Rorate Caeli

Note on the Concelebration of Holy Mass
in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite

by Bishop Fernando Rifan [Apostolic Administrator of the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney, Brazil]

Some people have questioned us on the occasional and eventual concelebration, by myself and by some of our priests, of Masses celebrated according to the Rite of Paul VI, that is, in the current ordinary form of the Roman Rite.

Most Catholics, in common sense, perfectly understand that, though in our Apostolic Administration the Roman Liturgy in its most ancient use is preserved, it may be normal that, in certain occasions, the Bishop and his priests may concelebrate Holy Mass in the current form, usually used by the Pope and by the entire Church of the Roman Rite; it is normal, correct, and good, because it demonstrates that we are Catholics in full communion with the whole Church.

Some, however, suggest that this presence would represent a betrayal to Tradition, almost an apostasy, a renouncement to all criticisms that were made and that can be made to the Liturgical Reform and to all its consequences, an approval of all that takes place today in Masses, an opening towards "Progressivism", and, even worse, that it would be part of a practical, non-doctrinary, "arrangement" with the Holy See. Given the malice of the suspicions, insinuations, and devious conclusions, which go beyond facts and intentions, and which could agitate unprepared people, I explain the doctrinal reasons for our actions, according to Catholic doctrine, and I renew the clarifying note that had already been made in another occasion and the explanations fully given in my Pastoral Orientation on the Living Magisterium of the Church and in my book "Considerations on the forms of the Roman Rite" (cf. ).

Regarding concelebration, the Magisterium of the Church teaches that, "Concelebration, whereby the unity of the priesthood is appropriately manifested, has remained in use to this day in the Church both in the east and in the west." (Sacr. Conc., 57, § 1).

Pope Benedict XVI, in the letter of June 16, 2009, proclaiming the Year for Priests, recalls the teaching of Blessed John Paul II that ecclesial communion is manifested in eucharistic concelebration. He repeats, in the letter of May 27, 2007, to the Church in China, that eucharistic concelebration is a sign of communion in the Church. It is one of the reasons for which it is forbidden to concelebrate with priests and bishops who are not in full communion with the See of Peter (cf. John Paul II, Enc. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 44).

In the instruction “Eucharisticum Mysterium” (nº 47), of May 25, 1967, of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, given still at the time of the Mass in the ancient form, approved by the Pope and confirmed by his authority, the doctrinal reason for concelebration is explained: "Concelebration of the Eucharist aptly demonstrates the unity of the sacrifice and of the priesthood. ... Concelebration both symbolizes and strengthens the brotherly bond of the priesthood, because by virtue of the ordination to the priesthood which they have in common, all are bound together in an intimate brotherhood. ... it is desirable that priests should celebrate the Eucharist in this eminent manner. ..."

The decree "Animarum bonum", of the foundation of our Apostolic Administration, of January 18, 2002, in its section VI, § 1, says: "The priests and deacons who, up to the present moment, belong to the Union of Saint John Mary Vianney, are incardinated in the Apostolic Administration. The Presbytery of the Administration is formed by the incardinated priests. The clerics belong by all reasons to the secular clergy, hence the need for close unity with the Presbytery of the Diocese of Campos". This rule, given by the Holy See, was established from the creation of the Apostolic Administration.

According to these teachings and the current custom of the Church, concelebration is a habitual sign of communion. It is not compulsory, but to refuse it systematically, out of principle, may be a sign of not being in full communion. That is why the only sign of unity always forbidden to an Eastern non-Catholic priest is to concelebrate with a Catholic priest (canon 908), and reciprocally, because such an act would be the sign of not only sacramental but hierarchical full communion, a communion received in the sacrament of Orders. Judging that there are no circumstances in which it would be possible to concelebrate according to the new rite would lead to believe that concelebration in the new rite is intrinsically sinful. Even in the West, at least from the 13th century, concelebration, at least of a ceremonial nature, was a sign, at times obligatory, of communion with the local Bishop when one is in his territory.

The aforementioned Instruction “Eucharisticum Mysterium” (n.43) also teaches, "In the celebration of the Eucharist, priests also are deputed to perform a specific function by reason of a special sacrament, namely holy Orders. For they too 'as ministers of the sacred mysteries, especially in the sacrifice of the Mass ... act in the person of Christ in a special way." It is, therefore, fitting that, by reason of the sign, they participate in the Eucharist by exercising the order proper to them, by celebrating or concelebrating the Mass and not by limiting themselves to communicating like the laity."

