Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 57

Vatican website translation:

57. §1. Concelebration, whereby the unity of the priesthood is appropriately manifested, has remained in use to this day in the Church both in the east and in the west. For this reason it has seemed good to the Council to extend permission for concelebration to the following cases:
1. a) on the Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, not only at the Mass of the Chrism, but also at the evening Mass.
b) at Masses during councils, bishops’ conferences, and synods;
c) at the Mass for the blessing of an abbot.
2. Also, with permission of the ordinary, to whom it belongs to decide whether concelebration is opportune:
a) at conventual Mass, and at the principle Mass in churches when the needs of the faithful do not require that all priests available should celebrate individually;
b) at Masses celebrated at any kind of priests’ meetings, whether the priests be secular clergy or religious.
§2.
1. The regulation, however, of the discipline of concelebration in the diocese pertains to the bishop.
2. Nevertheless, each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually, though not at the same time in the same church as a concelebrated Mass, nor on Thursday of the Lord’s Supper.

Latin text:

57. §1. Concelebratio, qua unitas sacerdotii opportune manifestatur, in Ecclesia usque adhuc in usu remansit tam in Oriente quam in Occidente. Quare facultatem concelebrandi ad sequentes casus Concilio extendere placuit:
1. a) feria V in Cena Domini, tum ad Missam chrismatis, tum ad Missam vespertinam;
b) ad Missas in Conciliis, Conventibus Episcopalibus et Synodis;
c) ad Missam in Benedictione Abbatis.
2. Praeterea, accedente licentia Ordinarii, cuius est de opportunitate concelebrationis iudicare:
a) ad Missam conventualem et ad Missam principalem in ecclesiis, cum utilitas christifidelium singularem celebrationem omnium sacerdotum praesentium non postulat;
b) ad Missas in conventibus cuiusvis generis sacerdotum tum saecularium tum religiosorum.
§2
1.Ad Episcopum vero pertinet concelebrationis disciplinam in dioecesi moderari.

2. Salva tamen semper sit cuique sacerdoti facultas Missam singularem celebrandi, non vero eodem tempore in eadem ecclesia, nec feria V in Cena Domini.

Slavishly literal translation (kindness of Jonathan Day):

57. §1. Concelebration, in which the unity of priesthood is appropriately made manifest, has remained in use in the Church to this day, both in the East and in the West. For this reason it has pleased the Council to extend permission for concelebrating to the following cases:
1. a) on the Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, both at the Chrism Mass and at the evening Mass.
b) at Masses during councils, bishops’ conferences, and synods;
c) at the Mass for the blessing of an abbot.
2. In addition, with permission of the Ordinary, whose role it is to judge whether concelebration is opportune, [the Council gives permission for concelebration]
a) at the conventual Mass, and at the principal Mass in churches when welfare of the faithful does not require that all priests available should celebrate individually;
b) at Masses celebrated at any kind of priests’ meetings, whether the priests be secular clergy or religious.
§2.
1. The regulation of the discipline of concelebration in the diocese truly pertains to the bishop.
2. Nevertheless, each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually, [though] certainly not at the same time in the same church, nor on Thursday of the Lord’s Supper.

Much as the Council Fathers extended the use of the vernacular in Roman Rite liturgical worship, so they extended permission for sacerdotal concelebration of the Mass (understood as the ritual coordination of multiple bishops and/or priests offering the Eucharistic sacrifice under the guidance of a principal celebrant) from the two occasions at which it occurred in the Roman Rite on the eve of the Council: 1) at presbyteral ordinations, when newly ordained presbyters concelebrated with the ordaining bishop; and 2) at episcopal consecrations, when the newly consecrated bishop concelebrated with the consecrating bishop.

Interestingly, the theological rationale for extending this permission, found in the first sentence, is that the “unity of the priesthood” might be “appropriately made manifest.” We have already seen how SC 2 had taught that the liturgy “is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others…the real nature of the true Church.” If the sign-systems of liturgical celebration manifest in some way the real nature of the true Church, the Council Fathers felt that changes in the discipline surrounding sacerdotal concelebration at Mass would make the unity of bishops’ and priests’ ministries more clear.

The listing of situations in which sacerdotal concelebration might take place should be seen as a minimum agreed upon by the Council Fathers, not as a maximum limit. This should be especially clear since regulation of sacerdotal concelebration is left to the judgment of the Ordinary.

