ROME, 25 JULY 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I am a priest working in an area of primary evangelization where
people are still trying to grasp the meaning of the Gospel. I have
several questions about the liturgy: 1) When is a priest considered to
be concelebrating? Is it when he is vested or just a mere presence in
the people, or both? 2) Sometimes when we arrive late in the
outstations, we find that the catechist has already started the Liturgy
of the Word. Is it right to continue with the Mass from where the
catechist had reached? For example, if the catechist has read the
Gospel, can the priest vest himself and go on with the homily?
C.N., Kontagora, Nigeria
A: In order to concelebrate a priest must be present from the beginning
of Mass, vested at least in alb and stole and preferably also with
During Mass he should normally sit and stand within the sanctuary. If a
deacon is not present a concelebrating priest should usually help the
main celebrant in such functions as reading the Gospel, preparing the
chalice and raising the chalice for the final doxology.
He must pronounce along with the main celebrant, albeit in a lower
voice, the words that correspond to all concelebrants according to the
structure of each Eucharistic Prayer (usually the epiclesis, the
consecration, the anamnesis and the final doxology), and may say one or
more of the parts assigned to a single concelebrant.
He also extends his hands during the recitation of the Our Father. He
must take the Eucharist under both species and if necessary assist the
other priest in distributing Communion and purifying the sacred vessels.
Under no circumstances should a priest attempt to concelebrate from
among the people in the pews by simply pronouncing the words of
consecration along with the celebrant. There are serious reasons to even
doubt the validity of such a procedure, which in all cases is a serious
abuse and lack of respect toward the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Regarding the other question: The Mass is a single action comprehending
the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The priest's
presence is required throughout the sacred rite in order to maintain its
intrinsic unity. It is through his ministry that the faithful are
constituted as a liturgical assembly in communion with the bishop and
the universal Church.
Likewise, although the priest presides over the assembly, he is also a
member of the assembly and must participate in the entire celebration.
He, like everybody else and indeed even more so, is bound to acknowledge
his sinfulness at the beginning of the celebration. Likewise, the
liturgical reading of God's Word is also for his benefit and God speaks
to him through the Scripture with a more intense presence than that
found while reflecting on the texts to prepare the homily.
Although there are few official texts regarding this subject, the
instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" touched upon the importance of
the unity of the celebration when it stated in No. 60:
"In the celebration of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of
the Eucharist are intimately connected to one another, and form one
single act of worship. For this reason it is not licit to separate one
of these parts from the other and celebrate them at different times or
places. Nor is it licit to carry out the individual parts of Holy Mass
at different times of the same day."
In order to handle the real practical difficulty of a priest's being
unable to be sure of arriving on time, one possibility is for the
priests, together with the catechists, to develop a fallback plan in
which the catechist has a series of resources that combine prayers,
hymns, devotions, as well as brief talks that prepare the people for
Mass, for example by explaining the different parts of the Mass, of the
Creed, common prayers, etc.
This solution might not always be practical and it really depends on
such factors as location, town size and local custom.
In some Latin American countries, for example, isolated villages with no
resident priest have no set time for Mass. The priest announces his
arrival by ringing the church bells or even by megaphone. Those
assisting at Mass go to the church and start the rosary or other prayers
until the celebration begins.
What is important is to find a solution that responds to the demands of
evangelization while respecting the integrity of the liturgy. ZE06072521
* * *
Follow-up: Starting Mass Without a Priest [8-29-2006]
I wish to clear up a misunderstanding in the July 25 column. When I
mentioned that a priest should never attempt to concelebrate from among
the people in the pews, I was referring to those cases of a priest who
is attending Mass in the manner of the faithful, and yet tries to join
in the consecration from his pew.
I was not referring to the case of large concelebrations where the
officiating priests necessarily overflow into the front pews.
That said, several readers asked for clarifications regarding the tasks
that may be carried out by lay people who direct Sunday Communion
services in communities that are, to use a term that is often preferred,
"awaiting" a priest.
