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Why Ecclesia Dei Communities Should Avoid Concelebrating the Chrism Mass

In the news cycle recently there has been much coverage of Pope Francis’s statement to a group of French bishops that all priests in a diocese, regardless of affiliation, should be present to concelebrate the Chrism Mass with their bishop each year (see this article). As a result, the ever-simmering question of concelebration has once more come to a boil.

Respected German traditionalist Michael Charlier wrote an article (translated at Rorate Caeli) explaining why he thinks that, even if normally concelebration may and should be refused by traditional clergy, the Chrism Mass is a special case where a refusal in principle would be unreasonable, and where it may be prudent to go ahead in a spirit of compromise and as a minimal sign of unity with the local bishop, at whose sufferance these traditionalist communities function in the diocese.

I shall argue that this is a mistaken conclusion, and that it is very important for traditional clergy to avoid concelebration tout court, even on this occasion.

The first and most basic reason is historical and liturgical. As Bishop Athanasius Schneider has demonstrated in his unsurpassed study on the subject—“Eucharistic Concelebration: Theological, Historical, and Liturgical Aspects”—the rite of concelebration as it was “drawn up” after the Second Vatican Council, and even more as it has been “lived” in the Church, is a sheer novelty that bears no substantive relation to the Western tradition or to the Eastern tradition. It is, in short, another fabrication of the liturgical innovators. It therefore deserves to be avoided for exactly the same reasons for which traditional clergy refuse to use the new missal, the other new sacramental rites, the new liturgy of the hours, the new “book of blessings,” the new pontifical ceremonies, and so forth.

The second reason is ecclesiological. If what is desired of the traditional clergy is that they should freely and publicly express their communion with the local bishop and the presbyterate, it is manifest that concelebration is not the only way to express it. An important article by Clemens Victor Oldendorf, “Who Actually Delegitimizes the ‘Novus Ordo Missae,’” is worth quoting in extenso on this point:

What is interesting in the wording of the question [number 3 of the Dubia] is the talk of recognizing the validity and legitimacy of concelebration, and the implicit presupposition that such recognition can consist only in occasionally concelebrating in person, and especially at the Chrism Mass with the local bishop in whose diocese one resides and ministers. The explanatory note speaks of the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, so “concelebration” and Pope Paul VI’s post-conciliar “liturgical reform” are, as it were, used synonymously. In other words, the practice of concelebration is seen as an exquisite achievement of this liturgical reform, like an emblem. And although current canon law guarantees the right to individual celebration, as is well known, one should not be surprised at such an interpretation, since in St. Peter’s itself, individual celebrations even according to the post-conciliar missal have been de facto abolished in favor of concelebration….

[Yet] concelebration is not the only way to express one’s hierarchical communion with the bishop…. By receiving from the local ordinary the sacred oils consecrated in the new rite, a priest also accepts its validity, and furthermore—with the exception of the Apostolic Administration of the Holy Curé of Ars in Campos, Brazil—none of the former Ecclesia Dei communities have their own bishops, consecrated according to the old Pontifical. Even if the priests themselves have been ordained according to the old Pontifical up to now, from this point of view, none of the priests of these communities is, so to speak, “purely Tridentine” because the prelates ordaining them were ordained using the 1968 Pontifical; and even the SSPX accepts into its ranks priests ordained in the new rite, or at least collaborates with them….

Furthermore, it can be pointed out that probably the majority of the Masses celebrated on the basis of Summorum Pontificum using the Tridentine Missal were celebrated in churches and chapels where otherwise the post-conciliar Missal is predominantly used, and moreover, that at such Masses, in the Vetus Ordo, Communion for the faithful may be taken from ciboria in the tabernacle whose hosts were consecrated in celebrations according to the new missal. Such a thing would certainly not be possible if there was a denial of the validity and legitimacy [N.B.: see below for a qualification] of the new rite.

In the dubium about concelebration under closer consideration here, therefore, an unrealistic construct is present, one which, strictly speaking, cannot have existed in the case of anyone who has ever applied to benefit from an old-rite indult, or who, from September 14, 2007 to July 16, 2021, celebrated Masses on the basis of Summorum Pontificum according to the Missale Romanum of 1962, or assisted at Masses celebrated on this legal basis. In short: a much higher threshold of evidence than could possibly be necessary has been introduced, which gives the response a punitive character….

The faithful who feel committed to the liturgical tradition of the Latin Church and who want to be nothing but Roman Catholics are thus pushed out, and it becomes clear: Pope Francis and the Congregation for Divine Worship are obviously not really concerned with the high good of genuine ecclesial unity, but at most with a positivist loyalty to authority.

