Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pope Benedict on Masses with multitudes, large numbers of concelebrants, and true and active participation

Yesterday I mentioned the recent Q&A the Holy Father had with the Roman clergy. At this occasion, pope Benedict raised some very interesting points regarding celebrations of Holy Mass with multitudes and large numbers of concelebrants. As these issues have bothered me, and no doubt many of you, for quite some time, it is welcome news to see that the pope himself is considering them as problematic and looking for different solutions. He also affirms that "true and active participation" do not require exterior activity. Therefore, and because the reference was at the end of yesterday's post and may hence have escaped the attention of some, I have made a translation of this entire section of the Q&A. It also takes up the stational churches, which Shawn has posted on this morning.

The question, posed by a Roman vice parish priest, expressed difficulties he had experienced at last year's youth gathering (a kind of "Italian WYD") at Loreto, concerning the distance to and the passivity at the Mass celebrated there by the Holy Father.

Here is the Pontiff's answer (leaving out only the beginning, dealing more with the organisation at Loreto; emphases are mine):

A great problem, however, is that of the liturgies in which masses of people participate. I remember in 1960, during the great International Eucharistic Congress of Munich, there was an endeavour to give a new physiognomy to the eucharistic congresses, which up to that point had solely been acts of adoration. The intent was to put the celebration of the Eucharist at the centre as the act of presence of the mystery being celebrated. But immediately the question arose how that would be possible. To adore, it was said, is possible also at a distance; but to celebrate, a limited community is necessary which can interact with the mystery, therefore a community which must be the assembly around the celebration of the mystery. Many were opposed to the public celebration of the Eucharist with hundreds of thousands of people. They said it was not possible precisely because of the very structure of the Eucharist, which requires the community for the communion. There were also great personalities, very much respected, who objected to this solution. Then professor Jungmann, a great liturgist, one of the great architects of the liturgical reform, created the concept of statio orbis, namely reverting to the statio Romae where even in the time of Lent the faithful assembled at a point, the statio: there they are in statio as soldiers for Christ, and then they go together to the Eucharist. If that, he said, was the statio of the city of Rome, where the city of Rome came together, then this is the statio orbis [statio of the world]. And from that moment on we have the eucharistic celebrations with the participation of masses. To me, I must say, this remains a problem, because the concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental, and therefore I do not find that the definitive answer has been found. Also in the last Synod [of Bishops on the Eucharist, in 2005] I have made this question emerge, which has not, however, found an answer. I have also made another question be raised, regarding concelebrations en masse: because if there are concelebrating, e.g., a thousand priests, one does not know if this is still the structure willed by the Lord. In any case, these are questions.

And so, you encountered a problem with participating in an en masse celebration in which it is not possible for everyone to be equally involved. Therefore, one must choose a certain style to preserve that dignity that is always necessary for the Eucharist, and hence the community is not uniform and the experience of participation in the event is diverse; for some it is certainly insufficient. But this did not depend on me; rather on those who have taken care of the preparations.

Hence it must be reflected well on what to do in such situations, how to respond to the challenges of such situations. In Loreto, if I am not mistaken, it was an orchestra of handicapped people who performed the music, and perhaps the idea was just to demonstrate that handicapped persons can contribute to the sacred celebration, in which not only are they not excluded but become primary agents. And this way, loving them, everyone does not feel excluded, but even involved. This seems to me a very respectable consideration which I share. Of course, the fundamental problem [of en masse celebrations] remains.

But it seems to me that also in this regard, knowing what the Eucharist is, even if one does not have the opportunity of an external activity as one might wish in order to feel one is fully participating, we should be in it with the heart, as the ancient imperative of the Church says, created perhaps precisely for those who were at the back of the basilica: "Lift up your hearts! Now, let us all go out of ourselves, so that we all are with the Lord and are together."

As I said, I don't deny the problem, but if we really follow this word "Lift up our hearts", we will all find, even in difficult and sometimes questionable situations, true and active participation.

For some insightful thoughts with interesting comments regarding the problems of large (con)celebrations of this kind, I once more recommend this and this post on Fr Justin's Nova et Vetera.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: