Thursday, June 25, 2015


Concelebration has been abused in the West since its reintroduction in 1964. Originally an act of unity between the priests and their bishop, it has become a quick and normal setting for the celebration of Mass in the parish and at large events. The modern manner of concelebration involves the concelebrants sitting off to the side, inactive, until the anaphora, at which point they utter every single word said by the celebrant. After Communion, which they may or may not distribute based on the number of church ladies trying to get their part, the concelebrant disappear again. This is a clear misuse of an ancient practice which, given how the Roman rite evolved since the 9th century, may not have been wise to re-introduce without very stringent guidelines.

In the Greek churches concelebration has continued and does not sideline the concelebrants until the anaphora nor does it envision the sole function of the concelebrants to utter the words of the Eucharistic prayer simultaneously. The concelebrants can say parts of the anaphora or sing the litanies or the prayer before the ambo in place of the celebrant, but only the bishop says the more important parts of the anaphora—the words of Christ and the epiclesis.

Much of this likely existed in the Roman church in the first millennium when the Canon of Mass was still sung in the preface tone, allowing the concelebrants to sing particular parts. Concelebration likely died on a large scale when priests began to recite rather than sing the anaphora, but the practice did not disappear overnight. As late at the 13th century Innocent III reports concelebration of the Cardinal-Priests with the Pope. In the Papal rite of Mass as well as in Pontifical Mass according to local usages, present priests vest in chasuble, stole, and maniple as for Mass and function as attendants to the celebrant. In the Papal rite as in the neo-Gallican rites the "concelebrants" join around the altar according to one's place in holy orders: bishops at the footpace, priests below them, and deacons lower still. On Holy Thursday, before Pius XII, twelve priests joined the bishop in breathing on the oil that was consecrated as holy chrism during the Canon of Mass itself.

Concelebration in its ancient form and in the rites of local usages that retained a whisper of the older praxis had a value unto themselves. These rites made the full unity of the local church visibly present before the faithful and God. This simple fact makes this one point out of an otherwise good book and review something of a head-scratcher:

The author reaches many important conclusions in this work of highly readable scholarship. Among the more immediately practical conclusions are: (1) although concelebration is licit and occasionally opportune, particularly when the presbyterate is led in worship by the bishop, it was never historically, and should not now be, the normal or default mode of offering the Mass; (2) much of our contemporary theory and praxis are based on a fundamentally flawed concept of what concelebration historically was—a flaw that found its way into the Council debates and subsequent implementation; (3) in either sacramental or ceremonial concelebration, no differently than in a ‘private’ Mass, one sole Mass is offered to God; (4) because “each Mass pours the redemptive Blood of Christ upon the Church and the whole world,” the Church and the world benefit from a multiplication of Masses and suffer loss from their reduction; (5) it can be demonstrated from documents of Tradition and of the Magisterium that the Church herself greatly desires that Masses be thus multiplied

One wonders why when a new pope was elected, the attending clergy dispensed with private Masses and the Office in favor of one great Mass celebrated by the Pontiff amidst his brethren.


  1. The comment from NLM - that was my position before. But now i understand that's too legalistic of a view - wow look at those words (need to wash my mouth afterwards). The question also arises, if the multiplication of Masses necessarily means the multiplication of graces, why didn't the early Church celebrate the Mass every day? They surely understood the importance and immeasurable greatness of the Terrible Divine Sacrifice.

    About rite of concelebration itself. Well, one can argue, since in rite of priestly ordinations the ordinands say all the parts together with the bishop, that is the mode one should follow. And, that's all they do together with him as far as i know (offertory comes to mind but i don't know). So if you criticize the simultaneous saying of all parts and reciting only of the anaphora, well you ought to criticize the old rite too.

    in the new rite, there is a slight improvement because different priests are saying different parts. maybe you haven't been to well concelebrated novus ordo in a long time so you don't remember how the rite goes :P

    218. The parts pronounced by all the concelebrants together and especially the words of Consecration, which all are obliged to say, are to be recited in such a manner that the concelebrants speak them in a low voice and that the principal celebrant’s voice is heard clearly. In this way the words can be more easily understood by the people.

    It is a praiseworthy practice for the parts that are to be said by all the concelebrants together and for which musical notation is provided in the Missal to be sung.

    Eucharistic Prayer I, or the Roman Canon

    219. In Eucharistic Prayer I, or the Roman Canon, the Te igitur (To you, therefore, most merciful Father) is said by the principal celebrant alone, with hands extended.

    220. It is appropriate that the commemoration (Memento) of the living and the Communicantes (In communion with those) be assigned to one or other of the concelebrating Priests, who then pronounces these prayers alone, with hands extended, and in a loud voice.

    221. The Hanc igitur (Therefore, Lord, we pray) is said once again by the principal celebrant alone, with hands extended.

    222. From the Quam oblationem (Be pleased, O God, we pray) up to and including the Supplices (In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God), the
    principal celebrant alone makes the gestures, while all the concelebrants pronounce everything together, in this manner:

    a) the Quam oblationem (Be pleased, O God, we pray) with hands extended toward the offerings;

    b) the Qui pridie (On the day before he was to suffer) and the Simili modo (In a similar way) with hands joined;

    c) the words of the Lord, with each extending his right hand toward the bread and toward the chalice, if this seems appropriate; and at the elevation looking toward them and after this bowing profoundly;

    d) the Unde et memores (Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial) and the Supra quae (Be pleased to look upon) with hands extended;

    e) for the Supplices (In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God) up to and including the words through this participation at the altar, bowing with hands joined; then standing upright and crossing themselves at the words may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.