The Holy See's 1988 directory for "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of
a Priest" gives basic guidelines. Based on this document, some episcopal
conferences, or individual bishops, have prepared more specific norms to
handle such situations.
Chapter 3 of this document (Nos. 35-50) deals with the order of
"35. The order to be followed in a Sunday celebration that does not
include Mass consists of two parts, the celebration of the word of God
and the giving of holy communion. Nothing that is proper to Mass, and
particularly the presentation of the gifts and the eucharistic prayer,
is to be inserted into the celebration. The order of celebration is to
be arranged in such a way that it is truly conducive to prayer and
conveys the image not of a simple meeting but of a genuine liturgical
"36. As a rule the texts for the prayers and readings for each Sunday or
solemnity are to be taken from The Roman Missal (Sacramentary) and the
Lectionary for Mass. In this way the faithful will follow the cycle of
the liturgical year and will pray and listen to the word of God in
communion with the other communities of the Church.
"37. In preparing the celebration the pastor together with the appointed
laypersons may make adaptations suited to the number of those who will
take part in the celebration, the ability of the leaders (animators),
and the kind of instruments available for the music and the singing.
"38. When a deacon presides at the celebration, he acts in accord with
his ministry in regard to the greetings, the prayers, the gospel reading
and homily, the giving of communion, and the dismissal and blessing. He
wears the vestments proper to his ministry, that is, the alb with stole,
and, as circumstances suggest, the dalmatic. He uses the presidential
"39. A layperson who leads the assembly acts as one among equals, in the
way followed in the liturgy of the hours when not presided over by an
ordained minister, and in the case of blessings when the minister is a
layperson ("May the Lord bless us ..."; "Let us praise the Lord ...").
The layperson is not to use words that are proper to a priest or deacon
and is to omit rites that are too readily associated with the Mass, for
especially "The Lord be with you"
and dismissals, since these might give the impression that the layperson
is a sacred minister.
"40. The lay leader wears vesture that is suitable for his or her
function or the vesture prescribed by the bishop. He or she does not use
the presidential chair, but another chair prepared outside the
sanctuary. Since the altar is the table of sacrifice and of the paschal
banquet, its only use in this celebration is for the rite of communion,
when the consecrated bread is placed on it before communion is given.
"Preparation of the celebration should include careful attention to a
suitable distribution of offices, for example, for the readings, the
singing, etc., and also to the arrangement and decoration of the place
"41. The following is an outline of the elements of the celebration.
1. Introductory rites. The purpose of these is to form the gathered
faithful into a community and for them to dispose themselves for the
2. Liturgy of the word. Here God speaks to his people, to disclose to
them the mystery of redemption and salvation; the people respond through
the profession of faith and the general intercessions.
3. Thanksgiving. Here God is blessed for his great glory (see no. 45).
4. Communion rites. These are an expression and accomplishment of
communion with Christ and with his members, especially with those who on
this same day take part in the eucharistic sacrifice.
5. Concluding rites. These point to the connection existing between the
liturgy and the Christian life.
"The conference of bishops, or the individual bishop himself, may, in
view of the conditions of the place and the people involved, determine
more precisely the details of the celebration, using resources prepared
by the national or diocesan liturgical committee, but the general
structure of the celebration should not be changed unnecessarily.
"42. In the introduction at the beginning of the celebration, or at some
other point, the leader should make mention of the community of the
faithful with whom the pastor is celebrating the eucharist on that
Sunday and urge the assembly to unite itself in spirit with that
"43. In order that the participants may retain the word of God, there
should be an explanation of the readings or a period of silence for
reflection on what has been heard. Since only a pastor or a deacon may
give a homily, it is desirable that the pastor prepare a homily and give
it to the leader of the assembly to read. But in this matter the
decisions of the conference of bishops are to be followed.
"44. The general intercessions are to follow an established series of
intentions. Intentions for the whole diocese that the bishop may have
proposed are not to be omitted. There should also often be intentions
for vocations to sacred orders, for the bishop, and for the pastor.
