Apr 15, 2012

Cardinal Canizares: Concelebration Concerns

Online Edition:
April 2012
Vol. XVIII, No. 2

Cardinal Canizares: Concelebration Concerns

Concelebration is “a very sensitive question”, and the act of concelebration by two or more priests at the same Mass “will be beautiful when it is true and authentic”, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares said in his presentation of the book Eucharistic Concelebration. From Symbol To Reality by Monsignor Guillaume Derville, an Opus Dei priest. The book presentation took place on March 5 at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, founded in 1984 by Opus Dei.

Three other books were also presented at this event by three cardinals: Cardinals Raymond Burke, Julian Herranz, and Velasio de Paolis.

Cardinal Cañizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), linked his observations on the practice of concelebration to a question by Pope Benedict XVI: “Why … if a thousand priests concelebrate, do we not yet know whether this structure was desired by the Lord?”

Excerpts from the cardinal’s address introducing the book (as it appeared on Zenit news agency, March 6) follows.


The liturgy, and within it the act of concelebration, will be beautiful when it is true and authentic, when its innate splendor is really reflected. It is in this context that we should understand the question posed by the Holy Father regarding concelebrations with a large number of priests: “For my part”, said the pope, “I have to say, it remains a problem because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental, and I do not consider that the definitive answer has really been found. I also raised this question during the last Synod but it was not answered. I also had another question asked regarding the concelebration of Mass: why, for example, if a thousand priests concelebrate, do we not yet know whether this structure was desired by the Lord?”

The question is precisely one of keeping “the structure desired by the Lord”, because the liturgy is a gift from God. It is not something fabricated by us men; it is not at our disposition. Indeed, “By His command to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Lk 22:19; cf. I Cor 11:25), He asks us to respond to His gift and to make it sacramentally present.…

Monsignor Derville’s thorough study … helps us to listen to Vatican Council II, whose texts, as Blessed John Paul II noted, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition”.

The Council did indeed decide to widen the faculty for concelebrating in accordance with two principles: that this form of celebration of the Holy Mass adequately manifests the unity of the priesthood, and that it has been practiced up to now in the Church both in the East and in the West. Hence concelebration, as Sacrosanctum Concilium also noted, is one of those rites that it is fitting to restore “according to the primitive rule of the holy Fathers”.

In this sense, it is important to look, however briefly, into the history of concelebration. The historical panorama that Monsignor Derville offers us, even if it is — as he modestly points out — only a brief summary, is sufficient to let us glimpse areas of obscurity, that show the absence of clear data on Eucharistic celebration in the earliest times of the Church. At the same time, and without falling into a ingenuous “archaeologism”, it does provide us with enough information to be able to state that concelebration, in the genuine tradition of the Church, whether eastern or western, is an extraordinary, solemn and public rite, normally presided over by the bishop or his delegate, surrounded by his presbyterium and by the entire community of the faithful. But the daily concelebrations of priests only … do not form part of the Latin liturgical tradition.

Moreover, the author seems to me to succeed fully when he examines in depth the underlying reasons mentioned by the Council for extending concelebration. This widening of the faculty to concelebrate needs to be moderated, as we can see when we read the Council texts. And it is logical that it should be so: the purpose of concelebration is not to solve problems of logistics or organization, but rather to make the Paschal mystery present, manifesting the unity of the priesthood that is born of the Eucharist. The beauty of the concelebration, as we said at the beginning, implies its celebration in the truth. And thus its power as a sign depends on the way it lives and respects the demands that the concelebration itself brings with it.

When the number of concelebrants is too large, you lose one of the essential aspects of the concelebration. When it is almost impossible to synchronize the words and gestures not reserved to the principal celebrant, when the concelebrants are distant from the altar and the offerings, when there are not vestments for some of them, when there is a lack of harmony in the color or the shape of the vestments, all this can obscure the manifestation of the unity of the priesthood. And we cannot forget that it is precisely this manifestation which justified the widening of the faculty to concelebrate.

As long ago as 1965 Cardinal [Giacomo] Lercaro, president of the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de sacra liturgia [the group appointed to implement the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy], wrote a letter to the presidents of the bishops’ conferences, alerting them to the danger of treating concelebration as simply a way of dealing with practical problems. And he reminded them that it could be opportune to encourage it, if it helped the piety of faithful and priests.

I would like to look at this last aspect very briefly. As Benedict XVI stated: “I join the Synod Fathers in recommending ‘the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present’ [Sacramentum Caritatis 80]. This recommendation is consistent with the objectively infinite value of every celebration of the Eucharist, and is motivated by the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness. If celebrated in a faith-filled and attentive way, Mass is formative in the deepest sense of the word, since it fosters the priest’s configuration to Christ and strengthens him in his vocation.”

For each priest, the celebration of the Holy Mass is the reason for his existence. It is, it must be, an entirely personal encounter with the Lord and with His redemptive work. At the same time, each priest, in the celebration of the Eucharist, is Christ Himself present in the Church as Head of His body; and he also acts in the name of the whole Church “when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice” [CCC 1548; cited in Sacramentum Caritatis 23]. When we experience the wonder of the Eucharistic gift, which transforms us and configures us to Christ, there is only room for amazement, gratitude and obedience.

The author helps us to understand this admirable reality more deeply and clearly. And at the same time, as we read he reminds us and makes us take into account that there also exists, together with concelebration, the possibility of individual celebration or of participating in the Eucharist as a priest, but without concelebrating. It is a matter of entering into the liturgy according to the particular circumstances, of looking for the option that will more easily enable us to enter into dialogue with the Lord, of respecting the structure of the liturgy itself. Here we find the limits of a right to concelebrate or not, which also respects the right of the faithful to take part in a liturgy where the ars celebrandi makes their actuosa participatio possible. We are thus touching on points which are a matter of justice; and indeed the author also refers to the Code of Canon Law.…



The Editors