Eucharistic Problems and Concelebrating Clergy

This past week I attended a “priests retreat” offered by the diocese where I serve as the director of worship. In addition to a focus talk each day by a retreat master, the retreatants also gathered for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Eucharist. At the first of the Eucharistic Liturgies celebrated this week I had a puzzling exchange with one of the clergy.

The Eucharists were formal liturgies with the clergy fully vested for concelebration. The Eucharist took place at a church down the street from the hotel where the retreat was centered. As director of worship, I served the liturgy as master of ceremonies. The clergy sat in the pews, and would come to one of two stations to receive the Body and Blood of Christ at communion, as per the GIRM 242-246. The stations were set up in the assembly area because of limited room in the sanctuary and to ease the movement up the steps of the sanctuary for some of the senior clergy present. The clergy would be ushered to the stations.

During the faction rite, I went to the tabernacle to remove the ciborium because I was not sure whether there were in fact enough hosts consecrated. I placed some reserved hosts in one of the two patens alongside hosts consecrated at the Mass. The puzzling exchange occurred as I was in the process of ushering clergy to one of the stations. One of the more recently minted priests comes running up the aisle to me from the rear of the church to say with alarming seriousness that by mixing the reserved and the consecrated hosts together I had invalided the Mass and prevented priests directed to that one paten from receiving Eucharist.

On the one hand, I was a bit startled by his interruption, on the other hand, I was quite confused as to what he expected me to do next. Stop the liturgy and ask the bishop, who was the presider, to offer the Eucharistic Prayer all over again because the hosts for the priests were now contaminated with the reserved sacrament? In as sotto voce as possible, I told the priest to receive from the chalice if he were bothered by the possibility of receiving an already consecrated host, as the principle of concomitance sustained the present of Christ in both species. I found out later that day that because of what occurred at the altar I was now the target of gossip over whether I knew what I was doing as director of worship.

This incident greatly confused me. The frantic nature of the priest’s intervention made it seem that an irreparable rift had occurred in the celebration of the Eucharist. With whom or concerning what was not clear. What actually had been invalidated? Yes, concelebrating priests are to complete their part in offering the sacrifice by partaking of both species consecrated at that Mass just as if they were celebrating individually. Yet, neither the GIRM or Canon Law speaks specifically to this expectation; nor do they strictly prohibit a concelebrating from receiving from the reserved sacrament should this occur. The only reference to a problem with concelebrating priests receiving from the reserved sacrament is found in Redemptionis Sacramentum 98 which infers that if this were to happen it would be illicit, but not invalid. The only other reference, I found, to a situation involving reserved hosts and concelebrating clergy was a Zenit dispatch from 2004 in answer to a question of the same. The author here quoted the same section from Redemptionis Sacramentum 98, concurring that such reception from the reserved sacrament was illicit, but did not invalidate the Eucharistic action.

Perhaps what this incident reveals above all is another aspect of the creeping clericalism, which continues to accelerate in some areas of priestly life. The legalistic and rubical lens through which this priest viewed the Eucharistic event, so strident as to desire to interrupt the liturgy as if some criminal action had occurred, transforms the Eucharist into an almost magical phenomenon.  It also begs the question once again of the over-use of the reserved sacrament for the laity in Eucharistic celebrations. If it is necessary for the ordained to receive communion consecrated at a Eucharistic liturgy in which they participate, then the same must also hold true for all the faithful who participate in the liturgy. To not do so denies the faithful their role in the sacrificial liturgy where, as Eucharistic Prayer I states, “they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them.” Many clerics cringe at the crass, but no less true, use of the word “leftovers” for the reserved sacrament given to the laity at most Masses, and yet is this not what is too often occurring?

The Eucharistic liturgy is a corporate event of a people called by God into relationship with God, edified in this truth through the Eucharistic action. It is also a ritual action enacted by human beings, we ought to remember, who as fallible creatures in the process of perfection may not always achieve the desired ends that we human beings have set. An over-active focus on precision and an all too narrow interpretation of rubrics may only serve to further diminish the power of this action.


