Guidelines for the Concelebration of the Eucharist
On November 17, 1999, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to approve revised Guidelines for the Concelebration of the Eucharist. Guidelines for the Concelebration of the Eucharist were first approved by the NCCB Committee on the Liturgy in 1978 and revised in 1987. Each of the previous editions of the Concelebration Guidelines has been published as a statement of the Committee on the Liturgy. At its September 14, 1999 meeting, the Administrative Committee decided to present the present revision of the Concelebration Guidelines for consideration as a statement of the NCCB.
- Concelebration is the practice by which "several priests, in virtue of Christ's own Priesthood and in the person of the High Priest, act together with one voice and one will; so also do they confect and offer a single sacrifice by a single sacramental act and likewise partake of the same."
- The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council recommended concelebration as an expression of "the unity of the priesthood" and chose to extend permission for the practice to a number of particular instances, granting the bishop of each diocese the authority to decide when concelebration was opportune at other times. The Council further directed that "a new rite for concelebration...be drawn up and inserted into the Pontifical and into the Roman Missal."
- On March 7, 1965, the Council's directives were fulfilled in the publication of the Decree Ecclesiae semper and the accompanying Rite of Concelebration. From the earliest days of the Church concelebration, while taking a variety of forms, has been celebrated for "much more than merely practical considerations." For such concelebration at Mass is expressive of the one sacrifice of the cross, the priesthood, and the action of the entire people of God, "ordered and acting hierarchically." Concelebration should be understood as an appropriate way for priests to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, expressive of their unique relationship with Christ the High Priest and of the unity of the priesthood.
Regulation of Concelebration
- The regulation of concelebration belongs to the diocesan bishop, although "each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually, though not at the same time in the same church as a concelebrated Mass, nor on Thursday of the Lord's Supper." Accordingly, the bishop may establish diocesan guidelines regarding concelebration.
Participation in Concelebration
- "[Priests] as ministers of holy things, above all in the Sacrifice of the Mass, act especially in the person of Christ.' (Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 13, see also Lumen Gentium, no. 28) Hence it is fitting that, because of the sign value (ratione signi), priests should participate in the Eucharist, fulfilling their office according to their proper order, that is by celebrating Mass rather than merely receiving communion as lay persons."
- Therefore, concelebration is always encouraged, "unless the welfare of the Christian faithful requires or urges otherwise." Concelebration is called for at the ordination of bishops and of priests and at the Chrism Mass because it "effectively brings out the unity of the priesthood, of the sacrifice, and of the whole people of God." In Masses "presided over by the bishop, priests should concelebrate with him so that the mystery of the unity of the Church may be made manifest through the Eucharistic celebration and so that the priests may be seen by the entire community to be the presbyterate of the bishop." Concelebration is particularly appropriate at the evening Mass on Holy Thursday, the Mass for councils, meetings of bishops, synods, the Mass for the blessing of an abbot, the conventual Mass, the principal Mass in churches and oratories, and the Mass for any kind of meeting of priests, either secular or religious, "unless the good of the faithful requires or suggests otherwise."
- "No one is ever to be admitted as a concelebrant once Mass has already begun."
Number of Concelebrants
- The diocesan bishop may limit the number of concelebrants in consideration of the size of the church and altar and whether the faithful's view of the rite is impaired or if he decides "that the dignity of the rite requires this."
- In those instances where it is advisable to limit the number of concelebrants, the priests chosen to concelebrate should be truly representative of the larger group. Such a limitation on the number of concelebrants should be understood as a pastoral response to the problems of space which may occur because of the great number of priests who may be present rather than as an attempt at exclusion.
- In those cases when the number of concelebrants is limited for legitimate reasons, those in charge of planning should provide opportunities for the non-concelebrating priests to celebrate the Eucharist at another time.
- Concelebrants should be seated together in a distinct area (presbyterium). They should not be intermingled with the assembly nor should anyone be seated between the concelebrants and the altar. If the space in the presbyterium is not large enough to accommodate all the concelebrants appropriately, some are seated in another area which physically and visually unites them with the other concelebrants.
- The position of the concelebrants should not obscure the fact that only one bishop or one priest presides over the whole celebration. Furthermore, the position of the concelebrants should not usurp the positions or limit the functioning of other liturgical ministers. Unless it is unavoidable, concelebrants should not impede the full view of the assembly, since members of the congregation are called upon to kneel at various times during Mass.
