Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Concelebration, Archaeology and Beauty

My friends at NLM were among those who highlighted the ZENIT report on the paper Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera delivered, on March 5th, at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, presenting Msgr. Guillaume Derville's work, La concélébration eucharistique. Du symbole à la réalité (Eucharistic Concelebration: From Symbol To Reality).

By chance I found and read on the internet Msgr. Derville’s work as it had appeared in the Annales theologici – 2009 – 2 of the University. It is an academic exercise and a well done first effort at scholarship. The Cardinal’s presentation of the new book edition of the thesis is inspiring as well. The whole business, however, including some of the expressions of disappointment on the part of a few commentators (also on a French blog) calling for restrictions or regulations on concelebration, left me dumbfounded.

Very simply, I too (albeit for different reasons than the discontent) am at a loss as to what to do with a couple conclusions the Cardinal has drawn starting from Msgr. Derville’s work: “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...”

 Perhaps the Cardinal has in mind "moderating (?)" those gigantic concelebrations at Masses in sports stadiums? There are definitely some aesthetic issues which must be faced when to protect his bald head from the sun a priest resorts to a ball cap or a straw hat during Mass, concelebrant or not. For the rest, praxis around the world is uneven. I can remember being in Salzburg over 20 years ago for the episcopal ordination of the Archbishop; most of the Austrian bishops did not concelebrate; they were in choir, vested in mitre and cope and laid on hands and prayed the consecratory prayer over the ordinand. The bulk of the German bishops during my 8 years there assisted in choir dress at the public liturgies celebrated on the occasion of meetings of the German Episcopal Conference. In many U.S. dioceses all of the priests have matching concelebration vestments; they look great and carry themselves well not only at the annual Chrism Mass but for ordinations as well.

My point is, that I guess there are other issues: orientation, rubrics, sacred music... which I would like to see faced head on and sooner, as I fear "archaeologism" is not only a nostalgic recreation from insufficient data of a supposed idyllic liturgical form from pre-Carolingian times.

With the scarcity of priests today, in your average diocese there is little call for weekday concelebration. Most priests, even chancery officers, also have parish or chaplaincy duties. I think approvingly of Msgr. Derville’s mention of sick, frail and elderly priests who draw such joy from being able to concelebrate as they lack the strength and/or sight to celebrate on their own. I think of retirement homes for priests, Nunciatures and priests' houses for curial workers in Rome or national seminaries and colleges where concelebration isn't really a question of logistics or organization but rather offers occasion for priestly communities (let me use understatement) to pray together.

Back before the introduction of the Missal of Pope Paul VI, which we are now using in its 3rd edition, I can remember serving the priest's Mass sine populo. Celebrating Mass without at least one server back then would have been unthinkable. As 8th grade boys, we had our week by turns as cathedral sacristan. We got to the cathedral at 6:00 a.m. and set up vestments and all for the first Mass (Low Mass) at 6:45 a.m. by one of the assistants at the High Altar and then set up and served the director of Catholic Charities Mass at Mary's Altar, before preparing everything for Monsignor's daily High Mass with the children's choir for 8:00 a.m. In college yet, we had two elderly priests in the house who celebrated privately and there was always a seminarian vested to serve each of those Masses each day. Despite all of the care and assistance provided in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, I wonder if the sacristy there could manage if every priest who came in every morning to celebrate were to celebrate individually, that is, if concelebration were to be "moderated". Maybe priests shouldn't go on pilgrimage in such great numbers to Rome?

There has indeed been a rupture with our tradition, but restoring the countless number of Low Masses sine populo of another era requires a restoration of Catholic life. I wonder if there are enough home-schooled boys to pick up the slack?

While no one should be deprived of the possibility of celebrating his Mass, I think we must consider the boost of that set time and that brother priest or two with the same commitment. I hope in my younger years my concelebration encouraged my nuncios; I have often in the meantime been edified and confirmed in my devotion by the young priests who have daily concelebrated with me.

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