  1. I dare not record here the quote attributed by Alan Watts in his autobiography to Michael Ramsey concerning his clergy when spread out throughout England or when gathered together.

    This posting reminds me of the same.

  2. I don’t believe it required interrupting the liturgy, but it appears two issues arose here. Firstly, not consecrating sufficient Hosts, and secondly not being aware of the specific instruction applicable to concelebration.

    The best response to those oversights would be simply to accept that they were issues, chalk it up to experience, and seek to avoid them next time around.

    Liturgical snafus are of course common, and best covered by pretending like the mistake was intended (as anything else increases the disturbance). But equally it doesn’t help to get publicly defensive when our shortcomings are noticed (as happens to us all from time to time), as even our embarrassment can help us better serve God and neighbour.

  3. Where did this young priest get this curious idea?

    I’ve belonged to a cathedral parish for over 50 years. I no longer attend diocesan liturgies (Mass of the Chrism, ordinations) because I find them overpoweringly clerical.

  4. Obviously concelebrants receiving one of the two Species from the tabernacle doesn’t “invalidate” any Sacrament. But it leads to the uncomfortable questions on concelebration and the theology of Mass intentions (and stipends?)

    But ultimately we ought to ask ourselves if anybody should (under normal circumstances) be receiving the Eucharist from the reserved Sacrament in the Tabernacle when they attend the Eucharist?

    I attempted to reflect on these questions in a piece I published in Antiphon a few years ago, taking advantage of the oft quoted encyclical of Benedict XIV which I was not able to find in full English translation:

    1. Thank you for article — very useful!

      The Bishops of England and Wales in their teaching document Celebrating the Mass (Pastoral Notes, 2005), stated unequivocally in para 206:

      The faithful are not ordinarily to be given Communion from
      the tabernacle.

      with footnote references to SC, Eucharisticum Mysterium, and GIRM.

      This instruction is routinely ignored in the vast majority of parishes, though it remains particular law in these countries.

      1. On two occasions in the past ten years when I have attended the Mass of the Chrism as a concelebrant. I found that by the time I had reached the chalice, there was nothing left in it.

        Since on that occasion the Precious Blood did not seem to be disposed to multiply itself miraculously, I offered the matter up to the Lord, trusting that in his role as the final ‘Validator’ of any sacramental action, he would see me right.


  5. I think there are more problems with the conducting of this liturgy than the theology. If this is a retreat, and mostly a “closed” Mass, then the sacristan’s duty is to provide for bread that will be consumed. (That’s actually true for any ordinary daily Mass, but that’s another story.) If the MC is responsible for overseeing or being the sacristan, that’s a ministry oops on his part–do it before liturgy, not during. I’m not sure why one would go to the tabernacle during the Fraction Rite. Neither the GIRM nor the Missal provide for that. If there isn’t enough consecrated bread, it should be brought to the ministers when it is needed, not sooner. As for the earnest young priest, it seems a lesson in decorum was missed in seminary.

    1. “If there isn’t enough consecrated bread, it should be brought to the ministers when it is needed, not sooner. ”


      If that understanding were inculcated more widely, the situation would likely become less frequent.

    2. PS: Lest anyone imagine that there are no folks who might raise non-pragmatic issues with all of this, consider this entry from yesterday by Fr Hunwicke (which I link because I think it’s sometimes helpful to consider our positions and the assumptions they are based on when confronted with an argument based on very different assumptions – not because I agree with it):

      1. Actually, I thought Father Hunwicke’s argument to be very interesting. And actually leads to practicalities rather than the opposite.. I noted one of the commenters was a priest who attempted to adhere to only communing congregants with hosts consecrated at that mass and the difficulties led him to abandon that ideal as a young priest. In the situation described in the post, I don’t see why the young priest had to make such a public fuss – it would have been better to quietly discuss after the mass, since as the writer’s later research showed, it did not invalidate the mass, i.e. the young priest should have considered the possibility that he was incorrect. Even if the technical answer had gone the other way in the end, I still think the polite and respectful thing to do was to discuss quietly after the mass.