The clause in SC 57.§2.2., recognizing the facultas of priests to celebrate individually (thus guaranteeing that they will not be forced somehow to concelebrate against their will), might have been more felicitously expressed if it, too, had offered a rationale grounded in the nature of the Church (i.e., because of the needs of the faithful) rather than seeming to suggest that this is a matter of “rights.”

In the years since the Council, sacerdotal concelebration has become a rather frequent practice, but thinking through how it “manifests the real nature of the true Church” is still in process. It should be clear that that form of concelebration when a diocesan bishop presides over Mass surrounded by the faithful, the body of deacons, and a concelebrating body of presbyters, is very different from a monastic setting in which a priest-monk presides over Mass surrounded by his co-priest-monks and brother-monks or when two priests assigned to a parish concelebrate at a daily Mass surrounded by a group of parishioners. Pray Tell readers may wish to share reflections on the issues surrounding sacerdotal concelebration that have arisen over the last fifty years and make suggestions for our future practice.

18 comments

  1. If concelebration is meant to express the unity of the church and its priesthood, what am I to make of our recent parish anniversary where the priest from a shrine within the parish that is staffed by an EF order, stood at the back of the building during mass and didn’t concelebrate with the other priests?
    What was being expressed there?

    1. @Alan Johnson – comment #1:
      Well, in the EF, concelebration is pretty much limited to ordination Masses, if i recall correctly (which may very much be wrong), so, if he is a member of the EF order, then he probably goes with the tired Fr Zed line that concelebration should be safe, legal and rare.

    2. @Alan Johnson – comment #1:
      Mr. Johnson – I would submit that rather than open the proverbial can of worms, you pick up the phone, call the priest, and ask him. His response would be of great interest here.

    3. @Alan Johnson – comment #1:

      What was being expressed there?

      Unless you ask him, we can’t know for sure. But charity demands that we not assume the worst of his interior disposition, since there is nothing in canon law that compels a priest to concelebrate at a Mass (cf. Canon 902) at which he happens to be in attendance. I have seen diocesan priests present for Mass at concelebrations in which they did not participate, so it is not as if this is something peculiar to traditionalist societies.

      If this was in fact an Ecclesia Dei order such as the FSSP or ICRSS, their apostolates are focused on the TLM, with an intention to offer ministry to those Catholics particularly attached to the tradition rite. Offering public OF Masses can create … difficulties in their apostolate.

      All that said, Protocol 1411/99, issued by the CDW in 1999, which happened around the same time as (but seems not to have been a direct response to) a somewhat notorious controversy wherein 16 FSSP priests petitioned for the right to celebrate Mass according to the 1970 missal, clarified that a) a priest of such societies may indeed do so, 2) his superiors may not forbid him to do so, and 3) he may concelebrate in the new rite without any impediment. He can’t, however, be compelled to do so, and Fr. John Berg, the Superior General of the FSSP, confirmed as recently as 2008 that no bishop had ever required FSSP priests to concelebrate as a condition of their being given faculties in their diocese.

      Fr. Arnaud J. Devillers has said this: Our liturgical preference does not prevent us from collaborating with other priests who do not share it. We work together for the same glory of God and salvation of souls under the authority of the same Bishop within the bark of Peter but according to our own charism.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #9:

        If this was in fact an Ecclesia Dei order such as the FSSP or ICRSS, their apostolates are focused on the TLM, with an intention to offer ministry to those Catholics particularly attached to the tradition rite. Offering public OF Masses can create … difficulties in their apostolate.

        A priest I once knew left diocesan ministry to join the FSSP. He did not want to celebrate the OF ever again, and so petitioned to be “let go” by his bishop. The place where he was eventually reassigned by the traditionalist order certainly would never ever let him say the OF.

        However, the all the parish priests who celebrate the EF in my diocese also celebrate the OF without complaint. Sure, it’s often a very tridentinized OF which might not appeal to many. Still, the OF Masses are celebrated strictly according the reformed missal.

        I am very reluctant to criticize priests, but shouldn’t any traditionalist priest who is asked to say the OF, even if he secretly dislikes the rite greatly, celebrate the Mass out of charity? No, a priest of a traditionalist institute can’t be forced to say the OF. Still, salus animarum suprema lex, even if it involves wearing polyester vestments (dreadful horror!) and saying an EP that’s not the Roman Canon?

