Concelebration refers to verbally expressed joint sacramental action of several priests in celebrating the Eucharist. Both the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium 57) and the declaration of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship on concelebration of Aug. 7, 1972, recommend concelebration as a fuller manifestation of the unity of the priesthood, the church, and the one Sacrifice of Christ. The basic principle of the declaration, however, is that a concelebrated Mass follows the same norms as Mass by one priest; it determines only which parts have to be said aloud, although in a subdued voice, or sung, or accompanied by gestures on the part of the concelebrants.
In the West, the earliest recorded account of concelebration (Eusebius, Histoire ecclesiastique 5.24.17) seems to be that of Anicetus who "conceded the Eucharist" to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (c. 155), an expression that can be explained best as concelebration. Church legislation from the 3rd century onward prescribed that visiting bishops be allowed to concelebrate the Eucharist with the local bishop (e.g., the Council of Arles , 19; the 5th-century Statuta ecclesiae antiqua, 56). In the East, the 3rd-century Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum (2.58.3) describes a Eucharist at which one bishop consecrates the bread, another the wine. The Council of Neocaesarea (315) prescribed that visiting bishops be invited to concelebrate (c. 18). Documents of the 4th to the 6th centuries indicate that concelebration of the priests with their bishop was customary in Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. In the 9th century John VIII (d. 882) permitted his delegates to concelebrate with the Patriarch of Constantinople (Epist. 248 ad Photium ).
In Rome concelebration of the priests with the pope was the rule until the 6th century, and on great feasts until the 12th century. The simultaneous audible recitation of the Canon of the Mass, however, is mentioned for the first time in the 8th-century Ordo Romanus III : "On feast days… the cardinal priests… recite the canon with him… and together they consecrate the body and blood of the the Lord." The practice spread quickly to the rest of Europe. The ancient rite of Lyon (in France) prescribed the sacramental concelebration of six priests with the archbishop on great feasts, a practice that gradually fell into disuse after the 12th century. Until the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, concelebration in the Roman Rite was restricted to the Masses for the ordination of priests and consecration of bishops. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy broadened eucharistic concelebration in the Latin Church (n. 57), and directed that a rite be drawn up and inserted in the Roman Pontifical and Missal (58), thereby effectively suppressing the previous form of concelebration as it had existed for the ordination of presbyters and bishops.
In the 1969 revision of the roman rite of Mass, concelebration is specified in three instances: (i) when it is required by the liturgical context, as in ordinations of presbyters and bishops; (ii) on Holy Thursday at the chrism Mass and the evening celebration, at councils, meetings of bishops, and synods, and the blessing of abbots; (iii) with the permission of the ordinary, at conventual Masses, the principal Masses in churches and oratories, and at gatherings of presbyters. Current church legislation prohibits Catholic priests from concelebrating at Eucharist with clergy of churches which are not in full communion with the See of Rome.
Bibliography: a. a. king, Concelebration in the Christian Church (London 1966). k. gamber, "Concelebration in the Continuity of the Ancient Church" Christian Orient 2 (1981) 57–62. g. ostdiek, "Concelebration Revisited" In Shaping English Liturgy, eds. p. c. finn and j. schellman (Washington, DC 1990), 139–171. r. f. taft, "Ex Oriente Lux? Some Reflections on Eucharistic Concelebration" Worship 54 (1980) 308–25.