July 14, 2010

Celebrants vs. Presiders

I never gave much thought to them, but it seems to me that the terms 'presider' and 'celebrant' are becoming more and more loaded. Both presumably aim to describe the same thing on the face of it, namely the role of the priest (whether he be bishop or presbyter) in the ordered assembly at the celebration of the liturgy.

Those who insist on the term 'presider' believe that 'celebrant' diminishes the role of the laity in the liturgy, even though these same sort of folks often have an activist and shallow view of conscious and active participation focused on exterior action. On the other hand, those who insist on the term 'celebrant' to the exclusion of 'presider' seem to ignore that this is an active term in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (in the forms of the verb praesum), and sometimes seem to edge toward forgetting that there is only one priesthood--that of of Jesus Christ--in which the Church and her members share in different ways.

Again, I never gave much thought to this distinction until recently, but it seems like it gets pushed more and more. Instead of accepting the 'both/and' kind of thing it surely is, the use of these terms seems to be one of the many ways we push each other into polarizations. For example, I have been in places in which the very use of the term 'celebrant' would earn you an unpleasant label. On the other hand, I have received memos sent in anticipation of particular liturgical presidencies instructing me that the term 'presider' is to be studiously avoided.

Anyway, what I mean to say is that I would love to be able to read something about the history and use of these terms in the tradition. I don't feel like I know much in this area, apart from Justin Martyr referring to the "president" of the assembly. Does anybody know of anything I might be able to read?


ben in denver said...

I don't think this issue arises in the EF, where, with the exception of ordinations, there is no concelebration.

Let me say a word agains "presider". The term lacks precision. It is possible for a prelate or ranking clergyman to preside at a liturgy where he is not the main celebrant. Such a thing happened recently at the consecration of the Our Lady of Guadelupe Seminary Chapel, where Cardinal Leveda presided over the whole liturgy, but didn't consecrate the Eucharist.

Brother Charles said...


I thought of this during Archbishop Dolan's installation Mass here in NY, at which Cardinal Egan assisted from choir.