THE ROLE OF THE CELEBRANT IN MEDIATOR DEI
By His Eminence Alfons Cardinal Stickler S.D.B.
Speech delivered to the annual meeting of Una Voce International, Rome, 16 November 1997.
(The following text is reproduced from Una Voce New York, The Saint Gregory VII Chapter of Una Voce America, Bulletin Vol 1, No. 2: http://www.geocities.com/athens/parthenon/1370/apr98ny.htm).
It is not without reason that the subject of my address today, before those who cherish the old Ritus Romanus, should be taken from the encyclical, MEDIATOR DEI (MD). This is not only because during the current month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of its publication, but above all because of its fundamental importance for the recent history of the liturgy. On 3rd May 1996, in his allocution to the members of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Cult and the Sacraments, the reigning Pope has expressly pointed out that Vatican II has drawn much on the experience and the deliberations of Pius XII, and that the liturgical reform was the fruit of a lengthy period of consideration that reached as far back as St. Pius X, and had received a unique promotion with the promulgation of MD, the 50th anniversary of which was to be celebrated this year.
It has justly been said that the liturgical constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), of Vatican II can only be understood in the light of MD, that the relation between the two is like that between the moon and the sun--that MD is theocentric whereas SC points in the anthropocentric direction, somewhat like "Glory be to God in the Highest" and "Peace to men on Earth." It is another question to what extent MD is really the standard for the Ordo Novus which was composed by the committee, Concilium. It is significant that among the sources quoted by SC, MD does not appear even once, and that of the other magisterial sources only the Council of Trent is mentioned by name.
From the many topics that could serve as themes of lectures on MD, I have, at Una Voce's suggestion, chosen that of the role of the celebrant in MD. This choice carries with it a double limitation: first, only the official minister of the public liturgical cult of the Catholic Church and, secondly, only his part in the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice can be taken into consideration.
In the encyclical Pius XII directly and immediately deals with the role of the celebrant in two instances only: first in the third chapter of Part I, where the position of the priest in the liturgy is treated in general, and then in Part II, the subject of which is the eucharistic cult. The role of the priest and of those who participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass is here described and elucidated.
The Role of the Priest as Such in the Liturgical Cult
Here the Pope begins with the nature and structure of the Church as it was immutably fixed by her Founder. Since this Church exists as a visible society in the world, it follows that she needs a visible hierarchy entrusted with her government in visible life and also with her direction in her supernatural and invisible reality. Christ established this fact and made it evident by creating a special sacrament on which this ministry should be founded, and by which it should be recognized by all.
This sacrament, which in essence is conferred by the laying-on of hands and the recitation of prayer by the holder of the highest office, namely the bishop, gives, by way of an indelible character ("seal") imprinted on the soul, the authority to carry out this ministry in three grades: the diaconate, the presbyterate, and the episcopate. Thus, Christ Himself has established a hierarchical order for His Church, in which, it is true, all the faithful are members of the same mystical body of Christ, and where all participate in all the gifts by which they can obtain participation in the beatitude of the Deity, but in which not all have the same plenary powers.
On the basis, therefore, of the essential structure of the Church and her communion, Pius XII explains the necessary position and function of the ministers ordained by Christ and, for the sake of the community, endowed by Him with special powers. Further on he declares that it necessarily follows that the divine cult this community owes to the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of all mankind also depends on these ministers, because the faith, in its purity and sureness has also been entrusted to them.
In this first part of MD, in which the Pope explains the nature, origin, and unfolding of the liturgy, he also demonstrates the essential position of the priest in the public cult of the Church in the light of Catholic faith. The eucharistic cult itself forms the subject of the second part of MD, the center and core of all the cult, since the permanent renewal of the redeeming sacrifice on the Cross is the most important means for the individual faithful to partake in the Redemption. It is in the eucharistic cult that the fruit of this Sacrifice, offered only once by blood, is bestowed upon him.
Based on the decisions and dogmatic decrees of the Council of Trent, Pius XII also explains the essence of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The role of the priest as celebrant necessarily comes into focus here. Indeed, his oblation is not a mere memorial of the passion and death of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, but a real sacrificial action in which Christ Himself does what he did on the Cross though in an unbloodly manner. Now He performs it through the office of the priest, who represents Him, having received the power to act in this manner through his ordination. Thus, priest, oblation, and object of the sacrifice are the same.