The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales’ “Some Notes on the Congregation for Divine Worship’s Responsa ad Dubia in light of Canon Law” rightly points out:

Ecclesial communion can be manifested in many ways: intercommunion with the bishop, mention of the bishop in the Canon, presence at the Chrism Mass in choir, use of the oils blessed by his bishop at the Chrism Mass, etc.

The third reason is canonical. As such, it is closely bound up with the preceding, since canon law exists to facilitate unity in the truth and the communion of charity. Chartier calls into question the fittingness of applying Canon 902 to the Chrism Mass, yet any sidestepping of Canon 902 raises a deeper problem. The requirement of an annual concelebration can be seen as a way in which to insist that modern Church customs and pontifical preferences surpass and relativize tradition and canon law, which has been the pattern throughout Francis’s pontificate and indeed throughout all postconciliar pontificates, back to Paul VI’s surrender to northern European pressure regarding communion in the hand, or John Paul II’s surrender on the question of female altar servers. Being pressured into concelebrating, even for the “best” of reasons, is the first step on a slippery slope of giving up other rights and traditions. It opens the door to other demands and requirements, other new “wishes” and “expectations” and “exceptions” and “accommodations.” It is better to say no at the start than to begin sliding down that slope. One might even say that the traditional clergy are doing the entire Church a favor by reminding everyone of the limits that exist and of the theological truths these limits are meant to safeguard. (See also my article “The Mounting Threat of Coercive Concelebration.”)

As Christopher Altiere remarks:

Priests have a right—enshrined in law—not to concelebrate. In fact, canon 902 of the Code of Canon Law is written in a way to give permission for concelebration—i.e., when more than one priest celebrates the same Mass—precisely because the practice was virtually unheard-of in the Latin West until the second half of the last century. How can a healthy mind see in the exercise of a right, any evidence of anything except knowledge of one’s right?

Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, STL, JD, JCD goes further, showing that the response to question 3 in the Responsa ad dubia flatly contradicts more authoritative teaching:

The Responsa does seem to lack a sufficient understanding on the legal and ecclesiological norms of concelebration. Like the question of episcopal dispensations, this is not simply a legal norm but was a part of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. In Sancrosanctum Concilium, where the Church opened the Latin Church to the wider ability to concelebrate, the conciliar fathers made clear: “each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually” (SC, 57). This has been consistently interpreted by the Church as the right of priests not to be required to concelebrate. The notion that the exercise of this right, given in a Constitution issued by an Ecumenical Council and enshrined in universal law, may be the basis for the restriction of other rights and privileges is impossible to square with the provisions of law and Conciliar teaching. The stated goal of the Responsa ad dubia is to foster conformance to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. That goal is compromised by a statement in these Responsa ad dubia that seems to repudiate one of the express liturgical directives of that Council.

In an extensive interview on the responsa ad dubia, Fr. Gerald Murray, also a canon lawyer, expands on the dangerous lawlessness of the CDW response and the line Pope Francis suggested to the French bishops:

The clear presumption… is that a priest who chooses not to concelebrate at the Chrism Mass or at other Masses, as is his right, is suspected of not recognizing the validity and legitimacy of concelebration itself… That is an unwarranted suspicion and presumes that it is likely that the priest rejects concelebration as valid and legitimate, rejects the liturgical reform as a whole, and lacks ecclesial communion with the bishop in addition. Such rash conclusions about the intentions of priests who choose not to concelebrate Mass cast these men in the position of being presumed guilty of grave offenses for simply exercising their canonical right to celebrate Mass individually.

No priest can be canonically compelled to concelebrate Mass, as canon 902 states that “priests may concelebrate the Eucharist; they are, however, fully entitled to celebrate the Eucharist individually.” Thus, a decision to not concelebrate Mass is perfectly lawful in itself, and should not form the basis for a suspicion that any particular priest who makes the choice not to concelebrate does so because he “does not recognize the validity and legitimacy of concelebration.” Only direct evidence that a priest believes that concelebration of the Mass is invalid and illegitimate should lead to that priest being asked by his ecclesiastical superior to correct this erroneous contention or face canonical sanctions. Concelebration [nevertheless] remains a free choice of every priest, with the possible exception of the Mass celebrated at his priestly ordination where the ritual presumes that the newly ordained priest will concelebrate the Mass with the ordaining bishop from the point immediately following his ordination.

Worthy of note is Fr. Murray’s reminder that even if a bishop had evidence and reason to correct a priest about his opinions, there would still be no basis for requiring concelebration at the Chrism Mass. It is not legally translatable into a requirement.

