What’s the purpose of concelebration at Mass?

1 min read
A photo of two priests concelebrating Mass.
Father Michael P. Kerrigan, right, pastor of St. John-Visitation Parish in the Bronx borough of New York, and Father Antonio Astudillo, parochial vicar, concelebrate a bilingual memorial Mass in 2021, for parishioners who died from COVID-19. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Question: What is concelebration, and why do some priests object to it?

Name, location withheld

Answer: Concelebration is when two or more priests join together in the celebration of Mass. While each of them is celebrating as a priest with their own intention, there is one “main celebrant” and one observable liturgical event. This is distinct from a priest saying a Mass as one celebrant either publicly or privately.

In the recent past, prior to 1970, concelebration was not done except at the ordination of a priest. If a priest did not have a public Mass, he either celebrated a private Mass (usually with a server) or did not say Mass at all that day. But celebrating a common Mass with another priest or priests was not envisioned.

Concelebration was not uncommon in the earliest days of the Church and there are descriptions of priests concelebrating with their bishop, and often in large numbers, for special occasions. But this largely disappeared in the Middle Ages. This seems to have occurred with the rise in numbers of monastic communities that had large numbers of priests. It became more common for these priests to celebrate at side altars with a monk as a server. At the time it was a pious thought that multiplied Masses were of greater benefit than one larger monastic Mass. This influenced the wider Church as well.

Those priests today who object to concelebration may do so for a number of reasons and need to speak for themselves. Some simply prefer the tradition that does not feature it. Others find large numbers of priests concelebrating together, often at long distance from the altar, problematic. Most priests, however, do not object to this practice and often concelebrate when the occasion presents itself.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.