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Pope Francis concelebrating Mass with many others in MexicoYouTube screenshot

July 6, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The celebration of priests together, when two or more priests celebrate one Mass, has long caused controversy. For decades after the Second Vatican Council, priests have felt under pressure to take part in “concelebrated” Masses instead of celebrating their own Mass, perhaps without a congregation. Concelebration is now being enforced in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, ending the long tradition of large numbers of priests celebrating individually at side altars. Now, concelebration is being used as a weapon against priests who celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass: The Archbishop of Dijon, Roland Minnerath, is ending the 23-year-old apostolate of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in the archdiocese because the priests serving it prefer not to concelebrate.

Many bishops, religious superiors, and seminary rectors like concelebration, as it gives them effective power over the celebration of Mass by their priest subordinates. They can insist that these priests not only attend a “conventual” or “community” Mass when priests are gathered together, but do so in a way which prevents them from celebrating a Mass of their own. When there is a large number of priests, most of them have hardly anything to do in concelebration, and of course they have no control over it: They can’t celebrate it at an earlier or later time, in a chapel with special significance to them, or using liturgical options of their choice, such as a votive Mass. Concelebration is a control-freak’s dream.

The theology of concelebration is also confusing, to put it mildly. What do the concelebrants add to the proceedings? Why prefer one Mass be celebrated to many? How can different priests accept stipends for different Mass intentions if only one Mass is celebrated? Concelebration was supposedly “revived” after the Second Vatican Council, but its existence in any historical epoch before the Council is unclear. There is evidence of the Pope being assisted at Mass by priests saying some of the prayers, in the distant past, but the theological and sacramental significance of this is controversial, and the idea that priests can concelebrate together, rather than with the Pope or a bishop, is wholly novel: There is not a scrap of evidence for this happening in the West before Vatican II.

The theological questions which concelebration raises add to the question of liturgical autonomy in increasing the reluctance of some priests to concelebrate. For priests committed to celebrating the Traditional Mass exclusively, as the proper rite of their religious institute or community, it seems particularly inappropriate to concelebrate. Priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter and other “traditional” groups in the Church are trained and ordained to celebrate one form of the Mass — the Extraordinary Form, in which there is no concelebration. No-one familiar with both forms of the Roman Rite could doubt that they differ in spirituality and general “feel.” To attempt to force a priest wholly committed to the older form, whose spirituality has been formed by this Mass, to celebrate the newer one, and to make this a kind of test of loyalty, is insensitive and unreasonable.

As a matter of principle, canon law does not, in fact, oblige priests to concelebrate: They have the right to celebrate their own Mass under canon 902, as LifeSite’s Peter Kwasniewski explains.

Archbishop Minnerath’s demand that priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter engage in “occasional concelebration” as the price they must pay to remain in his diocese has understandably been called a kind of blackmail. If he is in any doubt as to the communion he holds with these priests, he could simply present himself for Holy Communion in their church, or give them some task in his diocese which accords with their priestly charism. For nearly two millennia, bishops in Dijon as elsewhere have been content with intercommunion, obedience in their apostolate, and doctrinal orthodoxy, as sufficient indications that priests in their diocese were truly on their team. Why should Archbishop Minnerath want to devise some new and arbitrary liturgical test for them?

The answer is not far to seek: This is a test of loyalty in which traditional and conservative priests, because they are theologically well-informed and spiritually sensitive, are at a disadvantage compared with so-called “progressive” clergy. If Archbishop Minnerath decided to expel or suspend priests who rejected the teaching of the Church, he would end up with a very different set of characters leaving his service. Perhaps he should consider parting company with those who deny the “historical character” of the Gospels (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 19), are uncomfortable with the idea that “a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 37), or doubt that entry into the Church by baptism is necessary for salvation (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 14). On questions like these, it seems likely that the priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter would outperform the typical diocesan cleric.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.