Concerning concelebration

At his excellent blog, Mutual Enrichment, Fr. Hunwicke has a few posts about concelebration.


Pope Innocent III on Concelebration:

Innocent III takes it for granted that “from time to time many priests concelebrate” and adds “the Cardinal Presbyters of Rome have been accustomed to stand around the the Pontiff and to consecrate together with him” – a pretty blunt and authoritative indication from the Bishop of Rome as to the meaning of the Rites of his own Church. What concerns him is this very question of what happens if they don’t keep their voices together at the words of Consecration. “Is the one who first pronounces the words the only one who confects the Sacrament?” His answer to this is that “Whether the priests utter them before or after, their intention must be referred to the instant at which the Bishop says them, with whom principally they are concelebrating, and then all consecrate and confect at the same time”.

S Thomas on Concelebration:

“Since a priest does not consecrate except in the persona of Christ, and the many are one in Christ, therefore it does not matter whether this Sacrament is consecrated through one or through many”.

Benedict XIV on Concelebration:

He insists that concelebrants should vest as celebrants and utter the words of Consecration “just as if they were saying Mass on their own [perinde ac si sacrosanctum sacrificium singulatim conficerent]”. Benedict denies the wriggle-argument that such priests are merely saying the Words of Consecration “materialiter et recitative”, insisting that they utter them “significative”. They are true celebrants, albeit secondary ones (etsi secundarii, tamen vere celebrantes).

I do not believe that a laudable desire to shape ones liturgical praxis by the authentic customs of the Roman Liturgy requires that a priest should decline to concelebrate the Maundy Thursday Masses with his Bishop and Presbyterium.

Money and Concelebration:

And (paragraph 10) they concur with the judgement on Mass-stipends of Benedict XIV and those who followed him: Singuli concelebrantes stipendium legitime percipere possunt ad normam iuris.

The mature and settled inheritance, the auctoritas, of the Latin Church prescribes that, normally, each presbyter should celebrate (‘presidentially’) daily, and do so privately if he is not obliged to serve a pastoral need.

But the notion which one sometimes meets among traditionalists who have not informed themselves of the facts, that any form of concelebration is a treacherous sell-out to the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’, contradicts the traditions of the Latin Churches and the Magisterium of Popes Innocent III and Benedict XIV and the considered judgement of S Thomas Aquinas … and a lot of Counter-Reformation manualists.

This echoes my thought as well.

Allow me to repeat what I have long held:

Concelebration (for us Latins) should be safe, legal and rare.  I think that, under normal circumstances (read: almost all the time), priests should say their own Masses.

That said, while I don’t especially like to concelebrate, I do so on occasions when most appropriate.  I concelebrate at ordinations to the priesthood (not to the diaconate), Holy Thursday’s Chrism Mass and/or Mass of the Last Supper, and perhaps when I am with priests and a/the bishop, such as during the annual priest confab we would have during the summer.  Even then, I usually would concelebrate on Mass and privately the others.


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  1. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    I’d love to see the original of Innocent III’s quote. There’s evidence of concelebration in the Latin Church of Bishops together or of priests and their Bishop, but really none of priests concelebrating together apart from their Bishop. That, I think, was the true Vatican II innovation.

    And in your penultimate paragraph, by ‘priests’ I assume you mean secular priests, for when presbyteral concelebration is permitted, the conventual Mass in a clerical religious house will largely by concelebrated. It is certainly my experience that religious priests have far more experience of concelebration than the seculars.

  2. Fr Kurt Barragan says:

    Here, hastily transcribed (sorry for any typos!), is the relevant passage from Innocent III:

    Cum autem interdum multi sacerdotes concelebrent, si forte non omnes simul consecratoria verba pronuntient, quaeritur, an ille solus conficiat qui primus pronuntiat? Quid ergo caeteri faciunt an iterant sacramentum? Poterit ergo contingere quod ille non conficit qui celebrat principaliter, et ille conficiet, qui secundario celebrabit, et sic pia celebrantis intentio defraudabitur? Sane dici potest, et probabiliter responderi, quod sive prius, sive posterius proferant sacerdotes, referri debet eorum intentio, ad instans prolationis episcopi, cui principaliter celebranti concelebrant, et tunc omnes simul consecrant, et conficiunt. Quanquam nonnulli consentiant, quod qui prius pronuntiat, ille consecrat; nec aliorum defraudatur intentio, quia factum est quod intenditur. Consueverunt autem presbyteri cardinales Romanum circumstare pontificem, et cum eo pariter celebrare. Cumque consummatum est sacrificium de manu eius communionem recipere, significantes apostolos, qui cum Domino pariter discumbentes sacram de manu eius eucharistiam acceperunt, et in eo quod ipsi concelebrant, ostendunt apostolos tunc a Domino ritum huius sacrificii didicisse. (Innocent III, De Sacro Altaris Mysterium, c. 25. PL 217, column 873)

  3. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    I wonder here if “sacerdotes” means “bishops” rather than “priests”.