- The color and form of the vestments and their difference from everyday clothing call attention to the liturgical role of the priest concelebrants. Vestments are part of the ritual experience and the festive character of a liturgical celebration. The guidelines for liturgical vestments for concelebration are clearly spelled out in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
- Concelebrating priests wear either an alb with a stole and chasuble, or a stole over the alb.
- The principal celebrant is to wear the alb with a stole and chasuble.
- Priests may not concelebrate in secular attire, ordinary clerical garb or by wearing the stole over the cassock. Nor may priests of religious institutes concelebrate merely by placing a stole over the monastic cowl or habit.
- If chasubles are worn by all the concelebrants, they should be simpler in their decoration than that of the principal celebrant. Vestments that differ in size, shape, and ornamentation can obscure unity, emphasize individualism, and detract from the presidential role of the presiding priest.
Rite of Concelebration
Reverence to the Altar
- The principal celebrant and deacon, together with concelebrants and other ministers in the procession, bow to the altar on arrival as a sign of reverence. If a tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament is behind or near the altar, they genuflect instead of bowing. Afterwards, the principal celebrant, the deacon, and any concelebrants then reverence the altar with a kiss.
- When there is no deacon present, a concelebrant reads the Gospel. If the principal celebrant is a bishop, the concelebrant asks for and receives a blessing from the bishop, and proclaims the gospel reading in the usual way. If the principal celebrant is not a bishop, the concelebrant bows before the altar and prays inaudibly, Almighty God, cleanse my heart ...and proclaims the gospel reading in the usual way.
- The homily is ordinarily given by the priest who presides. At a concelebration, one of the concelebrating priests, or in some cases a deacon may be invited to preach.
Preparation of the Altar and the Gifts
- "The rites for the preparation of the gifts are carried out by the principal celebrant; the other concelebrants remain at their places." When there are to be great numbers of communicants and all the ciboria cannot conveniently be placed on the altar, some of the concelebrants may hold the ciboria in their hands during the eucharistic prayer.
At the Altar
- The concelebrants approach the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer after the principal celebrant has concluded the prayer over the gifts. If there is a great number of concelebrants, only some of them should be invited to stand with the principal celebrant at the altar. "The deacons stand behind the concelebrants, but in such a way that one of them may assist at the cup and the book as needed." The principal celebrant begins the Eucharistic Prayer only after the concelebrants have taken their places.
Choice of Eucharistic Prayer
- The Eucharistic Prayer should be chosen prior to the celebration, either from among Eucharistic Prayers I - IV of the Roman Missal (Sacramentary) or from the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses of Reconciliation I - II or the Eucharistic Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions.
Singing of the Eucharistic Prayer
- Singing the Eucharistic Prayer is a very solemn form of its proclamation. However, the Eucharistic Prayer should not be sung unless the principal celebrant and the concelebrants know the music and are able to sing it well.
Proclamation of the Eucharistic Prayer
- When it is not sung, the Eucharistic Prayer should be proclaimed by the principal celebrant in a loud and clear voice, while the concelebrating priests recite the epiclesis, words of consecration, anamnesis, and post-consecratory epiclesis in a lower voice. This is so that the congregation is able to hear the text without difficulty. The concelebrants listen in silence during the post-sanctus and the intercessions. Recitation from memory by the concelebrants is to be preferred to reading from cards or books.
Deacons and Other Ministers
- When neither a deacon nor other ministers assist in a concelebrated Mass, their functions are to be carried out by one or more of the concelebrants. However, every effort should be made to provide a deacon and other ministers.
- In accord with ancient tradition, concelebrating priests stretch out both their hands toward the elements. The full impact of this gesture can be achieved if the concelebrants adopt the same gesture as the principal celebrant.
- During the consecration, each concelebrant extends the right hand, with the palm facing to the side, toward the bread and the chalice.
- All bow profoundly when the celebrant genuflects after the consecration of the bread and after the consecration of the wine.
Anamnesis and Epiclesis
- The concelebrants hold their hands outstretched in an orans gesture during the anamnesis and the post-consecratory epiclesis, but not during the other parts of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Additional Gestures in the Roman Canon
- When praying the First Eucharistic Prayer (Roman Canon), concelebrants make two additional gestures. From Almighty God, we pray... to the sacred body and blood of your Son... inclusive, they bow with hands joined; then they stand upright and cross themselves at the words, let us be filled... At the words Though we are sinners, each concelebrant strikes his breast.
- If they are to be prayed by designated concelebrants, the intercessions within the Eucharistic Prayer should be assigned prior to the beginning of the celebration. Whenever possible the intercessions should be recited from memory. Cards or booklets containing the Eucharistic Prayer should be provided to those concelebrants who will read one or more of the intercessions. In this way, the movement of the Sacramentary on the altar from one concelebrant to another will be avoided.