        One criticism I have of the traditional institutes and orders is a notion that a number of traditionalist laity hold about priests under these auspices. It’s as if the traditionalist order priests are “untainted” by the reformed rites. As a traditional Catholic, I value the dedication of traditionalist order priests. However, no traditionalist priest should be considered any differently if he, out of charity, fills in occasionally for a priest who serves at another local Catholic parish.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #10:

        Hello Jordan,

        However, the all the parish priests who celebrate the EF in my diocese also celebrate the OF without complaint.

        The same is certainly true in my archdiocese (Washington) – at least to the best of my knowledge. This is even true of the few diocesan priests who serve the main diocesan TLM communities, such as Msgr Andrew Wadsworth – who has, of course, dropped in to post here from time to time.

        But that is the point, I suppose: these are diocesan priests, and celebrating the Mass according to the OF is a necessary part of their jobs. A priestly society or order operating under Ecclesia Dei is another story. They have a special charism, and sometimes a special apostolate. And to serve those apostolates, they are almost always spread very, very thin to meet the demand. I think of Fr. Fryar, pastor of the FSSP parish in Sarasota, FL, who celebrates Masses in Sarasota, Fort Myers, Naples and Ocala – the length of the state, in short. Usually, the risk is that the Fraternity priest would have to abandon some of his obligated duties and sacraments to take up such a request. And if he is already saying Mass every day, Canon 905 comes into play.

        One criticism I have of the traditional institutes and orders is a notion that a number of traditionalist laity hold about priests under these auspices. It’s as if the traditionalist order priests are “untainted” by the reformed rites.

        I am glad you said “a number”: I think such traditionalists are less common than popular legend would have it, at least outside the SSPX and independent chapels, but yes, alas, they do exist. There’s a spectrum for attitudes toward the New Mass, and there’s an unhealthy end of it, alas.

        That said – logistic concerns aside – in the post-Summorum world, the question is not whether a traditional society priest ought to “pitch in” to fill in for a diocesan Mass, but whether that Mass must be the OF, not the EF.

      3. @Richard Malcolm – comment #11:

        That said – logistic concerns aside – in the post-Summorum world, the question is not whether a traditional society priest ought to “pitch in” to fill in for a diocesan Mass, but whether that Mass must be the OF, not the EF.

        In real life, adults are often called to do tasks they’d rather prefer not to do. I know that being a priest is not a “job” in the strictest sense. Still, I’d imagine that a priest sometimes has to say Mass in places or situations he’d rather not. Even if a traditional/ist priest were asked to say Mass with every conceivable thing that Traditionalists Just Don’t Like, wouldn’t he be compelled to say that Mass for the good of souls?

        I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to ask a congregation which is accustomed to the ordinary form and a particular style of worship to suddenly and without warning attend the EF against their inclinations and will.

      4. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #15:

        I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to ask a congregation which is accustomed to the ordinary form and a particular style of worship to suddenly and without warning attend the EF against their inclinations and will.

        Well, that’s a two way street, Jordan…

        I suppose one obvious difficulty is that the FSSP priest has almost certainly never said the OF, and has no training for it. (Obvious rejoinder: Well, maybe he should fix that, and anyway, it’s not as hard to learn as the EF. Fair points. But I’m speaking mainly to the priest in our earlier example, and the situation as it existed at that point).

        Setting aside the difficulties that this would create pastorally among traditionalists that these priests are trying to ween away from the SSPX – I sense you may not be sympathetic to those difficulties – the real concern, I think, is simple logistics. Priests in these societies are usually spread wafer thin, and asking them to take on another Mass may mean failing to meet existing obligations. Granted, it’s not a bowl of jellybeans for diocesan priests in many places these days, either; but their obligations to their existing communities have to take priority.

  2. Since we now have many situations in which parishes are clustered and share ministers and ministries, it would seem that concelebration by these ministers (not just priests) would be an expression of ecclesial unity. I don’t think we should see a bishop as necessary for the expression of an ecclesial unity that goes beyond the parish.

    The Cleveland Deanery of the Orthodox Church has a concelebration of Vespers on Sundays during Lent which is rotated among the parishes. This is a wonderful expression of ecclesial unity even though no bishop is present. It is also a good example of not restricting “concelebration” to the Mass. All the priests present were fully vested. I am not sure whether the local pastor presided because he is the pastor or the dean of the area since he is both. But it was very evident that all the other priests were taken part as priests.

    The pre-Vatican Ii practice of “concelebrated” closing of Forty Hours in which neighboring priests came “in choir” to sing the Litany of the Saints, etc. was also an expression of ecclesial unity, and also of the unity of the priesthood, especially when the liquor flowed afterwards.

