Here below, the text of a March 12 Vatican directive, issued in Italian, which has become a bit of a controversy over the past three days.
The text regulates the number of Masses allowed to be celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica each day. Up until now, dozens and dozens of Masses have been celebrated each day at the 45 altars and in the 11 chapels of the basilica.
Point 1 says that all of these individual Masses will now be “suppressed,” and Point 2 says all of the Masses will be gathered together into four Masses concelebrated by many priests at once.
Point 3 says that all the Masses will also have lectors and readers (rather than just the priest alone).
Point 4 confirms that pilgrim groups will still be able to celebrate Mass in the chapels of the crypt, under the main altar.
Point 5 says that the “old rite” (what we commonly call the “Latin Mass”) can only be celebrated at 4 specific times each day, in one chapel, the chapel of St. Clement (Capella Clementina) — a very prestigious chapel, since it is directly in front of the stone box containing the bones of St. Peter himself (c. 30 feet under the main altar) but also a rather small and cramped chapel — and not at any altar in the upper church, where the Mass is visible to all. —RM
Letter #4, 2021, Monday, March 15: Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica
New rules for celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, issued on March 12 in a somewhat mysterious Vatican directive, are scheduled to go into effect on March 22.
But the new rules have aroused strong opposition, including from a cardinal — American Cardinal Raymond Burke — who has asked in a published letter that the new rules be immediately rescinded.
What’s it all about?
“Nevertheless, each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually.” (Original Latin: “Salva tamen semper sit cuique sacerdoti facultas Missam singularem celebrandi.“)
—This quote above is from the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paragraph 57, Part 2, Point 2).
Sacrosanctum Concilium was the official Vatican II document on the liturgy and gave the general parameters, and certain specific guidelines, for how the Mass should be celebrated in order to make it more spiritually efficacious and fruitful for the life of Catholics. It was the very first document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, at the end of the Council’s second session in the fall of 1963. After being voted on favorably by the Council Fathers, the Constitution was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963.
Therefore, based on this passage, it seems that it could be argued that the Council Fathers expressly taught that a Catholic priest has and “always” should have the right to celebrate Mass by himself (“individually,” or “singularem” as the Latin states it): without a need for anyone else to be present, and also without a need to have other priests present to concelebrate the Mass.
This seems an important point to keep in mind when seeking today, almost 60 years later, the “mind of Vatican II” on such liturgical questions (link)
“If an individual priest wishes to offer the Holy Mass in the basilica, once the directives in question are in force, he will be constrained to concelebrate, in violation of his freedom to offer the Holy Mass individually.” —Cardinal Raymond Burke, in a statement released on March 13, opposing new Vatican directives issued on March 12 and scheduled to go into effect on March 22. Burke asked that the new directives be “immediately” rescinded (link)
A battle over celebrating Masses
An unusual “battle over celebrating Masses” has emerged in St. Peter’s Basilica over this past weekend, and is now stirring concern around the Catholic world — because what happens in St. Peter’s Basilica is often seen as a “standard” for what should happen in other Catholic churches throughout the world.
If a practice is introduced in St. Peter’s, the basilica of the Pope, then bishops in cities and dioceses around the world may feel obliged, or encouraged, to “imitate” the “practice of Rome.”
That is why this story is important. It is not just about Rome, and St. Peter’s Basilica, but about the whole Catholic world.
Here is the headline of Andrea Gagliarducci‘s Catholic News Agencystory on the new guidelines for celebrating Mass issued March 12: Vatican Prohibits Priests From Celebrating Private Daily Masses At St. Peter’s Side Altars (link)
So, the first point is that the 45 altars and 11 chapels all around the edges of the basilica, which up until now — as everyone who has gone into St. Peter’s Basilica at 7 a.m. in the morning has seen for decades — have been used every morning by dozens of priests to celebrate their daily Masses, will not normally be used starting March 22(!).
