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From the November AD 1997
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    Question:  What is "concelebration"? Does one receive more grace from attending a concelebrated Mass?

    Answer: This question came "second-hand" from someone of the New Order. As the doubts about the Novus Ordo are well documented elsewhere, this column concerns itself only with valid concelebration in one of the traditional Catholic rites.1

    In today's terminology, "concelebration" is the celebration of Mass in which two or more priests consecrate the same host and chalice. Each priest truly offers the one Holy Sacrifice of the Cross. In early times such a practice was unknown, but seems to have grown out of the practice of a bishop celebrating Mass with as many of his priests as possible assisting him at the altar. Initially, the priest-assistants did not consecrate, but served as priestly witnesses and cooperators in the ministry of the bishop. In some places they wore the priestly vestments as a sign of their office. This cooperation of other priests at the altar is today referred to as "ceremonial concelebration" (as opposed to "sacramental concelebration"). A similar ceremonial concelebration takes place on Holy Thursday when the priests assist the bishop in the consecration of the Holy Oils, and in ordination Masses when all of the priests lay hands on the newly ordained priests. The priests assist the bishop, but do not actually bless the oils or confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

    Some liturgical authors, notably the Roman canonist Guillaume Durandus, maintained that sacramental concelebration was impossible. They variously objected that concelebration was superfluous; that Christ did not concelebrate with His apostles; and that the first priest to finish reciting the form would be the only true celebrant, the others vainly attempting to consecrate matter that had already been consecrated. They were refuted by other theologians, including St. Thomas Aquinas.2 The last objection is generally answered with the rule that the priests must attempt to speak the form together but that absolute simultaneity is not required; a moral union is adequate.

    Sacramental concelebration (referred to as simply "concelebration" for the rest of this article) was impossible in the earliest years of the Church, prior to the development of fixed Canons. For the most part, it developed in Rome, beginning as early as the third century at the direction of Pope Zephyrinus, with the unusual practice of priests consecrating separate hosts but the same chalice. By the sixth century the cardinal priests concelebrated Mass with the Pope at each of the stational churches.3 Such concelebration persisted in papal Masses on the greater feasts of the year up until the eighth century. Between the eighth and 12th century the practice spread to other Western sees for Masses in which priestly or episcopal Orders were conferred, and for the blessing of Abbots.4 It became a fixed part of the conferring of Orders only as late as the 15th century.5

    At an ordination Mass the newly ordained priests are stationed at or close to the altar and recite the entire Canon, including the words of Consecration, with the bishop. As celebrants of the Mass they receive the Communion Host before the Confiteor and the accompanying absolution. They drink from a chalice of unconsecrated wine. A bishop-elect concelebrates the Mass of his episcopal consecration, and receives Holy Communion from the consecrating bishop under both species.

    In the Byzantine Rite both Catholics and Orthodox concelebrate more frequently, particularly when the bishop is the principal celebrant. Among the Orthodox private Masses are unknown, and even the Catholics are likely to concelebrate rather than to offer an unscheduled Mass. Some of the other Eastern Catholic Rites also permit concelebration.6

    In the rite of Lyons (France), one of the few dioceses to retain its own proper rite after the Council of Trent, concelebration is practiced on Holy Thursday.7 An interesting attitude toward concelebration was held at the great island monastery of Iona, where only bishops or holy priests were allowed to celebrate alone. Less holy individuals made up for their defects through concelebration!8

    Which brings us to the second part of the question: How to compare the graces received from a concelebrated Mass with those of a normal Mass. The best answer is probably "don't!" Trying to deal with matters of grace in a mathematical matter usually sends people off on odd and unproductive tangents. But, having said that, there remain some useful observations to be made about the graces received from attending any and every Mass, and these may be applied to concelebrated Masses as well.

    It should always be remembered that there is only one Sacrifice that is offered by Christ's priests. And this is true no matter how many priests offer however many Masses. They do nothing more and nothing less than make His Sacrifice on the Cross present again in their own time and place; they do not offer a new sacrifice. It is this single Sacrifice of Christ that is the perfect prayer of the Church, God the Son Himself offering Adoration, Thanksgiving, Petition, and a request for pardon for the faults of the human race.

    Yet, while there is but one Sacrifice, grace does in fact abound through the offering of Holy Mass. The Church as a whole benefits, those who take part benefit, the priest himself benefits, and those for whom the priest offers Mass benefit. We speak of there being four "fruits" that are derived from every offering of Holy Mass:10

    A The "general fruits" of the Mass; those graces willed by the Church to be shared by all the living and the dead who are capable of receiving them. It is unknown whether or not these graces are multiplied by the number of con-celebrants, as they would be if separate Masses were offered.

    B The "special fruits" of the Mass; those received by those who in some way participate in the offering of Mass (priest, acolyte, congregation, sacristan, donors, etc.). The participants at a concelebration are attending Mass; it is unlikely that the number of celebrants has any bearing on the graces they receive. On one hand, the additional solemnity of a larger celebration might incite greater degrees of subjective piety in the congregation; on the other hand, if concelebration were to become a daily affair, piety might be dampened by the appearance that the priests were too lazy to offer individual Masses.

    C The "personal fruits" of the Mass; those received by the priest himself by virtue of offering the Holy Sacrifice. Each celebrant receives these "ex opere operato," meaning that the graces willed by Christ flow more or less automatically in the celebration of a Sacrament. Yet, subjectively, there is likely to be a reduction in graces as the degree of participation in the ceremony is reduced.

    D The "ministerial fruits" of the Mass; those graces acquired by the priest in celebrating Mass which he is free to assign in accordance with someone else's wishes. Again, there is likely some subjective diminution of the graces acquired by a relatively uninvolved concelebrant. Were concelebration to take place regularly, this would raise a question about stipends given to concelebrants; at least, the donor should be told that the stipend is taken for a concelebrated Mass.

    While graces don't lend themselves to mathematical analysis, it is difficult to recognize any gain in concelebrated Masses over Masses offered in the normal way. In fact, there might be a loss insofar as the graces received depend on the effort put forth by the priest. Over the centuries the Church has demonstrated Her wisdom and prudence, restricting concelebration to occasional major events. Surely, one would do better attending Mass each day of the week than by attending Mass offered by seven priests on one day of the week.

Q. & A. NOTES:
1. James F. Wathen, OSJ, The Great Sacrilege; Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani and Antonio Cardinal Bacci, "The Ottaviani Intervention"; Rama P. Coomaraswamy, The Problems With the New Mass. All are distributed by TAN Books and Publishers, Box 424, Rockford, IL 61105.
2. Summa Theologica III, Q. 82, art. 2.
3. Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Concelebration" (1908), vol.iv, p. 190.
4. Joseph A. Jungman, SJ, The Mass of the Roman Rite (NY: Benzinger, 1951) vol. i, p. 195-199.
5. John Bligh, SJ, Ordination to the Priesthood (NY: Sheed and Ward, 1956), p. 34.
6. Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, s.v. "Concelebration."
7. Jungman, ibid.
8. Bligh, ibid., p. 147.
9. Hebrews vii: 28; ix: 11; x: 12.
10. For a discussion of the "fruits" of Holy Mass see J.B. O'Connell, The Celebration of Mass (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1959, 5th edition), p. 43-47.   


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