ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
59. The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith." They do indeed impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God duly, and to practice charity.
It is therefore of the highest importance that the faithful should easily understand the sacramental signs, and should frequent with great eagerness those sacraments which were instituted to nourish the Christian life.
Over the past several days I have been reading research papers for a good friend in my parish. A career health professional, he decided in mid-life to pursue a master’s degree in theology for his own satisfaction and no doubt with an eye toward future ministry. I was intrigued with this project for a number of reasons, not least of which was to observe how a professional in another field brings his or her skill set to the sacred discipline of theology. His finished products were marked by a sound historical investigation, attention to official documents, a very good review of current theological thinking, and—a skill we must all master nowadays—adroit handling of the internet. He added his own experiences with the topics at hand and rendered opinions, correctly citing them as such.
I thought to myself, if he accidentally dropped one of his papers during a meeting of his medical peers, and one peer of any or no religious persuasion picked it up to read, this unintended reader would respect the competence of the paper as worthy of a professional peer. The paper could be critiqued for its philosophy, but not because it is incompetent, poorly documented, or the product of my friend’s imagination. The theology student is evangelizing as surely as Peter in Jerusalem or Paul before the Altar of the Unknown God.
“Evangelization” is one of about a dozen words the Church has never cleanly identified for theological study and present day pastoral life, along with “community,” “groups,” “reconciliation,” “stewardship,” etc. My own working definition of evangelization is engagement with the world, finding a common ground of language, experience, and need. I checked in on two Catholic groups dedicating themselves to two brands of evangelization, FOCUS on the college campus and RENEW in the parish setting. Both are worthwhile endeavors, organized plans to “save this generation of our young people” [or other people] by instruction, tight-knit organization, and targeted contacts and crusades.
The RENEW website advertises its pedagogical methodology as exploring “Catholic teaching with direct quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, scriptural references, and reflection questions.” There is hardly anything here to disagree with except for the absence of one key factor: a dynamic that forecloses upon listening. A Church with Open Doors (2015) is a sophisticated primer for the delicate work of Catholicism’s engaging with the world, noting that for the Church to arrive upon the scene with Catechism under arm and waiting for the rest of the errant world to fall into line is the least effective form of evangelization, short of restoring the Inquisition.
The “new evangelization” [another phrase from the indeterminate list] demands a new evangelizer, one who is wise, well-grounded in the Faith tradition, humble in the search for God, and welcoming to the pain and insights of those who have left the Catholic communion, Christians of other traditions, men and women of good will, and even atheists. Perhaps hardest of all to embrace are those for whom religious experience is something of a trinket along the way of life, but it is hard to dismiss this segment of society because perhaps no one has made a genuine outreach to hear them without first prescribing catechetical medicine.
Para. 59 opens a lengthy section of Sacrosanctum Concilium with the decidedly unpoetic title of “The Other Sacraments and Sacramentals.” While the linguistics suffer, there is a great deal of truth—perhaps unintentionally revealed—in the document’s emphasis on the Mass and the failure to unpack the other sacraments and pious rites and events [sacramentals]. My friend had chosen The Sacrament of the Sick for one of his research efforts, and he expressed amazement at the many forms this sacrament has taken over the centuries, not to mention the many pastoral options for this sacrament today which typically are not appreciated by rank and file Catholics.
Para. 59, in its closing words, uses the phrase “with great eagerness” in describing the richness of the full Catholic sacrament/sacramental life of the Church. The Church is in desperate need of ministers and teachers who can present the richness of our life in a fashion that respects and loves both our own membership and, as the Council writes, even those who wish us harm. In fact, we might do better to pray for more ministers and educational lay leaders to pursue the vocation of theological learning than pray for more priests—something we have doing for my entire lifetime and we seem to have less and less. Looking at my own parish, nearly all our “faith formation” personnel are volunteers with a bare minimum of theological preparation. Packaged programs of renewal where non-professional “evangelizers” with an overly doctrinaire dependence upon the Catechism and the quick trigger to divide sheep from goats are a parish’s prime formative resource, what results is counter-evangelization, a literal fundamentalism where “great eagerness” is nowhere to be found.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
[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:
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 [in religious houses], 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.
1. The regulation, however, of the discipline of con-celebration 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.
The segment of Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Holy Eucharist concludes with detailed regulation on a matter that at first glance does not seem to impact the laity very much: rules regarding the concelebration of Mass, in which multiple priests con-celebrate in one Mass. Documentation from ancient times up through the IV Lateran Council (1204) indicates that the practice of offering one common Mass was known and observed in various times and places. Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216) instructed cardinals in Rome to concelebrate with the pope on certain high holy days. The practice declined and disappeared for a time in the Catholic West due to, among other things, the high mortality rates of the Black Plague, which demanded a large number of private requiem Masses or “Masses for the Dead” in which the saving grace of the Mass was always dedicated to one soul. Our present-day practice of mentioning a special name “for whom this Mass is offered” is a theological misnomer, as the Eucharistic Prayers are inclusive for all the living and the dead.
When I came into this world in 1948 Church Law permitted concelebration on two occasions: the ordination of priests, who concelebrated with the ordaining prelate; and the consecration of a bishop, who said the words of the consecration of the bread and wine with the senior bishop who conferred the sacrament of Holy Orders. But as with many other liturgical reforms of the 1960’s post-Vatican II era, the idea of restoring the Eucharist to an earlier model of priestly unity was actively discussed and even adopted in some European circles before the Council; some religious orders were particularly sensitive to the poor symbol of the “main Mass” or conventual Mass taking place on the high altar while as many as a dozen “low Masses” were offered simultaneously on side altars along both walls of the church or chapel. Visit any church constructed before the Council, including the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and count the altars.
Para. 57 cites the “unity of the priesthood” as the primary reason for restoring the practice of concelebration, and this is certainly true. But I think the greater impetus toward this practice was the overriding principle of the Mass as a community assembly around the table of the Lord. During my pre-ordination retreat in late August 1974, I can recall a rather strong discussion about the theological appropriateness of offering a “private Mass” alone. Most of my ordination class—which was made up of Franciscans with a strong community bent—held that a solitary Mass of any sort was something of an anomaly. As I look back, I can barely remember the few times I offered a solitary Mass, i.e., without concelebrants or a congregation, as the idea seemed so foreign to my seminary upbringing. A priest in active ministry is called upon to offer Mass every day in his ministerial setting, though opportunities for concelebration are infrequent, and probably more so than 1974.
On the other hand, during my first assignment, as chaplain of a Catholic college, I would have to say that about half of the friar community concelebrated daily. The mostly older men who eschewed the common late-afternoon campus Mass preferred to offer Mass privately in several chapels in or around the friary and its main campus church. It was common to hear a priest speak of “my Mass,” and although such terminology is theologically incorrect today, it is hard to critique a generation in which the personal offering of Mass—even with a congregation—was the center of a priest’s spiritual identity.
Para 57.2 makes a point that a priest maintains his right to celebrate Mass individually so long as he does not do so on Holy Thursday—when all priests are expected to concelebrate the Last Supper Mass where the Christian priesthood was instituted—or in a church or chapel where another Mass is currently being concelebrated. The Church’s concern here is the sign of unity of which the Mass is the ultimate sign among the Sacraments. A priest may offer Mass alone if he is sick or confined or finds himself in circumstances where no congregation is assembled, as in the case of travel, or assignment to very rural or mission territories. When I was on vacation as a priest, I offered Mass daily at my family homestead in our summer house in the yard, or with any family I might be staying with while on the road.
This marks the end of the treatment on the Mass; our next post will be para. 59 introducing the other sacraments and sacramentals.