  6. I believe that the alleged “invalidation” was not of the Mass but of the sacrifice. (I would choose “integrity” over “validity” but it seems some seminaries use the latter.)

    There is a certain sacrifice effected whenever Christ becomes sacramentally present. As eternal Priest-Victim, He *is* sacrifice. Thus Christ “is sacrificed” concomitantly with the Institution Narrative and any subsequent language of offering merely dilates, for our discursive mode of experience, an offering “accomplished” instantaneously. In this sense Pius XII (in Mediator Dei 118) agrees with Benedict XIV that communicants who receive from the tabernacle “participate in the same sacrifice.” No matter when a host was consecrated, there is only one eternal Sacrifice.

    But then there is the sense of sacrifice being used in preceding paragraphs of MD:

    112. The august sacrifice of the altar is concluded with communion or the partaking of the divine feast. But, as all know, the integrity of the sacrifice only requires that the priest partake of the heavenly food. Although it is most desirable that the people should also approach the holy table, this is not required for the integrity of the sacrifice.

    1. 115. Now it cannot be over-emphasized that the eucharistic sacrifice of its very nature is the unbloody immolation of the divine Victim, which is made manifest in a mystical manner by the separation of the sacred species and by their oblation to the eternal Father. Holy communion pertains to the integrity of the Mass and to the partaking of the august sacrament; but while it is obligatory for the priest who says the Mass, it is only something earnestly recommended to the faithful.

      This sacrifice-as-ritual-act requires the death of the victim (separate consecration), its offering to God (expressed in the remaining Eucharistic Prayer) and its consumption. More precisely, integrity requires only that the priest-offerer consume, not that the anyone else (still offering Christ’s sacrifice but in a non-celebrant capacity) consume. If that integrity is violated – the immolation, through truly present, is not made *wholly* manifest – the value of receiving Communion would remain intact but the value of the *offering* could be said to be impaired/impeded.

      Perhaps this is not what the young priest meant by “invalidated,” but I do see MD’s teaching underlying the requirement that (con)celebrants consume both species consecrated at the Mass they offer.

  7. At my oral Vicariate examination (1967) before ordination to the priesthood, the examining priest asked me: “You’re celebrating Mass as normal. At Communion, you consume the host. You take the chalice, and you realise that it wasn’t wine. What do you do?” I didn’t remember this situation being covered in our course, so I used my common sense: “I would get some wine, consecrate it, and consume it, and continue as normal.” He said: “Wrong. For validity, you need to have the consecrated host and the consecrated wine on the altar at the same time.” (But he let me through!)
    It was only afterwards I realised that if what he said was true, then the Last Supper was invalid.

    Jack Shea had a story. A nun went to Mass in her parish church on a First Friday. The priest was elderly and a little confused. Coming to the Our Father, a lady beside the nun whispered to her: “He forgot the consecration!” Before Communion, another priest came out (this is before Eucharistic Ministers) and took a ciborium from the tabernacle to help with communion. The celebrant took the ciborium he had on the altar. Question: Which priest do you approach to receive Communion?
    Then comes the crunch. On the way out after Mass, the lady who had whispered to the nun asked her: “Did I break my First Fridays?” !!!

  8. What model of the Church does the accompanying photograph — with no laypeople visible — project?
    Someone has likened mass concelebration to an assembly of Druids. I agree.

  9. Sad – if this is the height of concerns for this young priest, what is the church coming to?

    Agree with Paul Inwood – VII all but instructed that the use of the tabernacle hosts was to be avoided…..parishes do know how to do this but custom/tradition/laziness continues (talk about where your value is).

    In this example – hosts could have been broken in half for all to partake – geez.

    The other point taken is – in a retreat for priests, who do all need to vest? why can’t just the leader, bishop preside?

