By Father Edward McNamara, LC
ROME, 18 November 2014 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Earlier this year I visited a religious community in the States where the numerous elderly and ailing concelebrants wear only a stole over their religious habit to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Eucharistic Prayer, used by the same four or five presiders at Mass, varies according to their mood. It can be any one of a half-dozen or more Eucharistic Prayers. However, none of the concelebrants has the text of the Eucharistic Prayer in his hands. I was told that for the validity of their celebration of Mass, it suffices if they recite the words of consecration over the bread and the wine. However, the wording varies in the different Eucharistic Prayers. After the presider at Mass consumes the host and drinks from the chalice, he gives a particle of his host to each of the two acolytes, who assist him. Then one of the acolytes takes the pyx with consecrated hosts from the tabernacle. Standing on one side, facing the congregation, he places a consecrated host upon the hands of priests, religious brothers and laypeople who come altogether to receive the consecrated host. Another acolyte, on the opposite side, gives the chalice with the Precious Blood to the priests, brothers and laity who approach him. Hence, I ask, was the Mass of the concelebrants both valid and licit? — H.H., Almaty, Kazakhstan
A: There are many things to be addressed here. There are questions of validity, of licit or possibly illicit acts, and in one aspect a possible grave abuse. I will attempt to distinguish the various areas and examine them separately.
It is necessary to remember the context. It seems to be one of a community in which most of the residents are elderly priests. This context can change the reply with respect to the fulfillment of certain norms.
First of all, the question of placing the stole over the religious habit: Redemptionis Sacramentum has the following to say about this:
"124. A faculty is given in the Roman Missal for the Priest concelebrants at Mass other than the principal concelebrant (who should always put on a chasuble of the prescribed color), for a just reason such as a large number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments, to omit 'the chasuble, using the stole over the alb.' Where a need of this kind can be foreseen, however, provision should be made for it insofar as possible. Out of necessity the concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may even put on white chasubles. For the rest, the norms of the liturgical books are to be observed. ...
"126. The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books, even when there is only one minister participating. In order that such abuses be corrected as quickly as possible, Ordinaries should take care that in all churches and oratories subject to their jurisdiction there is present an adequate supply of liturgical vestments made in accordance with the norms."
Although this is a strict norm, the Holy See has the faculty of dispensation for a just cause. If, for example, elderly priests have brittle bones or limited mobility so that it is difficult for them to wear an alb, then the superiors can request a dispensation from the Holy See allowing a priest to concelebrate with only a stole and, if possible, light chasuble over the habit. In this way an illicit act is made licit.
The question of multiple Eucharistic Prayers would not be a question of legality, provided the different prayers are used in accordance with liturgical law and not according to the whim or mood of the celebrant. The first three Eucharistic Prayers may be used on any day, the fourth with some restrictions, and the prayers for reconciliation only when appropriate, such as during Lent or when a Mass has a penitential theme.
The Eucharistic Prayers for various needs may only be used when one of the Masses for various needs is celebrated, and thus are mostly limited to weekdays of ordinary time. The Eucharistic Prayers for children are not permissible in this context.
In all of these prayers the essential words of the consecration are exactly the same, although the introductory passages do vary. There are no approved Eucharistic Prayers in English where the essential words of the consecration are different.
The suggestion that it is sufficient for the priests to recite together the words of the consecration is both true and false. It is true insofar as the Mass will be valid. It is false because it is also illicit. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is clear that saying the words of consecration is not sufficient for a concelebrant:
"218. The parts spoken by all the concelebrants together and especially the words of consecration, which all are bound to say, are to be said in such a way that the concelebrants speak them in a very low voice and that the principal celebrant's voice be clearly heard. In this way the words can be better understood by the people. It is a praiseworthy practice for the parts that are to be said by all the concelebrants together and for which musical notation is provided in the Missal to be sung."
The following numbers of the GIRM describe carefully these interventions for each Eucharistic Prayer. We limit ourselves to report those regarding the Roman Canon:
"222. From the Quam oblationem (Bless and approve our offering) up to and including the Supplices (Almighty God, we pray that your angel), the principal celebrant alone makes the gestures, while all the concelebrants speak everything together, in this manner:
"a.The Quam oblationem (Bless and approve our offering) with hands extended toward the offerings;
"b. The Qui pridie (The day before he suffered) and the Simili modo (When supper was ended) with hands joined;
"c.While speaking the words of the Lord, each extends his right hand toward the bread and toward the chalice, if this seems appropriate; as the host and the chalice are shown, however, they look toward them and afterwards bow profoundly;
"d. The Unde et memores (Father, we celebrate the memory) and the Supra quae (Look with favor) with hands extended;
"e. From the Supplices (Almighty God, we pray that your angel) up to and including the words ex hac altaris participatione (as we receive from this altar), they bow with hands joined; then they stand upright and cross themselves at the words omni benedictione et gratia repleamur (let us be filled with every grace and blessing)."
This principle is of such importance that the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum says that if a priest is unable recite them due to language difficulties, he should refrain from concelebrating:
"113. When Mass is concelebrated by several Priests, a language known both to all the concelebrating Priests and to the gathered people should be used in the recitation of the Eucharist Prayer. Where it happens that some of the Priests who are present do not know the language of the celebration and therefore are not capable of pronouncing the parts of the Eucharistic Prayer proper to them, they should not concelebrate, but instead should attend the celebration in choral dress in accordance with the norms."
For pastoral charity I think it would be better not only to provide elderly priests written texts but not to burden them with too much variety in the number of Eucharistic Prayers.
Finally, it is a grave abuse to give concelebrating priests hosts from the tabernacle. Once more Redemptionis Sacramentum is clear:
"3. The Communion of Priests
"97. A Priest must communicate at the altar at the moment laid down by the Missal each time he celebrates Holy Mass, and the concelebrants must communicate before they proceed with the distribution of Holy Communion. The Priest celebrant or a concelebrant is never to wait until the people's Communion is concluded before receiving Communion himself.
"98. The Communion of Priest concelebrants should proceed according to the norms prescribed in the liturgical books, always using hosts consecrated at the same Mass and always with Communion under both kinds being received by all of the concelebrants. It is to be noted that if the Priest or Deacon hands the sacred host or chalice to the concelebrants, he says nothing; that is to say, he does not pronounce the words 'The Body of Christ' or 'The Blood of Christ.'"
If our reader has the possibility, it is recommended that he contact the bishop of the diocese in which this celebration takes place and also the major superior of the religious congregation in question.