, then why not have several separate Masses for so many needed intentions, and the separate Sacrifices with the infinite merits, so badly needed today.

    I guess I missed that explanatory class somewhere in my past LOL.

  10. Mark R says:

    I was a Byzantine rite seminarian many years ago. Concelebrated Liturgy was a daily practice, except on Sundays when the staff priests had to assist in outlying parishes. It was the best part of the day. Something only in the Byzantine rite lends itself to it. Maybe it is the square altar (ours was large) with fully vested priests (none of this alb business) 3/4 around the altar (all except the easternmost side). Of course, daily Liturgy is chanted as well.

  11. SonofMonica says:

    Every time I’ve ever seen a concelebration it’s been awkward and weird. Much prefer that the clergy dress in choir and remain seated, unless they’re going to serve as a deacon or subdeacon in the EF.

  12. frjeremiah says:

    There can sometimes be a problem where a priest has a weakened sense of the reality of the ministerial priesthood, seeing the celebrant as ‘presider’ only, and so attends Mass, like a lay person, rather than according to his state. I have been to conferences with many priests present, where no provision was made for concelebration, and certainly not for celebration of separate Masses. The expectation was that the priests just attend the Mass. If it’s going to be made more widely known that concelebration is not ideal, I hope some don’t pick up the message wrongly and think just sitting in the congregation is therefore preferable. It’s a pity side-altars have been decommissioned in so many Churches.

  13. Quaerens me sedisti lassus says:


    What are the major points of the sort of false “de-Latinizing” you mentioned? I’ve noticed when reading certain Eastern Orthodox sources that some things on which I thought East and West agreed are at least the subject of controversy. I also noticed from a particular source a strange attack on the doctrine of purgatory that seemed to entirely ignore what the doctrine was and instead took down a parody of it so warped that it may as well have come from Calvin. It would have been less alarming if this source were a random kook, but rather it was published by a parish church!

  14. Bender says:

    “safe, legal and rare”

    Hmm. Where have we heard that before? Oh, I know — abortion.

    You’re saying that concelebration of Mass is an abortion. Ha, ha.

    You know what should be even more rare — as in NEVER???

    Blasphemy by a priest. [LOL! Thanks for the laugh.]

    The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an abortion? You think that cute remark is funny?

    Time you got yourself on the other side of the confessional. [You wanna play hard ball. Okay. While I am a sinner like everyone else, and I frequently need the sacrament of penance, you, on the other hand, have probably just committed the mortal sin of rash judgment. You did it in public, though behind your cowardly “handle” and therefore it is also scandal. It is also sacrilege, because you purposely attacked a priest, who is a sacred person, in such a way as to harm him. Take that to the confessional, pal. Have a nice day! o{];¬) ]

  15. scholastica says:

    It seems concelebration has the effect of fewer masses being offered- I don’t believe there is a multiplication factor when more than one priest celebrates a particular mass.

  16. Phil_NL says:


    I’m not buying the alternative either, that God, like an accountant, would say “1 Mass, 3 concelebrants – sent 1 standard package of graces down” and “4 Masses, 4 celebrants – sent 4 standard packages of graces down”.

    Mass is Mass, and while we certainly should make our best effort, the true effort is Gods, who is not bound by our whims and errors.

  17. cwillia1 says:

    One feature of the Byzantine Rite is the standard that a priest celebrates one Divine Liturgy on any particular day and that there be one Divine Liturgy celebrated at any particular altar on a given day. It is also rare for the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated by a single priest with no people present. So side altars are not common. Concelebration seems to work better in the Byzantine Rite also. I think these factors explain why the Ukrainians concelebrated in Rome on a routine basis.

    If you take to extremes the approach that the more Masses celebrated the better , you get communities of chantry priests offering the eucharistic sacrifice as a full time job for stipends. This practice was curtailed for good reasons. The Latin practice and the Byzantine practice apply similar principles with a different emphasis and different results.

  18. cwillia1 says:


    There is a cottage industry of Eastern Catholics and Orthodox who exaggerate the differences between East and West for various reasons. Those who reject purgatory, reject the medieval popular vision of purgatory. But the current magisterium effectively does as well presenting a patristic view of what happens after death that is compatible with the teaching of the Christian East.

    The Byzantine liturgy makes it very clear that the faithful dead benefit from our prayers for them. The Byzantine Christian prays that he will live long enough to do penance for his sins in this life. Certain aspects of the medieval doctrine of purgatory, though, are repellant – the focus on punishment, the legalism, the quantification of satisfaction, the notion of purgatory as a place.

