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.