  4. Volanges says:

    For the first 15 years I was in this parish our priests were Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Whenever there were two present, Mass was concelebrated. For a while, even daily Mass saw three priests concelebrating.

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    This is good stuff. It’s irritating to hear black called white and vice versa, and it’s irritating to have good customs overused, used in a lame and tasteless way, or turned from optional to mandatory.

    But. That doesn’t mean that irritation should make us overcorrect, and start calling good customs bad, the optional forbidden, and the traditional a recent innovation. If everybody else is losing all sense and proportion, that’s exactly when reasonable Catholics should maintain them.

  6. cwillia1 says:

    As Father Z points out, his comments pertain to the Latin Rite. In the Byzantine Rite concelebration is natural. In my parish the pastor’s brother, a priest also, is visiting. They concelebrated. We do not do private divine liturgies. Ideally, there is one liturgy per day at one altar in one parish. The brother priest would not function as a deacon. It would be very strange for him not to concelebrate. He is our guest, he is a priest so he celebrates the divine liturgy with the parish – as the priest he is.

  7. tominrichmond says:

    Innocent III died in 1216. I’m not convinced that the few quotations referenced support in the slightest the notion that concelebration as understood today was in any way a recognized tradition in the Roman rite. The quotation from St. Thomas actually is an argument against the common use of concelebration, since, especially to the unknowing faithful, the practice can seem to imply that if one priest consecrating is good, that good is multiplied by several priests “co-consecrating.” St. Thomas is refuting this notion.

    No, there is no basis in Western tradition for the awful spectacle of concelebration as practiced since the Council. It’s usually an unseemly collection of clerics cluttering the sanctuary and giving what Michael Davies, with a wink, described as “a fascist salute at half-cock.” That many good priests are compelled by social pressure to engage in the practice is lamentable; but we can’t pretend that there is continuity between this practice and the traditional practices of the Roman rite.

  8. ASPM Sem says:

    Fr. Pius OP, why would sacerdos mean bishop when there is another word that clearly means bishop, episcopus? I can’t imagine that any writer would use “priest” when they mean exclusively “priests who are also bishops”.

    [Fr. P is correct. Sacerdos (a good Latin word) means either “bishop” (episcopus, a good Greek word) or “priest”. For example, when we read that the minister of the sacrament of anointing is the sacerdos, that means bishop or priest but not deacon. A deacon is not a sacerdos.]

  9. vandalia says:

    The book, The House of God is one of the most significant novels about the practice of medicine. It is well known for the “13 Rules of the House of God.”

    Rule #12 states: If the radiology resident and the medical student both see a lesion on the chest x-ray, there can be no lesion there.

    (I believe there was a post on this site in the recent past giving the Catholic version of these “rules.”)

    In that spirit, with respect to concelebration, I propose:

    If both the most traditional, and the most radical, priests in a diocese agree on a point, then that point must be wrong.

    In my diocese – and I am sure many others – both the most traditional and the most radical priests refuse to concelebrate. Although for very different reasons. If they both agree on something, then I will wager that “thing” is wrong. Although, again, for different reasons.

    Safe, legal, and rare.

    [For mentioning House of God.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  10. Priests should NEVER be pressured to concelebrate!

  11. jeffc says:

    When I was a Novice and Junior in a Benedictine monastery (my vocation is to married life, not religious life or priesthood, but I had to find that out the “hard way”), it was normal for the daily mass of the community to be concelebrated. I was under the impression at that time that priests were generally expected to concelebrate even if they had misgivings about doing so (the pressure being that it was the conventual mass of the entire monastery).

  12. Paul M. says:

    tominrichmond said: “The quotation from St. Thomas actually is an argument against the common use of concelebration . . . .”

    Perhaps I’m reading a different part of the Summa than you, because in Part III, Question 82, Article 2, Saint Thomas responded to a specific objection that supposedly proved that concelebration is not possible: because one priest is sufficient for consecration, and because the sacraments should not have superfluous additions, several priests cannot consecrate. He then refutes that objection using the quote that Father Hunwicke provided. I don’t see Thomas, in that article, directing that argument towards refuting the notion that “if one priest consecrating is good, that good is multiplied by several priests.” That’s not the point of the article, which was to refute the notion that concelebration is not possible. Where does your contention appear in the text?

  13. Uxixu says:

    Context, Latin Rite of course: Concelebration itself I don’t find at all objectionable and certainly vital to the ceremony of ordination. The circumstances speak to a practical issue which should make the controversy as it were moot: in ordinary circumstances, these priests should have their own flocks to care for, ideally with their own altars and churches to celebrate from.

