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On concelebration, I

January 16, 2011

Nobody who writes the blog likes concelebration. Beyond being theologically flimsy, liturgically cumbersome, and kind of a circus of priests, it reeks of exactly the sort of 1960s hocus-pocus that gets in the way of clarity, ease, and strength of purpose in both our thoughts and our actions as churchmen. So now, we present a new series against this annoying practice, a practice which has (as with the worst of the annoying practices), been ignored by the Low Churchmen, shunned by the High, and embraced wholeheartedly by the large and confused band in the middle.

First up, since the whole business began in earnest in the Roman Rite in the 1960s, we reproduce a posting from the blog Nova et Vetera.

A question: at concelebrations, is each concelebrant actually consecrating, or is there just one consecrator and the others acting as co-consecrators? If the celebrant for some reason failed to consecrate some of the elements, could the intention of one (or more) of one of the concelebrants bring about the consecration of those elements?

I’m not sure we are that clear about our role as concelebrants.

I think Fr John is putting an important question. Actually, I think the whole question of concelebration is something that needs revisiting, because it was not particularly well thought out in the 1960s.

The best work on the subject—in fact, I suspect the only work—is by the famous rubrical gazeteer (whose day job, incredibly, was being porter at Archbishop’s House, Westminster,) Archdale King who was requested to write a book justifying the practice in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It’s called, predictably, Concelebration. At the end of the book, I wasn’t actually convinced; he hadn’t persuaded me that the revival of concelebration was a wholly good idea, and I rather suspect that he hadn’t convinced himself. The work, I think, was one of obedience.

There are two sorts of concelebration: sacramental and ceremonial. In a sacramental concelebration, the concelebrants recite the words of consecration, and truly celebrate Mass with the chief celebrant, and as a token of this can claim a stipend for an intention which differs from that of the chief. At a ceremonial concelebration, the concelebrants assist in the vestments of their order, and may even stand at the altar, but they do not pronounce the words of consecration. This form of concelebration is far more common historically; most, if not all, Eastern rites have some form of it, and in the West, the ancient Carthusian rite has it, and the Papal Mass of Coronation would seem to have had it. Clearly a ceremonial concelebrant could not claim a stipend.

If I remember rightly, Archdale King seems to be able to advance only one example of sacramental concelebration from antiquity, but this is enough, he says, to justify the practice. Again a comment on the last post, from ADV, gives it:

The rite of Concelebration was modified at Rome (perhaps in the time of Pope Zephyrinus, 202-218) so that each priest should consecrate a separate host (the deacons holding these in patens or corporals); but they all consecrated the same chalice (“Ordo Rom. I”, 48; see also Duchesne, “Liber Pont.”, I, 139 and 246).

In the sixth century this rite was observed on all station days; by the eighth century it remained only for the greatest feasts, Easter, Christmas, Whitsunday, and St. Peter (“Ordo Rom. I”, 48; Duchesne, “Origines”, 167). On other days the priests assisted but did not concelebrate.

I seem to remember from Archdale King that the hosts were held on glass patens before each concelebrant by kneeling acolytes.

I wonder, though, whether this early example is really a true concelebration, or rather of what has been called ‘parallel Masses’. This was a practice beloved of certain ‘liturgical movement’ monasteries in the 1950s. Dom Lambert Beaudouin’s abbey at Chevetogne in Belgium is one such example. There would be a ‘lead’ celebrant at the High Altar, and all the other priests on separate altars with their own chalices, patens and missals, would do their best to say Mass in perfect synchrony with the ‘lead’ celebrant. Thus, not one Mass, but many (though, of course, there is only ever ‘One’ Mass).

So, is there, in the entire history of the Church, one single pre-1960s example of priests concelebrating sacramentally; wearing the vestments of their order and consecrating one host and chalice together, saying the words of consecration, and being permitted to take a stipend for a separate intention?

The answer is yes. But it isn’t particularly ancient, I suspect. The ordination rite in the Extraordinary Use has a full sacramental concelebration in this form, where the newly-ordained priests fully concelebrate while kneeling at prie-dieux, and can claim a stipend. Though strangely for one saying Mass, they do not receive the Precious Blood, but only wine. One can understand why full sacramental concelebration might be thought appropriate at such an occasion.

So where does that leave us, Fr John? To answer your question, I think that it is the intention of the Church at the moment that all priests truly say Mass in the fullest sacramental sense when they concelebrate. Therefore the intent of one concelebrant can supply the defect of another.

Personally, I am uncomfortable concelebrating, and I never take a stipend or intention for a concelebration, but simply join my intention with that of the chief celebrant. To my mind, the symbolism of one priest celebrating Mass in persona Christi for the Church is very important, and this is diluted when there is more than one Christ (as it were). I think that it has contributed to the whole business of lay people joining in with priestly prayers and even manual gestures. It has led to priests in large communities being able to stand at the altar and offer Mass ‘properly’ only once or twice a year, perhaps not being even able to see the altar, as at some diocesan funerals, (see previous post) while claiming daily stipends for sticking out a hand and mumbling the words of consecration.

Which is to say, the practice is certainly legitimate (though not particularly well historically grounded), but whether it is prudent or good for the Church in the longer term is something I doubt.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ryan permalink
    October 6, 2013 12:06

    Can I get a clarification on stipend and intention as used in this article?

    • October 7, 2013 09:52

      As used, both are features of Roman Catholic doctrine. See the links below, which give (and clearly, too!) the two definitions and explain their relationship to one another.


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