"45. The thanksgiving may follow either one of the ways described here.
1. After the general intercessions or after holy communion, the leader
invites all to an act of thanksgiving, in which the faithful praise the
glory and mercy of God. This can be done by use of psalm (for example,
Psalms 100, 113, 118, 136, 147, 150), a hymn (for example, the Gloria),
a canticle (for example, the Canticle of Mary), or a litanic prayer,
together recite the thanksgiving.
2. Before the Lord's Prayer, the leader of the assembly goes to the
tabernacle or other place where the eucharist is reserved and, after
making reverence, places the ciborium with the holy eucharist on the
altar. Then while kneeling before the altar he or she together with all
the faithful sing or recite a hymn, psalm, or litany, which in this case
is directed to Christ in the eucharist.
"But this thanksgiving is not in any way to take the form of the
eucharistic prayer, the texts of the prefaces or eucharistic prayers
from The Roman Missal (Sacramentary) are not to be used, and all danger
of confusion is to be removed.
"46. For the communion rite the provisions given in The Roman Ritual for
communion outside Mass are to be observed. The faithful are to be
frequently reminded that even when they receive communion outside Mass
they are united to the eucharistic sacrifice.
"47. For communion, if at all possible, bread consecrated that same
Sunday in a Mass celebrated elsewhere is used; a deacon or layperson
brings it in a ciborium or pyx and places it in the tabernacle before
the celebration. Bread consecrated at the last Mass celebrated in the
place of assembly may also be used. Before the Lord's Prayer the leader
goes to the tabernacle or place where the eucharist is reserved, takes
the vessel with the body of the Lord, and places it upon the altar, then
introduces the Lord's Prayer
unless the act of thanksgiving mentioned in no. 45,2 is to take place at
"48. The Lord's Prayer is always recited or sung by all, even if there
is to be no communion. The sign of peace may be exchanged. After
communion, 'a period of silence may be observed or a psalm or song of
praise may be sung.' A thanksgiving as described in no. 45,1 may also
take place here.
"49. Before the conclusion of the assembly, announcements or notices
related to the life of the parish or the diocese are read.
"50. 'Too much importance can never be attached to the Sunday assembly,
whether as the source of the Christian life of the individual and of the
community, or as a sign of God's intent to gather the whole human race
together in Christ.
'All Christians must share the conviction that they cannot live their
faith or participate
in the manner proper to them
in the universal mission of the Church unless they are nourished by the
eucharistic bread. They should be equally convinced that the Sunday
assembly is a sign to the world of the mystery of communion, which is
To this may be added the note of the 1997 interdicasterial document "On
Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained
Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest."
The text is found in the "Practical Provisions" section, Article 7, on
"Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest":
"§1. In some places in the absence of priests or deacons, non-ordained
members of the faithful lead Sunday celebrations. In many instances,
much good derives for the local community from this useful and delicate
service when it is discharged in accordance with the spirit and the
specific norms issued by the competent ecclesiastical authority. A
special mandate of the Bishop is necessary for the non-ordained members
of the faithful to lead such celebrations. This mandate should contain
specific instructions with regard to the term of applicability, the
place and conditions in which it is operative, as well as indicate the
priest responsible for overseeing these celebrations.
"§2. It must be clearly understood that such celebrations are temporary
solutions and the text used at them must be approved by the competent
ecclesiastical authority. The practice of inserting into such
celebrations elements proper to the Holy Mass is prohibited. So as to
avoid causing error in the minds of the faithful, the use of the
eucharistic prayers, even in narrative form, at such celebrations is
forbidden. For the same reasons, it should be emphasized for the benefit
of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the
eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend mass on Sunday
and Holy days of obligation is satisfied only by attendance at Holy
Mass. In cases where distance or physical conditions are not an
obstacle, every effort should be made to encourage and assist the
faithful to fulfill this precept." ZE06082927