    1. “In a retreat for priests, who do all need to vest? why can’t just the leader, bishop preside?”

      Maybe because GIRM 209 says this: “The concelebrants put on… the sacred vestments they customarily wear when celebrating Mass individually. “

      1. GIRM says lots of things – if you concelebrate, then you vest. My question/point is – why do they need to concelebrate? you missed my point

        So, given this kerfuffle, does this young cleric not believe in the *real presence* unless it is *confected* on the spot? Inquiring minds want to know.

      2. Bill, concelebration was revived in the Pauline mass to emphasize the communal nature of the sacramental priesthood. This practice isn’t new, it existed in the Early Church but fell into disuse by the early Middle Ages until it was brought back at Vatican II per Sacrosanctum Concilium 57. As to why the aforementioned priest thought not allowing concelebrants to receive the Body of Christ that they consecrated invalidated the mass, who knows, maybe you should ask him yourself.

  10. I have to admit a bit of chagrin at the predicament…only that all clergy were in melt down over the idea of anyone receiving from the reserved sacrament at a mass in which they had participated – be it the ordained priesthood or that of all believers. Isn’t this the underlying problem? The Roman sense that ordained priests ‘must’ receive the sacrament as celebrated, and the medieval exception that laity can without fuss receive from ‘the tabernacle’ without thought. I’m happy that the Church of England provides a supplementary consecration in Common Worship: “If either or both of the consecrated elements are likely to prove insufficient, the president returns to the holy table and adds more, saying these words…”. On one level I suppose this won’t still the Roman the concern over priestly intention and reception from the present sacrifice. But it seems to me this is precisely the Roman slight of hand that neither Reformed nor Orthodox paradigms are comfortable with. All receive from the self-same sacrifice unless absent from the Eucharist for illness or work.

  11. Sorry, I know this is an unpopular view given the preceding comments but I am in agreement with the young priest. This is not an approval of the precise nature of his intervention (was it done politely? etc.). If not enough consecrated bread was available, I would have simply fractioned them further. Yes, it would be disruptive, but sometimes that happens if there were oversights in the planning.

    [Also, I see this as different from the situation where the chalice has been emptied – there, there is clearly no remedy. In this case, it would seem a remedy was available]

    Why only see this as being through a “legalistic and rubrical lens”? Is it possible that perhaps there might have been a theological concern, about the integrity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice for the priest? If anything – and I apologize for how this comes across in print – it seems “legalistic and rubrical” to argue that “there is no specific directive in the GIRM and Canon Law for CONcelebrants and therefore …..” and “it did not **invalidate** the Mass and therefore….” (which, if we wish to talk in such categories, then also brings up such categories as the “completeness”, etc. of the sacrificial action with regard to the minister).

    Like it or not, this distinction does have a past history in the theological literature. We might wish to posit an alternate theory and different ways of looking at what happens in the Eucharist, but there was an established distinction between receiving the Eucharist “by way of sacrifice” and “by way of sacrament”, with celebrating priests expected to receive by the first. It is also clear that many of these distinctions – however reworked – still govern the principles of the liturgical and rubrical law.

    1. There is one sacrifice. It’s part of the notion of unity. Whatever Communion from the tabernacle is for priests, it is the same, ontologically, for people. The simple fact is that we care more about the words, the clothes, and the rules than we do about God, people, or the liturgy itself. Many clergy and some liturgists are simply too lazy to change or care. They have faith in the words, clothes, and rules.

  12. [contd.] I think if people have a different view that is newer and updated (on a whole host of issues, as this thread reveals, such as the nature of priestly participation vis-à-vis the congregation, concelebration, or the view of the Eucharistic action, etc.) that is fine. Such discussions are helpful for clarifying, improving and deepening our understanding and they are welcome to it. But in praxis, especially common praxis, it should not be imposed on and burden the conscience of those who may have an opposite view, when the opposite view has long been an established view. If one is not aware of the discussion or distinctions that were made, I think it is perfectly fine and gracious to simply admit it and alter one’s practice instead of painting the opposition as some sort of legalistic retrograde clericalists.

