Interritual Concelebrations

Canon Law Allows Them, With Qualifications

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university. 
Q: I have a question about interritual concelebration involving bishops of two Rites. I attended a Ukrainian Divine Liturgy that was being celebrated by a Ukrainian bishop in a Roman Catholic church. An Eastern Catholic apostolate had been established at a nearby secular college. The Liturgies would be celebrated in the local Roman church, as there was no Eastern church in the area. At the inaugural Divine Liturgy, in addition to the Ukrainian-rite bishop and a few of his priests, the local Roman bishop attended, along with a few of his priests. The Ukrainian bishop invited the Roman bishop and clergy to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy. All the Roman clergy declined and sat off to one side. The Roman bishop in particular seemed uncertain about the entire situation and simply knelt throughout the entire Divine Liturgy. It struck me that this was a sad missed opportunity to demonstrate Catholic unity through liturgical witness. Should the Roman bishop have concelebrated? — M., Indiana 
A: The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches sets some of the rules regarding the participation of Latin-rite priests in Eastern celebrations. For any Catholic bishop or priest the following canons apply: 
“Canon 379. Clerics of whatever Church sui iuris linked as brothers in the bond of charity to attain the unity of all, work together for the building up of the body of Christ and consequently whatever their condition, are to cooperate among themselves and help one another, even performing diverse functions.
“Canon 393. Clerics, whatever their condition, are to care in their heart for all of the Churches, and therefore to serve her wherever there is great necessity; let them show willingness, especially with the permission or encouragement of their own eparchial bishop or superior, to exercise their ministry in the missions or in regions laboring under a shortage of clergy.
“Canon 674. 1. In celebrating the sacraments that which is contained in the liturgical books is to be observed accurately.
“2. The minister should celebrate the sacraments according to the liturgical prescriptions of his own Church sui iuris, unless the law establishes otherwise or he himself has obtained a special faculty from the Apostolic See.
“Canon 701. A concelebration between bishops and presbyters of different Churches sui iuris for a just cause, especially that of fostering charity, and for the sake of manifesting unity between the Churches, can be done with the permission of the eparchial bishop, while observing all the prescriptions of the liturgical books of the principal celebrant, having removed any liturgical syncretism and wearing the appropriate vestments and insignia of his own Church sui iuris.
“Canon 702. Catholic priests are forbidden to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy with non-Catholic priests or ministers.
“Canon 703. §1. A priest who is unknown is not admitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, unless he shows the rector of the church letters of recommendation from his own hierarch or in another way sufficiently establishes his integrity for the rector.
Ҥ2. The eparchial bishop is free to make more specific norms concerning this matter which are to be observed by all priests, even those who are exempt in any way.
“Canon 704. The Divine Liturgy can be praiseworthily celebrated on any day except those which are excluded according to the prescriptions of the liturgical books of the Church sui iuris in which the priest is enrolled.
“Canon 705. §1. A Catholic priest can celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the altar of any Catholic church.
Ҥ2. In order for a priest to be able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in a non-Catholic church, he needs the permission of the local hierarch.
“Canon 707. §1. The preparation of the Eucharistic bread, the prayers performed by the priests before the Divine Liturgy, the observance of the Eucharistic fast, liturgical vestments, the time and place of the celebration and other like matters must be precisely established by the norms of each Church sui iuris
“§2. For a just cause and having removed any astonishment on the part of the Christian faithful, it is permissible to use the liturgical vestments and bread of another Church sui iuris.”
However, Latin Catholic bishops and priests must also adhere to the stipulations of the instructive Redemptionis Sacramentum, No. 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.
Therefore, with respect to the above situation, in accordance with Canon 701 in principle it would have been possible for the bishop and priests to concelebrate with the Ukrainian eparch.
However, out of respect, they would have to have had full Latin vestments available, as most Eastern concelebrations require all concelebrants to wear full vestments and do not have the Latin exception of being able to use just alb and stole. They would also need to know the language of the celebration if other than the local tongue.
From a practical point of view they would also have had to acquire at least a basic idea of the structure of the rite so as to know how to move and what to say and when. All of this requires at least some preparation and is not subject to improvisation.
In the situation described by our reader it would appear that the Eastern bishop unexpectedly invited the bishop and priests to concelebrate. In such a situation, rather than a missed opportunity, their refraining from doing so was more likely a prudent respect for the Divine Liturgy and its proper celebration.
It would be hoped that, with due preparation, such a concelebration will eventually take place for the good of all concerned. 
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Readers may send questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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