Saturday, June 27, 2015

Concelebration Tomorrow - From Dom Alcuin Reid’s Foreword to “The Holy Eucharist - The World’s Salvation”

Peter Kwasniewski just published a notice and review of “The Holy Eucharist—The World’s Salvation. Studies on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, its Celebration, and its Concelebration,” by Fr. Joseph de Sainte Marie OCD. This is the long-awaited translation of a work originally published over thirty years ago, not long before the author’s death, which Peter describes as “the most important book ever to appear in English on the subject of concelebration.” It appears in this new edition from Gracewing Publishers with a foreword by Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB, entitled “Concelebration Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow”.

In the first part of this foreword, under the subtitle Concelebration Today, Dom Alcuin outlines the many (and sadly common) abuses which have become almost part and parcel of the practice of concelebration as done in the modern Roman Rite. The second part, Concelebration Yesterday, summarizes Fr de Sainte Marie’s extensive research into the history of concelebration, and particularly “his identification of the profound historical error on the origins and practice of sacramental concelebration that was contained in the materials and draft texts presented to the Fathers of the Council.” This would lead to the approval of paragraph 57 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, of which Dom Alcuin writes, “the historical error in respect of both Eastern and Western liturgical history contained in article 57 § 1, which forms part of the premise for the reform authorised, is an embarrassment of the first order (as Father de Sainte-Marie makes perfectly clear). It was, nevertheless, an error that was widely accepted and promoted.”

We here reproduce the final section, Concelebration Tomorrow, with the kind permission of Dom Alcuin and Gracewing.
Father de Sainte-Marie’s principal concern is the theological and pastoral impoverishment of the life of priests and of the Church through the reduction of the number of Masses offered as a direct result of the unforeseen spread of concelebration. “Which manner of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass can be the source for the greatest glory of God and for the greatest treasury of redeeming graces for the Church?” he asks, insisting that “the need for the latter in today’s world explains the urgency of this question.”

His questions, surely, remain pertinent. So too, his exegesis of the conciliar reform and text is sound. Father de Sainte Marie is not opposed to the Council’s permission for concelebration on more occasions, indeed he himself made appropriate use of it in his priestly life. What concerns him profoundly is the radical reduction in the number of Masses being offered. For:
Each Mass, being the very sacrifice of Christ, the one redemptive sacrifice of Calvary, has an infinite value. Each Mass is an act of the entire Church; for, she is present there both in Christ, Who offers Himself for her as her Head, and in the priest, who represents her, and prays for her and in her name… It is this which establishes the value of Masses said ‘privately,’ that is, those celebrated by a priest in the absence of any assistants: each Mass pours the redemptive Blood of Christ upon the Church and the whole world.
While each Mass has in itself an infinite value, the dispositions of men for receiving its fruits are always imperfect and in this sense limited. For this reason the number of celebrations of the Mass is so important for multiplying the fruits of salvation.
If he is right  both historically and theologically  it is high time that we look again at the practice of concelebration as it has become today. Before it is asserted that ‘universal concelebration’ is now customary, let us remember Saint Cyprian of Carthage’s adage, consuetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est (custom without truth is simply error grown old. Letter to Pompeius, 73/9). Before this error grows too old, it is necessary to revisit it with theological, historical and liturgical truth.

This The Holy Eucharist  The World’s Salvation most certainly does. Since its original publication there has been much talk of a “reform of the liturgical reform,” and of a “new liturgical movement.” That the practice of concelebration be reviewed in the light of the abuses to which it has given rise and which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council most certainly could not have imagined they were authorising  most especially large-scale concelebrations which situate priests at great distances from the altar, and the indignity and indecorous behaviours in priests which such events often bring forth  is surely an important element of such liturgical renewal.

In such a review competent authority may wish to consider the implications of the erroneous historical assumptions in article 57 § 1 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Experience of concelebration since the Council, and theological arguments such as those of Father de Sainte-Marie, might even suggest a prudent restriction of its practice in the future. Formation “in the spirit and power of the liturgy” itself, and specifically on why and how priests can and should offer Mass privately and on how they can assist at Mass when not concelebrating, would seem urgently to be necessary in many places. It may even be appropriate for the competent authority to modify the rite of the ordination of priests and the blessing of abbots in the Pontificale of the usus antiquior of the Roman rite to ensure sacramental concelebration on those occasions.

Let concelebration in the Roman rite tomorrow be what the Council truly intended: an occasional, edifying and dignified rite by modest or at least manageable numbers of priests. And let the Church of today and tomorrow continue to benefit from more and more devout and, where necessary, individual celebrations of Holy Mass  something the Second Vatican Council never intended to abolish  for the Holy Eucharist is indeed the world’s salvation.

Joseph de Sainte-Marie, OCD. The Holy Eucharist—The World’s Salvation. Studies on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, its Celebration, and its Concelebration. With a Foreword by Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB. Leominster: Gracewing, 2015. xxxix + 557 pp. Available from Amazon (USA $40, UK £25, Germany €38) or the publisher.

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