Recalling the practical application of this doctrine, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, [then] president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, on May 30, 2008, in his sermon of the Mass of Ordination of priests of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, in the United States, declared, "Brothers, show a deep respect for the ordinary form of the Roman Rite by concelebrating with your Bishop in the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday; this sign of priestly communion is particularly convenient" (La Croix , June 2, 2008).

For all this, being a Catholic bishop in regular canonical situation, a member of the Catholic episcopate, in communion with the Holy Father, the Pope, I must display in practice this full communion, particularly in certain occasions, in the celebration of Holy Mass. Our participation and concelebration, therefore, is based on doctrinal principles, and not just on diplomacy, good relations, or even less acceptance of errors.

In our Apostolic Administration, as we said, by faculty granted to us by the Holy See, we preserve the rite of the Mass in the ancient or extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. Indeed, many religious congregations and groups and thousands of faithful around the world do it as well, with the difference that we are not a group or a religious congregation, but an Apostolic Administration, that is, an ecclesiastical structure created by the Holy See, likened to a diocese (canon 368), a portion of the people of God, whose pastoral care was entrusted to a Bishop, the Apostolic Administrator, who governs it in the name of the Supreme Pontiff (canon 371 §2). The Pope is, therefore, the real Pastor of this portion of the flock of Christ that is the Apostolic Administration.

We love, prefer, and preserve the Roman liturgy in its most ancient form because it is, for us, a better liturgical expression of the eucharistic dogmas and solid spiritual sustenance, for its richness, beauty, elevation, nobility and solemnity of the ceremonies, for its sense of sacrality and reverence, for its sense of mystery, for its greater precision and rigor in rubrics, presenting thus greater safety and protection against abuse, leaving no space to "ambiguities, liberty, creativity, adaptations, reductions, instrumentalization", as Blessed Pope John Paul II lamented (Enc. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 10, 52, 61). Because it is one of the Catholic liturgical riches, we express, by way of the Mass in the more ancient Roman ritual form, our love for Holy Church and our full communion with it. We preserve the venerable rite of Saint Pius V, but “cum Petro et sub Petro”, in full communion. And the Holy See recognizes our adherence as perfectly legitimate, granting us this liturgy as proper to our Apostolic Administration. Therefore, thanks to God and to the Holy See, our priests and faithful can join the Church and celebrate divine worship with this liturgical treasure of the Church that is the ancient ritual form of the Roman Rite.


The fact that we have, in our Apostolic Administration, the liturgy of Saint Pius V as the proper ritual form, as granted by the Holy See, does not mean that one may never take part in the Mass in the current form, considering it, thus, in practice, as if it were invalid, illegitimate, or illicit, that is, sinful.

Many theologians and liturgists have made criticisms and shown reservations to the liturgical reform, as we also have, but always within the limits allowed by Catholic doctrine, dogmatically and canonically, and with respect for the Magisterium of the Church. These limits, imposed by Catholic theology regarding reservations and criticisms, prevent us, thus, from saying that the New Mass is heterodox, illegitimate, or non-Catholic.

Because if, in theory or practice, we did consider the New Mass, in itself, as invalid, sacrilegious, heterodox, or non-Catholic, sinful and, therefore, illegitimate, we would have to accept the logical theological consequences of this position and apply it to the Pope and to all the Episcopate in the world, that is, to all the Teaching Church: that is, maintain that the Church can officially promulgate, has promulgated, has kept for decades, and does offer to God every day illegitimate and sinful worship - a position condemned by the Magisterium - and that, therefore, the gates of Hell have prevailed against her, which would be a heresy. ...

Additionally, participation in the Mass celebrated in its ordinary form does not at all mean that we approve of abuses and profanations taking place frequently in Masses celebrated in the new rite, "deformations in the Liturgy", in the expression of the Pope, "to the limit of what is bearable," which has been lamented by him and by ourselves. ...

Our intent here is not to make a defense of the liturgical reform, nor to analyse and question it in all its aspects, but to defend the Magisterium and the indefectibility of the Church, which continues, even with the current disasters to which the liturgical reform may have led. Our specific purpose here is to fight the doctrinal mistake of those who consider the new Mass, officially decreed by the hierarchy of the Church, as sinful, and, therefore, impossible of assisting without sin, and the consequent practical error of those who attack others who, in specific circumstances, for a duty of office or as a demonstration of communion, participate in it or concelebrate it, as if these were committing an offense against God.