    It’s also oblique of an issue that also speaks against the practice of priests vesting as deacons & subdeacons, if not the old rule in the Ceremoniale Episcoporum that forbid the use of incense without a deacon (and thus the Missa Cantata without indult) as it rendered formerly distinct orders into a vestigital status outside of the seminary environment which itself is relatively recent phenomenon in the history of Mother Church, being created after Trent and replacing the Cathedral-university and parochial apprenticeship system that existed before, which was admittedly inconsistent from diocese to diocese though one argue you see the same malady in the diocesan seminaries today…

  14. iamlucky13 says:

    How convenient! A small side-discussion on a recent post had me thinking I should take some time to dig up some of what Father has written in the past on this topic. Instead, Father Zuhlsdorf drops Father Hunwicke’s brief but informative posts onto my reading list, and links his “concelebration” tag besides.

  15. Imrahil says:

    Well, dear Uxixu, the Levitated Mass (not as in flying, but as in having Levites) was (and I think remains), for precisely these reasons, a rather rare occurrence. Though, if in a large city-parish two priests have their own Mass somewhen, and in addition the time to serve as subdeacon on the Sunday, then why not. At any rate, a priest is among other things a deacon.

    As for the Missa Cantata with incense without deacon – was there a region where there was not an indult? If so, that was of course (outside, maybe, the city of Rome with its many clerics and seminarians) one of the few points which actually should have been changed. But Germany had always had the incense at the non-Levitated Principal-Mass (the chief Mass on a Sunday or important feast, called “Office” or “High-Office”), and so, all was well around here. The United States? Can you use incense in the EF when only having one priest plus altar boys?

  16. jacobi says:

    Concelebration, except in exceptional circumstances is not a good thing.

    If several priests concelebrate they still say but one Mass. The effect of this now commonplace practise of concelebration is that fewer Masses are said. The Church, the world, and we Catholics are the poorer for that. It is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that stops Mankind from slipping into barbarity and evil. And we are coming closer to it in our present secularised age.

    But it does mean that priests can have a longer lie-in in the morning, and get an extra hours kip.

    Lord have mercy on us!

  17. FrHorning says:

    On my day of rest, there’s nothing more precious to me than concelebrating a Holy Mass. I celebrate many Masses every week which I am happy to do – it’s the greatest thing I can do! The preacher (me) needs to be preached to and I find it renewing to concelebrate Holy Mass. I did also quite a bit of concelebrating while on sabbatical. I value Church teaching and appreciate all the comments. Here are my 2 cents.

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  19. asperges says:

    This has been most informative and thank you, Father, for airing it. I dislike concelebration generally but when priests join with their bishop on rare and solemn occasions, it can be impressive.

    I have seen concelebration in the EF at a monastery (Fontgombault) for Maundy Thursday many years ago, but otherwise at the same monastery, nothing ever impressed me so much as the site of 30+ monks, each offering the holy sacrifice at individual altars in the early morning of Pentecost. Had a tongue of fire appeared over the head of each priest, it would not have seemed strange. The old question arises: can a concelebration equal the effect and graces of so many other individual masses offered?

    As an aside, would you and your readers kindly remember in your prayers the prior of Fongombault who has recently suffered a stroke and is critically I’ll.

  20. Kennedy says:

    Fascinating article and posts. Back in the days, I used to be an altar server in a Capuchin parish. The church had several side chapels, so there used to be several Masses going on at 7 o’clock every weekday morning. The ones in the side chapels used to be said very quietly so as not to disturb the Mass on the main altar. Then the friars introduced concelebration. I can still remember the first one. The friars, back then, didn’t used to whisper the words of institution, leaving only the main celebrant to speak up. They all joined in at full volume. The sight and sound of six or seven big bearded men belting out the words was awesome (a much over used word, but appropriate in this case), and I was nearly blown backwards off the altar steps in shock and amazement. However, this led to the abandonment of the Masses at the side altars, unless a foreign priest, who didn’t know English well, was visiting. He would say Mass at a side altar, usually with me as the server as I was the only one who could remember the Latin by that time.

    A side effect that has just dawned on me was that fewer altar-boys were needed in the mornings. Could this have contributed to the decline in vocations, as fewer boys, especially teenagers, developed the habit of daily Mass? Unintended consequences?

  21. harrythepilgrim says:

    Personal opinion:
    Concelebration or private Mass is the most selfish thing a priest can do.
    With such a shortage of daily Masses, most parishes should be able to arrange a time for an “extra Mass.” And most priests in religious houses should be able to find a parish that needs an additional daily Mass.

  22. Imrahil says:

    Dear Harry the Pilgrim,

    well, priests should have their break too. They are not obliged to celebrate daily, in any case, so if they do so, all the better.

    And: no doubt many parishes would be happy to offer an additional Mass – on a fixed time on a weekly schedule. For a priest who comes, wants to celebrate but doesn’t come back next week, I’m not so sure, that is if they have to set up the entire “parish Mass” setting.

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