Concelebrating at Additional Masses

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Concelebrating at Additional Masses

ROME, 13 JAN. 2009 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Priests are allowed to binate or even trinate in cases of pastoral necessity. What should happen if a priest has to give the homily at several Masses on a Sunday, perhaps in connection with an appeal? When he has already said one Mass and another priest is the celebrant, should he also concelebrate? — S.P., Stourport-on-Severn, England

A: I would say that the most relevant norm regarding this topic is found in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 64:

"The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, 'should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.'"

The final phrase of this number would cover the case of our correspondent. An appeal, such as when a missionary priest preaches on Mission Sunday or when the pastor makes an annual diocesan appeal, would constitute a just cause.

It is important, however, that the priest should attempt to weave the themes of the appeal into the homily itself as relating to the readings and the Christian life. Otherwise, appeals are best left until after the post-Communion prayer and before the final blessing.

The priest who preaches in these circumstances should vest in an alb or a cassock and surplice, as well as a stole of the corresponding liturgical color.

The norm foresees the case of a priest who "cannot concelebrate." The general rule is that a priest celebrates or concelebrates no more than one Mass a day (Canon 905 of the Code of Canon Law). The permission to binate or trinate is a pastoral concession for the benefit of the faithful and only for a just cause. Since it is usually not necessary to concelebrate at a second Mass, then it would not generally fulfill the requirement of a just pastoral need.

Therefore, in the case at hand it is enough that the priest has already celebrated Mass, or is scheduled to celebrate a later Mass, in order to justify being able to both preach the homily and refrain from concelebrating.

Religious priests have a habitual exception to the one-Mass rule as they may always concelebrate at their community Mass even though they have another Mass scheduled for the faithful. All priests may likewise concelebrate at a second Mass in any justifiable situation such as the bishop's Mass, funerals, anniversaries of ordination, and similar circumstances.

* * *

Follow-up: Concelebrating at Additional Masses [1-27-2009]

Pursuant to our comments on concelebrated Masses (see Jan. 13), a priest from Honduras wrote the following: "Quid agerem? I have a large parish in Honduras and I celebrate three parish Masses on Sunday, and should I have to go to one in an aldea [village], four. On weekdays, I celebrate one Mass, and at times I have a funeral, and also have to visit an aldea,' and hence would celebrate three Masses. Am I in violation? On one day, I have to go to the cathedral to concelebrate the bishop's ordination anniversary, plus the morning Mass in the parish, plus the patron feast of an aldea which celebrates Cristo de Esquipulas, with baptisms and first Communions. I fear that should someone die, I would have to celebrate the funeral Mass, too. Here in Honduras, only the wealthy can afford embalming, and hence the rank and file have to be buried within 24 hours. Some advice, please, so that my soul is not in jeopardy!"

Our correspondent is evidently a hardworking zealous priest who is at the same time striving to celebrate the liturgy according to Church norms.

This is an important quality, as not all priests clearly perceive that we are administrators and not the owners of the sacred gifts received at ordination. In other words, we may not dispose of them according to our will, or according to our criteria of what is "pastorally suitable," but must perform our service according to the mind of the Church.

In limiting the number of Masses that a priest may celebrate, the Church does not desire to limit the possibility of grace. Rather, it widens its consideration beyond immediate pastoral concerns to take into account deeper values such as the sacred nature of the Mass itself — which could easily be obscured by an exhausted priest going through the motions for the sixth time in one day.

In this sense the Church's restrictions are themselves pastoral, as she cares for the spiritual and physical well-being of the shepherd himself as well as safeguarding the faithful's right to a reverent celebration of the sacred mysteries.

What should be done by our correspondent? First of all, he should consult the bishop regarding the specific canonical norms applicable in the diocese. Not a few countries and dioceses with grave pastoral situations such as those described have been granted permission to go beyond the canonical restrictions and allow for the celebration of four Masses on Sunday and three daily.

Second, although the Mass is the high point of Catholic worship, the Church has liturgical possibilities other than the Mass. I have many priest friends from Latin American dioceses and am aware of the great pastoral needs. (For example, I have a Brazilian friend with a parish of 90,000 souls and another in Mexico with 25 small towns under his care.) These priests try to rotate as best they can the number of Masses allowed them and then use the other possibilities such as the Celebration of the Word with Holy Communion.

In the case of funerals, which by their very nature cannot be programmed, the Church has the possibility of a funeral liturgy without Mass. Thus, if one has already celebrated all possible Masses and a funeral turns up, one can celebrate the funeral and burial rites while offering to celebrate a Mass for the family at the nearest possible date.

God does not depend on our schedules to distribute his mercy as all time is in his hands. Certainly it is necessary to educate the faithful in this and explain that the priest is also subject to obedience and that the scarcity of clergy precludes the satisfaction of all possible desires.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field