The Mass of Paul VI - the so-called "New Mass" - is today the official ritual form of the Latin Church, celebrated by the Pope and by the entire Catholic Episcopate. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, affirms it: "In this regard, it must first be said that the Missal published by Paul VI and then republished in two subsequent editions by John Paul II, obviously is and continues to be the normal Form – the Forma ordinaria – of the Eucharistic Liturgy" of the Roman Liturgy of the Catholic Church (Letter to Bishops on the occasion of the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum). ...

It is clear, therefore, from the words of the Holy Father, that the value and sanctity of the new liturgy are to be recognized and, consequently, cannot be completely excluded. ...

For no one can be Catholic keeping oneself in an attitude of refusal of communion with the Pope and with the Catholic episcopate. The Church defines as schismatics those who refuse to submit to the Roman Pontiff or to keep communion with other members of the Church subjected to him (canon 751). Thus, refusing continuously and categorally to participate at every and any Mass in the rite celebrated by the Pope and by all Bishops of the Church, for judging this rite, in itself, incompatible with the Faith or sinful, represents a formal refusal of communion with the Pope and with the Catholic episcopate.

And the recent instruction “Universae Ecclesiae”, of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei", published with the approval and under the order of Pope Benedict XVI, explicitly establishes, "The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church."

The principles we have always defended, in line with the Magisterium of the Church, the adherence to the truths of our Faith, the rejection of the errors condemned by the Church remain the same. There were, however, under different circumstances and in another context, even from our part, attitudes and affirmations in disagreement with the rules and teaching of the Church. It is necessary to examine and rectify them, under the light of the permanent and living Magisterium of the Church, which, we repeat, is the criterion of truth and behavior for the Catholic. Some may erronerously think that what was done, said, or lived in a period of exception or irregularity is the ideal and normal [situation] for a Catholic. Not so! What is normal for every Catholic is to live according to the living Magisterium of the Church, and united with and under the hierarchy. ...

In the most intense period of the crisis, many errors of judgment were caused by wrong affirmations and actions, which we saw as widespread, spread throughout almost the entire Church, many of which unfortunately continue [to this day]. Thank God, many magisterial clarifications were given to us later. Under the light of these, we examine if there was any error or exaggeration in the past regarding the aforementioned questions - which, once recognized, must be humbly corrected. If there was any failure in attitudes or expressions, correcting oneself is no humiliation. After all, to err is human, to forgive is divine, to correct oneself is Christian, and to persevere in error is diabolical. Errors can be understood or explained, by misunderstanding or mistaken judgement, influences, circumstances, or human weaknesses, but they cannot be justified. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us, "an evil action cannot be justified, even if done with good intention".

I was recently, at the end of last September, in my "ad limina" visit to the Pope, when I went to "verify the Gospel with Peter" (cf. Galatians 1,18; 2,2), and I could hear the compliment and support of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to our Apostolic Administration and to our way of acting and conducting ourselves. And, in the private personal audience with the Holy Father, I recalled with him that we preserve the Mass in the ancient form of the Roman Rite here, but that I, in certain occasions, concelebrate with other Bishops, as, for example, during that "ad limina" visit. The Pope was himself very glad that the situation between the Apostolic Administration, the Diocese, and the other Bishops is peaceful. And I told him, "Holy Father, in peace and communion," to which he responded, "This is very important!" This is what matters to us: our way of thinking and of acting verified with Peter and supported by him. It is what comforts us, amidst so many misunderstandings and attacks. But, fortunately, we have, besides the Holy Father, many friends, rightful Catholics and followers of true Tradition, who understand and support us.

This being so, we hope to have enlightened Catholics of good will, particularly those entrusted to us and who truly wish to follow the Church “cum Petro et sub Petro”.

Campos dos Goytacazes, June 29, 2011. [Made public on July 30, 2011.]
Feast of Saints Peter and Paul – Day of the Pope

+ Bishop Fernando Arêas Rifan
Bishop – Apostolic Administrator 
[Original text (Portuguese): Main Church (Cathedral) of the Apostolic Administration.]