    223. It is appropriate that the commemoration (Memento) of the dead and the Nobis quoque peccatoribus (To us, also, your servants) be assigned to one or other of the concelebrants, who pronounces them alone, with hands extended, and in a loud voice.

    224. At the words To us, also, your servants, who though sinners, of the Nobis quoque peccatoribus, all the concelebrants strike their breast.

    225. The Per quem haec omnia (Through whom you continue) is said by the principal celebrant alone.

  2. And could someone comment on the great metania after the consecration in that video? It is a marvelous sight, but i thought that the orthodox were super obedient to Nicaea since: "Since there are some who kneel on Sunday and during the season of Pentecost, this holy synod decrees that, so that the same observances may be maintained in every diocese, one should offer one's prayers to the Lord standing."

    1. All wise points Marko. In person, I cannot recall all those provisions from the GIRM having been following in one Mass. I do have haunting memories of a few times when the Roman Canon was sung at a Paul VI Mass and it was quite beautiful. I think that could lend itself to concelebration if decorum was observed (no fidgeting between the concelebrants about whose turn it is). The real difficulty is that in the Pauline Missal, everyone is expected either to do all the same thing at once (concelebrants for most of Mass, laity for all of Mass) or take one's turn doing some public function versus populum (lectoring, reading part of the anaphora etc). The silent Canon of the old rite and the sung ad orientem anaphora of the Greek rite make for one seemless act. I do agree, however, that more of the GIRM in a liturgical environment (perhaps monasteries) could yield good results worthy of emulation.

      I would point out that the concelebrants in the old rite did do things other than the Canon. They said the prayers at the foot of the altar with the ordaining/consecrating bishop; if the ordinand was to be elevated to the episcopate, he read the Mass along with the celebrant from the epistle side of the altar; during the offertory, they ordinands brought their own gifts; and at the end of Mass they imparted a blessing.

      Re: the prostrations. The Orthodox are quite fickle about several things, and the prostration after the epiclesis is one of them. I have found in the West that most Eastern Catholics have dropped the practice and do not prostrate after the invocation of the Holy Spirit. In not doing so, they may be the only ones observing the Nicene decree! Most Byzantine Orthodox will not prostrate during Paschaltide. I suspect that, like the recited parts of the anaphora, it is a Western influence on the East that stayed after the Crusades (mutual enrichment works both ways!). The only time I have ever seen the metania after the epiclesis in person was by a Melkite priest from Syria, where the Melkite Catholics and their sister Antiochian Orthodox community practice the same liturgical rites with very little difference (story of that patriarchate is a fascinating tangent that I need to avoid).

    2. In the first sentence I meant "being followed" rather than "been following".

  3. Thanks for the link to my review and for the further comments.

    I think it's extremely important not to be archaeologists about concelebration. What I mean is this. We don't have to say the early Church was WRONG when it did not do various things that Eastern and Western rites later came to do; nor do we have to say that we ourselves should do everything "just like" the early Church did (if we could even know it in detail).

    This is the whole point of organic development: over time, the liturgical rites become fuller and richer, and there is a dual development in sacramental theology and liturgical spirituality. This is what led to the legitimate rise of the individually celebrated Mass -- which was never meant to supplant the communal High Mass, although unfortunately it too often did.

    So, let us be careful in our reasoning. To say that individual Masses are a good thing and that, in general or as a matter of principle, more Masses are better for the Church and the world, DOES NOT MEAN that there can never be a different and overriding factor that makes a concelebrated liturgy (such as a papal or episcopal Mass) a better thing to choose in the circumstances. Just because religious life is superior to married life does not make it superior for me or for you in our particular circumstances. Hence, my position (and that of Fr. Joseph de Sainte-Marie) is NOT that concelebration is not the best thing to do in some well-defined situations, but that its habitual and arbitrary extension has cost the Church dearly.

    I therefore see a logical fallacy in the reasoning that EITHER concelebration must be always good OR it must be always wrong. In fact, there are two sets of considerations: the importance of the individual Mass as a general rule (complemented by participation in a conventual High Mass when possible), and the importance of the concelebrated Solemn Liturgy on special occasions. There is no contradiction here.

    1. Thanks for the clarification! That makes sense.

      We need to also consider that the manner of concelebration can drastically change one's opinion. My first experience with one was in a Byzantine church, so I know it can be done very beautifully. Most people's first time were with a an army of priests whose only purpose was to repeat the anaphora in robotic unison.

  4. Thanks for reading, Professor K.

    I appreciate your feedback, but would like to make two clarifications:

    1- My point wasn't so much to dispute that concelebration is an abuse as much as to dispute the idea that two Masses are better than one, that mathematical logic applied to something infinite by nature.
    2- I think concelebration would be less offensive liturgically in the Roman rite if it were not done so poorly. The Roman tradition evolved in such a way in the last thousand years in both theology and ceremony that the ritual became unfeasible. I would have been fine leaving it out altogether, which is why I noted that the re-introduction of an ancient practice in a new environment was a bad idea.

    Otherwise, I think we are generally in agreement on the subject.

  5. Two things, posssibly worthy of mention:
    I believe Fr. Joseph de St.-M. intended the bolded passage to be understood "in pluribus," as others here more or less concede.

    Grace and its effect, charity, are spoken of mathematically only by way of analogy; they are necessarily qualities that, for lack (truly) of a better term, are intensified not multiplied: the worthy offering of Holy Mass certainly leads to a greater intensity of grace and charity. I think we all agree on that, right? But the Scholastics (those deserving of the name) can be forgiven the use of a mathematical or quantitative language given that they are simply following, remotely perhaps, the language used in the parable of the talents, the Sower, and others.