  3. One question would be how often it is necessary to “manifest the unity of the priesthood.” I lean toward limiting concelebration to such events as ordinations, the chrism Mass, the installation of bishops, funerals of clergy, gatherings of bishops and priests, and other times when the unity of the priesthood is an obvious and understandable focus. Too often it has been my experience, and that of many reasonable “folks in the pews,” that concelebration is more a manifestation of clericalism, a celebration of the clerical cast and male dominance in the church, than a manifestation of the unity of the assembly. These impressions are only heightened when these liturgies have few or no female ministers, as is so often the case.

  4. I am not that interested in his reasons for not concelebrating with his brother priests, to be honest. I was just musing on the sign that it gave in the context of one church and one priesthood.

  5. The problem of clerical concelebration for us non-Romans is that it can very easily become an expression of the idea that every time a priest offers a/the Mass, a “sacrifice is offered” which can be “applied” to the living or the dead.

    The Orthodox practice a kind of clerical concelebration at many services, not just the Divine Liturgy, and I don’t think the eastern tradition has anything like the stipendiary practice and “application of the offering” going on in their theology.

    There may be a tension between those who want to keep exactly the offering of a Mass mentality, and those who do not. Lots of individual masses would certainly cause concern for those who think the “priest’s” sacrifice idea unbalances things, but having the verbal concelebrations as per the reformed western mass keeps everybody on board, but with tension.

    This is why I think it a mistake for ardent supporters of the EF in Roman Catholicism to think that the Eastern tradition supports such a thing as the EF mass.The EF may look archaic and all, but as far as ancient mentality goes, the Eastern liturgies are far, far more traditional and archaic than anything coming out of the counter-reformation.

    1. @Mark Miller – comment #7:

      The EF may look archaic and all, but as far as ancient mentality goes, the Eastern liturgies are far, far more traditional and archaic than anything coming out of the counter-reformation.

      I’m not quite sure what is meant by this, since while the traditional Roman Rite (EF) was “codified,” as it were, by Pius V, it achieved its basic form in the same era as the Divine Liturgy – that is to say, Late Antiquity.

      But that’s your broad point. I don’t think the stipendiary practice has as much theological content as you seem to impute to it. I can only speak to eastern Catholic Rites, but the ones I know of are indeed celebrated with offering for intentions.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #8:
        Eastern ORTHODOX.

        Such things as “a” mass being “offered” and “applied” for some intention as an act of the priest– this is quite foreign to the early church and the eastern tradition. Let’s face it.

      2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #8:
        The” basic form” it acquired in late antiquity… is just what is left when you reform it and get the VVII reform. That is exactly the point of that reform

      3. @Mark Miller – comment #13:

        The” basic form” it acquired in late antiquity… is just what is left when you reform it and get the VVII reform. That is exactly the point of that reform

        Well, in point of fact, the “basic form” under Gregory I was, in the main, the ordinary as we have by the time of St. Pius V: the exclusive use of the Roman Canon, unchanged (with no alternative EP’s); the one year lectionary; and most of the collects that we find in the Missal of Pius V. All of these things were radically changed in the reforms of the Pauline Missal. There is, indeed, no precedent in Church history for a three year lectionary.

        As Fortescue put it: “Essentially the Missal of Pius V is the Gregorian Sacramentary; that again is formed from the Gelasian book, which depends on the Leonine collection. We find the prayers of our Canon in the treatise de Sacramentis and allusions to it in the 4th century. So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all.”

        But perhaps you have in mind a much earlier date.

  6. #14 “There is, indeed, no precedent in Church history for a three year lectionary.”

    And there was, tragically, no precedent for a form of mass which sought to break open the Word as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus until the missal of Paul VI. Of all the things in the EF that traditionalists crow about, there is nothing more indefensible than its one year cycle of readings. IMHO.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #17:

      And there was, tragically, no precedent for a form of mass which sought to break open the Word as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus until the missal of Paul VI

      It’s hard to know what to say, Jack, in response to your concern that that the Church had been getting something fundamentally wrong about the Mass for almost 2,000 years.

      We have gone round and round about the one year lectionary here at PTB, so I will not ruffle Fr. Ruff’s feathers by opening it back up. The three year lectionary is not the end of the world, or something that keeps me up shuddering at night. But with each passing day I am more convinced that it was, however well intended, a very real mistake.

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