Monday, 9 February 2009

Concelebration

The question of concelebration has been raised again on Fr Hunwicke's excellent blog. My instinct is to think that his reasoning on the subject is largely right: one cannot deny the validity of a concelebrated Mass, but one may debate its desirability.
Towards the end of his distinguished career —his moonlighting career, that is, his day job, was doorkeeper at Archbishop's House, Westminster, according to the late Brian Brindley—Archdale King (who really needs his own page on Wikipedia) wrote a book on concelebration. I read it several years ago, and it seemed to me that he had been asked to write an authoritative book justifying the practice. The result didn't seem to me to be very convincing, and I suspect that, whatever his official conclusions, he wasn't convinced either. His arguments worked by, effectively, blurring the distinction between true sacramental concelebration, ritual concelebration, and parallel Masses.
Ritual concelebration has a well established pedigree in the Church. This is when priests or bishops assist at Mass dressed in the eucharistic vestments of their order, but do not say the words of consecration with the celebrant. Most, if not all, of the Eastern rites use this form from time to time—there was a famous celebration at Vatican II which no doubt inspired the 'restoration' of the custom to the West. The Carthusians would 'concelebrate' in this fashion also, and I think that one might argue that the ceremonial at a papal coronation was another manifestation, where the cardinal bishops wear cope, the cardinal priests wear chasubles and the cardinal deacons wear dalmatics throughout the Mass.
Parallel Masses are rarer in the Church, but were popular in some places from the second world war until the Council. Chevetogne, the multi-ritual Benedictine/Basilian monastery in Belgium founded by that liturgical enthusiast, Dom Lambert Beaudouin, used this enthusiastically. A friend who visited in the late fifties or early sixties, was bemused to see, at low Mass time, a number of altars being wheeled out into the nave of the Latin church at which priests would celebrate Mass in synchrony, each keeping an eye on the celebrant at the high altar. Odd, I think.
Fr Hunwicke is quite right to insist that the Church has found that the concelebration at ordination in the Latin rite is a true, sacramental, celebration for each priest and for the bishop. It was always said that each ordinatus was entitled to take a stipend for his Mass, and that, for me, clinches it. But I honestly think that this is the only justification for the present day custom. One of the ordines romani has the cardinals celebrating Mass with the Holy Father, each with a kneeling acolyte holding a glass paten with a host for him to consecrate. My instinct is that this is not a true concelebration, rather a Chevetogne-style parallel Mass. I do not think that Archdale King managed to come up with any other precedent.

So, I think we cannot deny the liceity of concelebration, but it rests on very thin ground. I prefer really to think of it in terms of appropriateness. Modern liturgists are very keen that signs and symbols should be as patent or obvious as possible. The sign that fifty priests, all in persona Christi, give to the assembled faithful is surely not a good one if what we are trying to communicate is Christ breaking the Eucharistic bread for his people—or, as I would prefer to say, immolating himself for our salvation and sanctification in an unbloody fashion, using the forms he established at the Last Supper. One Christ, in other words, not many. And is it really valid (as I have asked before) if the celebrant cannot even see the altar, let alone the host?
There is the argument that the assemblage of celebrants shows forth the unity of the priesthood. Yes, I can see that, but it is a minor point, and could surely be established in other ways. But I would concede that if we must have concelebration, there are occasions when it is more appropriate than others. Perhaps at the Chrism Mass, for instance, or for all priests present at an ordination, and not solely the ordinati. And, I think, when a bishop visits a parish, it may well be appropriate and teaching for the parish clergy to concelebrate with him (provided the bishop is the 'chief celebrant') so that the people may see the proper relationship of bishop and priest, whose ministry depends on the successor to the apostles.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmm. There seems more than a little irony that a few posts down you have photographs of a superb concelebration of the Byzantine-Slav rite in Moscow with two Patriarchs and dozens of other concelebrants.

Pastor in Valle said...