The fourth reason is moral. For a priest to make use, essentially for political reasons only, of a rite of which he internally disapproves and which he will find in practice disedifying and distressing, is a true example of “politicizing the Eucharist,” making of the holiest and highest mystery of the Church a punchcard, a token, a litmus test. (Needless to say, the greater guilt for this abuse would be that of the bishop who demanded it contra legem as a new law, like a Pharisee multiplying observances while neglecting larger matters of justice.) To go along with this is to agree to subordinate the liturgy to politics—precisely one of the besetting vices of the postconciliar Church, a vice one should wish to avoid feeding. If one does not approve of a given liturgical act, then one is doing it in order to be seen by others—a scenario about which Our Lord has some pointed words in the Gospel. One might almost say it verges on sacrilege to make the Eucharist into a sign not so much of ecclesial unity as of ideological conformity, employee verification, or party loyalty.

When Charlier says: “It is difficult to justify refusing to participate in it [the Chrism Mass]… since even the Old Rite communities (including the Society of St. Pius X) recognize in principle the validity and legitimacy of the liturgy according to the 1969 books,” he is certainly going too far. Admittedly, apart from the minority view held by such figures as Fr. Anthony Cekada, the traditionalist movement broadly speaking has never had a difficulty admitting the bare sacramental validity of the new rites of the sacraments. But legitimacy—whatever exactly that rather vague word means—is another matter entirely.

If the reformed/“renewed” liturgical rites and offices were acknowledged as “legitimate,” on what basis would the traditionalists refuse to accept them and to use them, at least sometimes? Would not their choice of the old rites be reduced to mere aestheticism, sentimentality, or church politics? Of course this is not so; the liturgical reform is called into question and rejected because of its serious internal flaws, which extend from the lex orandi into the lex credendi. As a result, I think it is no exaggeration to say that traditionalism as such rejects the legitimacy of the liturgical reform.

Moreover, anyone who reads widely in traditionalist literature, past and present, can see that even the question of licitness is by no means a foregone conclusion. If the licitness of a rite relies on its having been duly and appropriately promulgated by the competent authority acting on the basis of his God-given authority and for the common good of the society in question, there can be no doubt that most traditionalists would (or, to be consistent, should) deny, with one nuance or another, the licitness of the reformed rites. Dr. John Lamont recently published a compelling case for a strong version of this position (see his essay at the Dialogos Institute website). Whether one follows Lamont all the way to his stark conclusion or not, it remains clear that the licitness, the lawfulness, of Paul VI’s rupture with liturgical tradition is a vexed and vexing question that should not be resolved with a blind ultramontanist shrug of the shoulders. To quote Oldendorf once again:

The traditionalists whom Traditionis Custodes is targeting have never asked for “permission” to hold on to the traditional liturgy—they consider it a patrimony prior to and deeper than the whim of the pope—and will not now suddenly allow it to be taken away and forbidden by Pope Francis. However, many of those who, until now, have attached importance to the requesting and receipt of such permission may now start to think again about it, and possibly even more, about the basic validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, including the Pauline Pontificale Romanum of 1968 and the Pauline Novus Ordo of 1969—especially since the post-conciliar liturgical books have now been claimed to be the sole (!) expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite. Such unreality handicaps this declaration that it compels a re-examination of the delicate (and, some might say, unsustainable) peace on which Summorum Pontificum was constructed.

In short: however valid the new sacramental rites are, their legitimacy and licitness should not be assumed a priori. If there were even a slight doubt in the mind of a priest in this regard, he should not concelebrate the new Mass, for there would be a kind of dissimulation or dishonesty at work, and his conscience would rightly reproach him for it.

I am sure that still further points could be made, but the foregoing arguments suffice to show why it would be a mistake to “shimmy from compromise to compromise” in order to avoid “the danger of failure.” We do heartily agree with Charlier, however, when he says at the very end of his article that traditional clergy should “prepare themselves materially and theologically for the fact that a point may arrive when such a communion [with a Rome moving away from tradition] no longer de facto exists.” To aid in such preparation, resources are already available, and more, it can be predicted, will emerge at time goes on.

Thanks be to God, apart from Rome, and even arguably in Rome, there are still bishops who believe the Catholic Faith or who at least are willing to tolerate “diverse expressions” of it (particularly when they bring in large numbers of faithful and generous donations to diocesan coffers). Traditional clergy have often been able to establish and maintain good relations and a certain mutual understanding or modus vivendi with these bishops. In this case, the communio ecclesiae is better achieved in personal informal meetings than in artificially inflated liturgical celebrations.


Photo via Cathopic.

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