Monday, July 22, 2019

The Mounting Threat of Coercive Concelebration

I have been hearing from clergy who are telling me that, within their religious communities, in schools or houses of formation, in parishes, and in other situations, the campaign is intensifying to forbid priests from offering their own daily Masses (when they are otherwise free of obligations to celebrate Mass with and for a congregation) and to compel them to concelebrate with confreres. We first got wind of this back in July 2017 when a document circulating around Colleges in Rome attempted to intimidate clergy into concelebrating, contrary to their canonical rights. The inimitable Fr. Hunwicke commented on it and related matters extensively in a series called “Concelebration in the Roman Colleges.”

Clearly, the modernists and progressivists are fuming and plotting against the young priests going to side altars to “say Mass,” or the parochial vicars who set up dignified altars in their rooms for their day off, or the clergy who with curious consistency absent themselves from the sacramental jamborees that pass for special occasions like the Chrism Mass. They can see the writing on the wall. There comes a time when the threat of tradition becomes felt in earnest, and all kindness, real or simulated, is laid aside. It is indeed a threat to the postconciliar house of cards that many have substituted for the rock-solid Church of Christ and its perennial doctrine and liturgy.

The older generation, still paddling and sputtering in a lake of Kool Aid, wants to thwart the revival of private Masses [1] above all because these Masses are so often in the usus antiquior. Thus, two canonical offenses are committed at once: an action against the Code of Canon Law, and an action against the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and its authoritative applications in Universae Ecclesiae.

Let us, them, be as clear as we can be. It is impossible to force a priest to concelebrate, even to establish that he should “as a rule” do so. It is still more impossible to exclude the usus antiquior for a priest’s “private” Mass — that is, when he is not scheduled to offer Mass in public with a congregation. [2]

1. Canon 902 guarantees the right of each priest to celebrate individually with the sole condition that the individual offering of the Holy Mass not take place in the same church or oratory in which another concelebration is taking place. (NB: Some English translations simply say “in which another celebration is taking place.” The Latin, however, is clear: non vero eo tempore, quo in eadem ecclesia aut oratorio concelebratio habetur.) Thus, having many simultaneous Masses at side altars is fully permissible even according to the 1983 Code.

2. Canon 904 recommends the daily offering of the Holy Mass by priests “since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal office [munus].” The standard English translation of the 1983 Code translates munus as “function” in this canon, which translation is not felicitous.

3. Canon 906 prohibits a priest from offering the Holy Mass “without the participation of at least some member of the faithful” — “except for a just and reasonable cause.” It is clear from context that the fulfillment of the recommendation of Canon 904, that is, the recommended daily offering of the Holy Mass by priests, is a just and reasonable cause.

4. These canonical points are well supported by n. 31 of the Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia of John Paul II, which says, inter alia:
If the Eucharist is the center and summit of the Church’s life, it is likewise the center and summit of priestly ministry. For this reason, with a heart filled with gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ, I repeat that the Eucharist “is the principal and central raison d’être of the sacrament of priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist.” … We can understand, then, how important it is for the spiritual life of the priest, as well as for the good of the Church and the world, that priests follow the Council’s recommendation to celebrate the Eucharist daily: “for even if the faithful are unable to be present, it is an act of Christ and the Church.” In this way priests will be able to counteract the daily tensions which lead to a lack of focus and they will find in the Eucharistic sacrifice — the true center of their lives and ministry — the spiritual strength needed to deal with their different pastoral responsibilities. Their daily activity will thus become truly Eucharistic.
5. They are also supported by n. 80 of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of Benedict XVI:
The Eucharistic form of the Christian life is seen in a very special way in the priesthood. Priestly spirituality is intrinsically Eucharistic. … An intense spiritual life will enable him [the priest] to enter more deeply into communion with the Lord and to let himself be possessed by God’s love, bearing witness to that love at all times, even the darkest and most difficult. To this end, I join the Synod Fathers in recommending “the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present” (Propositio 38). 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.
Both of these magisterial documents renew the recommendation of the daily offering of the Holy Mass even when a member of the faithful cannot be present. It is, of course, important always to bear in mind that the Holy Mass is never in fact offered “alone,” for there is always the participation of the choirs of angels and of the communion of the saints.

6. In connection with the Mass of Paul VI, The General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides rubrics for the offering of Holy Mass when only one minister participates (nn. 252–272), and for the offering of Holy Mass without the participation of a minister (n. 254). There would be no point in furnishing such rubrics were this situation not anticipated as a normal occurrence in the life of clergy.

Priests who find themselves victims of the attempt to exclude private Mass or to require concelebration should resist by respectfully — and, if necessary, repeatedly, and in writing [3] — pointing out the provisions in Church law, as summarized above, avoiding attribution of motives or rancor, and leaving the judgment of hearts to Almighty God. Since we know there are wicked men in high places, at times this self-defense may precipitate a larger confrontation. Such confrontations are never pleasant affairs but they can be occasions of greatly-needed clarification on the limits of authority and obedience, and even moments of grace in discerning whether a given pastoral or community situation is sustainable over the long term.

A number of good men in high places have given this advice to individuals: Be strong and stand your ground: esto vir, esto sacerdos Christi. No one ever has a right to contradict universal legislation. As long as that legislation remains in force, and no exceptions have been expressly granted by law, it is binding on all without exception. This has always been the mind of the Church.


[1] I am aware of the limitations of the term “private Mass,” especially because any Mass is a social and public act by its very nature, but it is still a useful term, the meaning of which everyone readily grasps.

[2] The recent letter of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta similarly violates the rights of laity and clergy.

[3] Bullies rarely want to write anything down on paper, because they either know or have an intuition that if they write down their demands, they can be challenged canonically, and defeated or embarrassed. So a key defense is to insist that any demand or request be put into writing, so that one can be certain of what is being requested and why. If they will not do so, then one can claim one did not understand what they were asking or had not been given a sufficient reason or had doubts in one’s conscience about the validity of their requests, etc.

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