  19. dominic1955 says:


    You are taking pharisaical scandal at this, get over yourself. Also, how dare you accuse the good Father Moderator of “blasphemy”. Sounds like you need a trip to the box…

    I think Scholastica’s point was exactly the opposite of what you posted. Rahner and friends were the ones that started to pooh-pooh quantification of grace for Indulgences and Masses. Of course, Rahner, Schillebeeckx and Co. were Modernists who could hardly have been said to hold the Catholic Faith. Each Mass is of great worth, both objectively and subjectively. It only makes sense to say as many as humanly possible. I say humanly because the Church rightly curtailed the practice of saying Mass after Mass for stipends because it would seem that it would be hard for any human being not to start to hate something they have to do over and over non-stop. I know that within a month or so, I’d probably start hating Mass and not want to say another one ever!

    However, I think it is eminently reasonable to expect every priest to say his own Mass when possible and not just to have many priests all saying one Mass. A monastery in which the traditional practice is upheld will have however many Masses a day as they have priest-monks. One that doesn’t keep up the traditional practice will only have one Mass a day. Why would the Church want to strangle Herself from these Masses? It is ridiculous.

    That said, there are legitimate exceptions to this rule and it applies to the Byzantines. I applaud the practice of many of them that I have seen who celebrate a daily Divine Liturgy. When they do concelebrate, it is without the self-conscious (at least to me) way in which our Latin priests sometimes approach it-being a means of convenience, the only way to ‘be a priest’ at Mass and somesuch nonsense.


    Just a comment on Purgatory, I think this is one of those issues in which we can have legitimate disagreements. The agreement between Rome and the Ukranians pretty much says that exact thing-we agree on essentials, exactly how all this comes about is not clear and so we can agree to disagree and allow for differing opinions. The Latin Church didn’t turn on its concept of Purgatory, the Greeks misunderstood it. Purgatory (and Heaven and Hell for that matter) are not “places” as such. Imagining these “places” in a physical way are aids to piety like ikons or statues. Even though in the strictest sense this is not true, and ikons and statues are not “accurate” representations that is not really the point.

    We know this much, however. Masses and satisfactions performed on earth by the Church Militant are efficacious for the Church Suffering in purgatory.

  20. vanrooye says:

    Concelebration for me as a priest feels very much just like attending Mass “in the pews,” which is of infinite value in itself, but which is far different from the experience of offering the Mass and uttering the words of the Canon in the person of Christ the head. The abundance of concelebration seems related to a weaker sense of the value of the sacrifice of the Mass offered by the priest (I think of priests who on vacation attend a Sunday Mass rather than offering Mass privately or even concelebrated).

  21. We had a concelebrant at my Dad’s funeral recently. I invited four, and I’m not sorry about it, as two of them were Dad’s classmates from the seminary, and the other two were friends of the family with ties to the parish. So in that sense it was appropriate. What I don’t like about concelebrating in the Roman Rite, is when the role of altar server is eschewed in favor of the priests essentially taking on the acolytal roles. The result is a bunch of over-dressed altar boys who happen to be able to consecrate. It looks cheap, it looks haphazard, and it does the cause of official liturgical reform absolutely no favors.

    Concelebrants in the Eastern churches, on the other hand, generally try not to look cheap.

  22. SrMarieAugustinFCR says:

    A truly humble, contrite and very public apology would go along way toward the appeasement of Divine Justice BEFORE your trip to the box.

  23. brpaulcoleman says:

    The GIRM seems to take a more positive view of concelebration. After speaking of how concelebration is sometimes stipulated in the rite itself (e.g. at ordinations), it goes on:
    “Unless the good of the Christian faithful requires or suggests otherwise,
    concelebration is also 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.”(#199)

    As a religious priest, most of the Masses I participate in are conventual Masses, and I’ve probably been a concelebrant more often than I’ve been a presider, so I’m leaping to my own defence here, I suppose. But Fr. Z may be able to tell me that the Latin of the GIRM isn’t quite as positive about concelebration as my English translation suggests. The key word here, after all, is “recommended”.

  24. brpaulcoleman: “recommended”

    I am willing to concelebrate rarely, at, for example, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Chrism Mass, special meetings with priests.

    Hey! That sounds like the GIRM paragraph.

    Otherwise, I think it is a lousy idea. And I am a diocesan priest, so I don’t have to be concerned about the internal determinations of religious communities. You guys can do what you want.

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