Ars Celebrandi: Celebrating and Concelebrating the Mass

Fr. Paul Turner’s new book Ars Celebrandi: Celebrating and Concelebrating the Mass recently came out. He wrote the book while stranded in Australia and quarantined during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fr. Turner’s book is written as a guide to priests on celebrating the Mass. I also believe that it is a “must-read” for the Catholic laity. Why? It helps us better understand the beauty of the liturgy as an expression of God’s mysterious glory.

So what does ars celebrandi mean?

Ars celebrandi is a Latin phrase that literally translated means, “the art of celebrating.” Liturgy has been a hotly discussed topic as of late. Pope Benedict XVI, himself a liturgical scholar prior to becoming pope, wrote an exhortation called Sacramentum Caritatis in 2007. Here, Pope Benedict wrote about the celebration of the liturgy and the importance of celebrating the Eucharist.

Pope Benedict wrote that “the primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself…. ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed, for two thousand years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part in the celebration as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (Sacramentum Caritatis, #38). In his 2021 letter to bishops accompanying his motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis, wrote, “I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides.” He further went on to instruct all bishops and priests, “to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses.”

Fr. Turner makes an interesting hypothesis that I had never once considered: Priests today have a much bigger responsibility in celebrating the Mass today than priests a few generations ago with the “old Mass.” According to Fr. Turner, priests were able to find comfort in the principle of ex opere operato – that the sacraments achieved their effects in themselves “regardless of how personally, sincerely, and accurately he engaged in the liturgical rite itself” (Turner, 2022, p. 6). With an emphasis on active participation from the Second Vatican Council, that went somewhat awry.

This got me thinking: We, as Catholics, place a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of our priests. Are we really helping them with their responsibility? Are we fully, consciously, and actively participating in the Mass? Are we requesting (or sometimes demanding) that priests add what Pope Francis calls “eccentricities” – generally our own personal desires – to the Mass? On a more local level in our own parish, are we stepping up to serve as ushers, lectors, greeters, Extraordinary Minister, and choristers?

As demonstrated in the excerpts from Pope Francis, and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the importance of celebrating the liturgy in our own salvation journey simply cannot be understated. Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have written extensively on this. Within the last 14 months, Pope Francis has instructed bishops several times to ensure that their priests are celebrating the liturgy according to the liturgical books.

Again, I invite you to think, meditate, and pray on what this means for us as Catholics in our little corner of the world at St. Anthony of Padua: What are we doing to help Fr. Bob, Fr. Cam, Fr. Jim, and the other clergy that celebrates the sacraments for us? Sometimes a simple thank you, and giving a little more of ourselves in prayer at Mass might be all we can offer. For others, stepping up into an usher, lector, greeter, Extraordinary Minister, or chorister role once a month might be the answer.

Another suggestion might be picking-up Fr. Paul Turner’s book, Ars Celebrandi: Celebrating and Concelebrating Mass, and giving it a read. It’s not that long, written in very plain language, and will help you understand where your local parish priest is coming from.