Irony:? How? Surely the concelebration was a ceremonial one, as I suggested in the post.

ben whitworth said...

Even if one believes that priests concelebrated with their bishops at some previous period in the development of the Western liturgy, is there any precedent for a concelebrated Mass at which the principal celebrant is a priest? This, after all, is the most common form which concelebration takes today, especially in religious houses.

Rather than restoring/reinventing concelebration, the Church should have taken the advice of Louis Bouyer, who, before Vatican II, suggested that a priest's obligation to offer the daily sacrifice could be considered satisfied by assisting in choir at a Pontifical Mass.

Anonymous said...

Russian concelebrants recite the words of Institution and the Invocation (Epiclesis) along with the principal celebrant. Almost certainly, according to Robert Taft, this is due to Scholastic influence. In Greek practice the concelebrants don't recite any words but are still considered to to concelebrate.

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

In one of my posts last October,I took a line broadly similar to that of 'Pastor'; that precedents favour the the concelebration of presbyters with the bishop into whose sacerdotium they are integrated rather more than it does the concelebration of a number of presbyters. But I would favour even that concelebration rather than the unfortunate idea that assisting in choir is equivalent to offering the Holy Sacrifice. Longum abest quin ...

When in Lourdes on the big Anglican pilgrimage last year, as we priests sat in choir during the Mass at which Cardinal Kasper celebrated, our Archbishop preached, and one of our deacons read the Gospel in English, it occurred to me that the really decent thing would have been to celebrate our unity together by being at that Mass in choir as we were, BUT for each of us previously to have said his own Mass at one of the Altars in the Rosary Basilica. It was sad to see all those altars lonely and (to borrow an Orthodox idea) starved of sacrifice: when they were built to be busy and buzzing foci of sacrifice for the good of the Church Expectant as well as Militant.

Anonymous said...

I would highly recommend an article by Robert Taft, that I referred to earlier: 'Ex Oriente Lux? Some Reflections on Eucharistic Concelebration' which forms Chapter 6 of Taft, R., 'Beyond East and West - Problems in Liturgical Understanding', The Pastoral Press, 1984 - brilliant stuff, as so often the case with Taft.

Royce said...

Laurence Paul Hemming has some excellent comments about the oft-sited "concelebration" that takes place at the ordination of a priest in the old rite in his book, "Worship as a Revelation." Hemming writes that this has nothing at all to do with concelebration and everything to do with the Bishop teaching the new priest how to say Mass and the priest demonstrating that his presbyterial authority and sacramental efficacy is entirely derived from the episcopate -- that the graces from every Mass of the newly-ordained priest will flow out of his connection to the bishop.

Pastor in Valle said...

Whereas most of what Laurence Hemming says is true, the Church has seen it as a genuine concelebration—otherwise, why the stipend?

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Laurence Hemming's footnote was the starting point of the series of posts that I did last October on my blog Father Hunwicke's Liturgical notes. I felt the obligation to deal with the matter since I had written a very favourable review in a theological periodical and encouraged everybody to read his book - I wouldn't let an odd mistake or two prevent me from giving a good review to a book which I thought, over all, was in the right direction.

In dialogue with Laurence, I asked "How can it NOT be a concelebration when the newly ordained even say the Offertory prayers asking God to accept the oblation which "I" offer"; he replied that he could find a way round that. What about the magisterium allowing stipends to be accepted for those concelebrations? I asked. " yes" he said, "that is my big problem".

The more his book is read - and I hope it is - the more likely the claim he made in that footnote will come to be accepted as an authoritative and scholarly statement of fact by the sort of people who want to believe that sort of thing. The Magisterium (going back to Benedict the forteenth) has said otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand what the horror of concelebration is all about. Of course the vast majority of Roman and Anglican concelebrations are aesthetically awful but they need not be.

Theologically it is surely a good thing and one of the few improvements in the Roman liturgy since the Council?