.- Cardinal Raymond L. Burke believes that the “excessive” use of concelebration – the practice of priests saying Mass collectively – can result in their unique role in the sacred liturgy being obscured.
“I don’t think there should be an excessive encouragement of concelebration because the norm is for the individual priest to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass,” the head of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura told CNA July 9.
“If it is repeated too frequently, it can develop within him a sense of being another one of the participants instead of actually being the priest who is offering the Mass.”
One of the Catholic Church’s most senior American prelates spoke to CNA moments after addressing an international liturgical conference in the Irish city of Cork. The three-day event, organized by the St. Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy, explored the issue of “Celebrating the Eucharist: Sacrifice and Communion.”
The former Archbishop of St. Louis worried that, whereas the priest’s action is distinct, he “can seem to be participating in the Mass in the same manner as the congregation” if he concelebrates too often. “That’s the danger I see in excessive concelebration,” he said.
The cardinal’s words of caution echo comments made recently by the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares. He told a gathering at Rome’s University of the Holy Cross on March 5 that that the “widening of the faculty to concelebrate needs to be moderated, as we can see when we read the (Second Vatican) Council texts.”
Cardinal Cañizares explained that concelebration “is an extraordinary, solemn and public rite, normally presided over by the bishop or his delegate,” surrounded by his priests and the entire community. But “the daily concelebrations of priests only, which are practiced ‘privately’…do not form part of the Latin liturgical tradition,” he said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Cardinal Burke also outlined the reasons why a priest should not ad-lib his own words or prayers during Mass, since he “is the servant of the rite” and “not the protagonist – Christ is.”
“So it is absolutely wrong for the priest to think, ‘how can I make this more interesting?’ or ‘how can I make this better?’” he said.
He also noted with approval how the 1917 Code of Canon Law – since superseded by a new code promulgated in 1983 – explicitly stated that a priest should “accurately and devoutly observe the rubrics of his liturgical books to beware lest he add other ceremonies or prayers according to his own judgment.”
“What kind of thinking is it on our part for me to think that I can improve on the liturgy that has been handed on in the Church down the centuries? This is absurd,” Cardinal Burke stated.
Similarly, the cardinal commended the 1917 Code for its clear stipulation that a priest in the state of mortal sin should refrain from celebrating Mass “without first availing himself of sacramental confession” or as soon as possible “in the absence of a confessor,” when the Mass is “a case of necessity” and he has “made an act of perfect contrition.”
“Well, simply that canon that was in the 1917 code was eliminated and I think it should be reintroduced, because the idea of worthiness pertains in a preeminent way to the priest who is offering the sacrifice,” he said.
The 64-year-old from Wisconsin now resides in Rome, where he is a close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI. Like the present pontiff, Cardinal Burke also believes that any reform of the sacred liturgy “has to be rooted in the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council” and “properly connected to the tradition” of the Church.
That means avoiding or removing various innovations, including the regular use of “communion services” led by a layperson or religious whenever a parish is without a priest to offer Sunday Mass.
“It is not good for people to participate repeatedly in these kinds of services on a Sunday because they lose the sense that the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion comes from the sacrifice,” he explained.
He recalled his early years as a bishop when he insisted that parishes re-instate weekly Mass and he was told by some parishioners that they preferred “the deacon’s Mass” or “Sister’s Mass.”
The over-use of such services, he suggested, can also discourage priestly vocations, as the separation of the Eucharist “from the vocation and mission of the priest which is primarily to offer the holy Sacrifice of the Mass” means that a young man who is called to the priesthood “no longer sees before his eyes the identity of the vocation to which he is being called.” In response, vocation numbers “plummet.”
The Church’s chief justice also believes that there is a direct correlation between “the hesitation” in applying canonical penalties in recent decades and “the abuses and the violation of Church law” that have occurred in liturgical areas.
Such penalties, he explained, are “firstly medicinal,” aimed at “getting a person’s attention to the gravity of what he is doing and to call him back.”
“The penalties are needed,” he said.
“If in 20 centuries of the life of the Church there was always the need for sanctions, why in our century should we suddenly think they are not necessary? This is also absurd.”