The Pope establishes this truth in a few phrases: "It is the same Priest, Jesus Christ, Whose holy person is represented by His competent minister: having by his ordination to the priesthood been made similar to the High Priest, he possesses the full power to act in the power and in the place of the person of Christ Himself. By this priestly act he so to speak lends Christ his tongue and hand." In two annotations Pius XII expressly bases this view on St. Thomas and St. Chrysostomus.
Finally, however he says explicitly that
despite this totally sufficient ministry of the priest who represents Christ, it
is also necessary that the faithful cooperate by participating in the Sacrifice
of the Mass. The necessity of this cooperation is made comprehensible to
one who is aware of the Mass's function of bestowing the fruits of the
Redemption on the individual believer. Because of the importance of this
tenet, the Pope devotes the second chapter to the subject of participation by
the faithful in the
Here, in order to elucidate the relationship of this twofold participation, namely that of the priest and that of the faithful, the role of the latter is treated extensively in the interest of conveying a clear understanding of their participation as compared to that of the priest.
The faithful, according to the exhortation of the Apostle Paul, "should be of the same mind as Christ Jesus." They should strive to achieve the state of soul that existed in the Soul of the Divine Redeemer when He was making the sacrifice of His own Self. They must, therefore, together with Him and through Him, offer up that Sacrifice, and together with Him offer up themselves.
MD then deals in detail with this participation and states in the first place that it is a true participation, but one without priestly power. Yet despite that, it is said to be an intimate participation, since the faithful offer it together with the priest as he offers it for them, and since they offer up themselves as an oblation through the cleansing of their souls and the mirroring in themselves of the image of Christ.
It is significant that at this point Pius XII specifically deals with erroneous concepts that falsify and narrow the role of the priest on the basis of the general priesthood of the faithful--a priesthood they have received through their baptism and confirmation. Here are his own words:
There are such who nowadays come close to heresies which have already been condemned (these anthemata were pronounced by the Council of Trent, Session 23, cap. 4), inasmuch as they teach that in the New Testament there be only that priesthood which embraces those who are baptized; and that the commandment by which Jesus Christ at the Last Supper ordered the Apostles to do what He had done Himself concerned directly the whole Church and the faith. Only from there, and subsequently, had the hierarchical priesthood developed and come into existence. Thus, they proclaim that the people posess true priestly powers, and that the priest on the contrary acts only by way of a mandate received from the community. Therefore, they see in the Eucharistic Sacrifice a true "celebrating-together/' (concelebration) and think it better for the priests to concelebrate together with the people present than to offer the Sacrifice "privately" in the absence of the people.
Here the Pope recalls what he had said before about the whole hierarchical structure of the Church, and he expressly repeats: "The priest acts in place of the people because he represents the person of our Lord Jesus insofar as He is the Head of all the members and because He sacrifices Himself for them. The priest goes to the altar of God as servant of Christ, lower than Christ but higher than the people (reference to declaration by St. Robert Bellarmine). The people, however, who in no way represent the person of the Divine Redeemer, or are mediators between themselves and God, can in no way enjoy priestly rights."
If we look for proof of our initial claim that SC can only be understood in the light of MD, it is to be found at this point where the role of the priest as celebrant of the Sacrifice of the Mass is examined. What can still be said of the Council [Vatican II] is unfortunately not true for the Concilium, which was commissioned to carry out the reform desired by the Council.
Thus it becomes evident, on the basis of what has just been said, that the famous definition of the Mass in the first version of the Novus Ordo Missae , which represented the general priesthood of all the faithful as a sacramental power was indeed inspired by those heresies that had been stigmatized in MD. This definition was reported to the Pope by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci as reeking of heresy, and the edition had to be recycled as pulp in order to escape the suspicion of the heresy that merely grants the priest the role as presider in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. But in the light of the Council of Trent's teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice, its substance, and the manner of the faithful's participation in it--all of which was accepted in principle by SC, how much more of this reform would have to be recycled as pulp so as to fashion something similar to what SC proposed! It must be admitted, however, that this Constitution served as a pretext to the Concilium owing to the one-sided accentuation and promotion it received, which remained on the surface, thus obscuring, in part, its inner meaning.
(Translation into English: H. Ruckriegel)