    In addition, it seems completely topsy-turvy to me to argue: “we do this non-ideal practice for the laity, so why can’t you put up with it” instead of “we should do the ideal practice for the laity as well as for the clergy”.

    Side note re: James Hadley – as far as I am aware the Orthodox do not “re-consecrate” – according to practice, some of them use the “consecration by contact”. The Anglican practice of reciting the Dominical Words over the elements in case of insufficiency was introduced specifically at the time of the 1548 Communion order as initiating a rejection of certain understanding of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist (a controversy partially revivied later in the Scottish church). In any case, it would seem to me to divorce the action of consecration from the whole Eucharistic action.

    1. The last page of the May, 1989 BCL Newsletter gives a response of “certainly valid”….”not licit” for concelebrants to receive hosts consecrated at a previous Mass. The reference is an October, 1981 private response from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship. There was no need to interrupt the Liturgy. The M.C. should have been reminded of his error after Mass.

      We had a similar situation years ago. A deacon brought a ciborium from the taberacle and comingled them with those consecrated at the Mass. The ODW Director spoke with him after Mass. There was no commotion or confusion during Mass.

      Interestingly the. Congregation for Divine Worship noted “In concrete cases when there could not be sufficient Hosts, it seems not obligatory to take Sacred Hosts from the tabernacle for the priest’s communion, since a part of concelebrants can communicate by receiving only the Blood of Christ.”

      1. Few people doubt that the Mass is *valid* since long before the liturgical reform, it was a general consensus view that the double consecration was sufficient. Even for those who would have dissented as regarded the Communion as necessary for validity, a single priest consuming both species consecrated at that Mass would have been sufficient.

        For that matter, the current norms on priests with severe gluten allergy or inability to consume even a tiny amount of alcohol allow them to receive under the one species with the permission of the Ordinary as concelebrants (they cannot celebrate individually).

  13. “and Jesus wept” and continues to do so. Pages of comments, about something so silly, it should not even been dignified with a response. But since the discussion has indeed begun….
    invalidating the Eucharist because it has been mixed with others consecrated at another time, is mind boggling. What are they teaching people in seminary today?
    The whole notion that a person who is ordained has to be in alb and stole and sit separately form the other people so he can hold out his hand pointing to the elements on the altar at consecration, is an example of clericalism gone amuck. Where did the notion that because someone is ordained he has to “concelebrate” every mass he happens to be present at. How about sitting with the others? Get your stipend the next time… or believe that you can get your stipend without dressing up and holding out your hand. Radical ideas, to be sure. And here’s another: give your stipend to the poor.

  14. As a worship director/liturgist/MC, this post is really mind boggling to me. While fully respecting all points of view, some common views are clear for all:
    1. Priests do not HAVE to con celebrate, it is a choice. The only ones who need to be at the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the presider (priest or bishop) and a deacon. The concelebrants can be in the pews with alb and stole. I admire the Anglican/Lutheran tradition where the clergy when not presiding, simply sit in the pews as members of the assembly whom they have been called from but yet remain servant to. Catholic clergy should be no different.
    2. The practice of someone going to the tabernacle during the Fraction rite and bring the ciboria to the altar is sadly still the norm in most parishes despite what GIRM states. As mentioned by one of the above posts, what we do is have a communion minister bring the reserved Sacrament to the credence table after communion has begun. If anyone needs more Hosts, they simply turn and face the minister who then brings over the ciborium. After communion, the ministers place the leftover Hosts into the ciborium and then it is returned to the tabernacle. Works like a charm.
    3. Yes, more hosts is better than running out. Same goes with the wine.
    4. Let’s leave clericalism at the door. We all have our “parts” in the liturgy and yes the clergy deserve our respect but lets keep things in perspective. God wants our worship and praise and our hearts above all things.

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