- The intercessions within the Eucharistic Prayer are said with hands extended. Careful attention should be given to the manner in which the intercessions are divided. The principal celebrant may also say the intercessions by himself.
Doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer
- During the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer only the principal concelebrant elevates the paten with the consecrated bread, while the deacon raises the chalice. The concelebrants do not elevate other chalices, ciboria, etc. If no deacon is present, one of the concelebrants may elevate the chalice.
- All the concelebrants may join in the singing or recitation of the doxology or it may be sung or recited by the principal celebrant alone. The collective voice of the concelebrants should not, however, overwhelm the voice of the celebrant. The procedure to be followed should be decided before the celebration begins.
The Lord's Prayer
- The principal celebrant, "with hands joined, introduces the Lord's Prayer; with hands outstretched, he then says [or sings] this prayer itself with the other concelebrants and the congregation". The concelebrants likewise hold their hands outstretched in an orans gesture during the singing or recitation of the Lord's Prayer itself. Only the principal celebrant maintains the orans posture for the "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil..."
Prayers during the Communion Rite
- The celebrant's parts of the communion rite are said by the principal celebrant alone. They may not be distributed for recitation by the concelebrants. Nor may they be recited by the concelebrants together with the principal celebrant.
Sign of Peace
- The sign of peace should not be overextended, thus delaying the rite of the breaking of the consecrated bread.
Breaking of the Bread
- The Lamb of God begins only after the sign of peace is completed. During this litany the deacon (or, in his absence, one of the concelebrants) assists the principal celebrant in the breaking of the consecrated bread and the pouring of the Precious Blood.
- It is not necessary that each concelebrant receive one-half of a large host. But, at least some of the eucharistic bread should be broken for the concelebrants and the people.
- It is strongly recommended that the faithful receive the Lord's Body from the bread consecrated at the same Mass. Concelebrants must never be given Holy Communion consecrated at another Mass and reserved in the tabernacle.
- The concelebrants receive the consecrated host from a paten held by the deacon, one of the concelebrants, or the principal celebrant, without any formula, or the paten may be passed from one to another. If there is a great number of concelebrants, they may receive the consecrated hosts and drink from the chalice while Holy Communion is being distributed to the faithful. In this case, the paten may be left on the altar from which each concelebrant can take a consecrated host as he approaches to receive from the chalice. When receiving from the altar, each concelebrant comes forward, genuflects, and receives the Body and Blood of the Lord.
- When sufficient concelebrants are present, they assist the principal celebrant in the distribution of Holy Communion. When the number of ordinary ministers of Holy Communion is insufficient, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may distribute the Eucharist. Such extraordinary ministers do not receive Holy Communion in the manner of concelebrants. Rather, they receive the Body and Blood of the Lord after the principal celebrant and the deacon.
Invitation to Holy Communion
- Only the principal celebrant shows the consecrated host to the people when he proclaims, This is the Lamb of God... Concelebrants do not elevate their hosts; rather they reverently hold the consecrated bread in the right hand with the left hand under it.
Receiving the Body of the Lord
- After the invitation to communion, the principal celebrant alone says in a lower voice, "May the Body of Christ bring me to everlasting life." He then consumes the Body of Christ. If the concelebrants are holding the consecrated bread in their hands, they consume it at this time.
Receiving the Precious Blood
- The Precious Blood is received in one of the following manners: the concelebrants approach the altar and drink from the chalice; or the deacon may offer the chalice to each concelebrant without saying the formula, The Blood of Christ.' Alternatively, the Precious Blood may be passed among the concelebrants.
Distribution of Holy Communion
- If there are many concelebrating priests, the communion of the assembly should not be delayed. There is no need for all the concelebrants to finish receiving Holy Communion before distribution to the assembly can commence.
- All the members of the assembly may receive communion under both kinds.
Purification of Sacred Vessels
- After communion, the deacon, priest, or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion purifies the sacred vessels at the side table or, after the Mass has concluded, in the sacristy. In the latter case, the deacon covers the vessels and leaves them on a corporal on the side table to be cleansed after Mass. It is still fitting that the Precious Blood be consumed immediately.
Reverence to the Altar
- At the conclusion of the liturgy, the concelebrants kiss the altar, reverence it with a bow, or a genuflection when the tabernacle is behind or near the altar, and leave in procession. When the number of concelebrants is large, the kissing of the altar by them may be omitted."