The practice has been that Catholic priests in Rome, both those who work permanently in the Vatican Curia, and those who are visiting Rome, whether on their own or with a small group of family and friends, have been able on each morning to go into the basilica and celebrate Mass at one of these altars, usually on a “first come, first served” basis.
So a priest named “Leo” might go, for example, to the altar of Pope St. Leo the Great to celebrate Mass.
This practice, it seems, has abruptly ceased with this decree.
Essentially, what the new rules do is require these priests to “concelebrate” with other priests, thus gathering a number of priests together at one altar, rather than staying apart, one priest to an altar, celebrating Mass separately at dozens of different altars.
And (it seems) all of these Masses will be celebrated, not in the various languages of the universal Church, and not in the still official language, Latin, but in Italian — so (it seems to me — this may not turn out to be the case), not in Polish, or English, and so forth, but in Italian — and especially, not in the old rite, but only in the Novus Ordo, the new rite of the Mass introduced in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.
Regarding the old rite, the old liturgy will be allowed only on one altar, in the Clementine chapel underneath the basilica’s main altar, right in front of the tomb of St. Peter.
This is a place of great honor, of course; but it is also a small chapel, with room, I would guess, for 20 people at most.
This is why some observers are saying that the “old liturgy” has been “pushed underground” into a small, cramped chapel, rather than be allowed to remain “aboveground” and to be celebrated up in the main basilica, where it can be seen and heard by others in the basilica.
In recent years, an increasing number of old rite Masses have been celebrated at altars in the upper basilica, and often by younger priest, not aging ones. These “old rite” Masses at the altars in the upper basilica will no longer be permitted.
Thus, a controversy has arisen: Since there be many fewer “old rite” Masses celebrated in the basilica in the future, is this result actually part of the reason for these new directives? No one knows.
And, since there will there be many fewer Masses in total, as many priests “concelebrate” at just a four Masses, rather than individually celebrating dozens of private Masses each day, was this also desired for some theological or spiritual reason, and if so, what reason? We do not know.
Here below are several articles which will hopefully shed some light on these questions. —RM
Vatican Prohibits Priests From Celebrating Private Daily Masses At St. Peter’s Side Altars (link)
By Andrea Gagliarducci
March 12, 2021
VATICAN CITY (Catholic News Agency)— A new letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State has banned the daily private celebration of Masses at side altars in St. Peter’s Basilica, effective March 22.
The regulation might seem tailored to meet COVID restrictions, as Italy prepares to tighten its pandemic measures once again. However, the new rule appears to be permanent.
The letter stresses that Lent is a time to focus on the Word of God and celebration of the Eucharist. It says the changes are intended to ensure “the Holy Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica take place in a climate of recollection and liturgical decorum.”
Until now, the 45 altars and 11 chapels in St. Peter’s Basilica have been used every morning by priests to celebrate their daily Mass. Many of them are Vatican officials who begin their day with the celebration.
The private Masses were in addition to the regularly scheduled public Masses daily at the main altars in St. Peter’s Basilica. According to that schedule, there is one Mass per hour from 9 am to noon, in Italian, at the Altar of the Chair. There is another Mass in Italian at 8:30 am at the altar of the Most Holy Sacrament, while every day at 5 pm, there is a Mass in Latin.
On Sundays, there are five Masses celebrated in Italian and one in Latin.
Under the new measures, priests have the opportunity to concelebrate the Masses at 7 am and 8 am in the Chapel of the Choir; and at 7:30 am and 9 am at the Altar of the Chair, while other Mass schedules remain unchanged. [Note: This makes a total of four Masses each day, in place of dozens.—RM]
On the feast day of a saint whose relics are in the Basilica, one of the Masses can be celebrated at the altar dedicated to that saint.
The measures also ask that the Masses have lectors and cantors.
Another change — Mass offered in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite will be limited to the Clementine Chapel in the Vatican Grotto.
There has been a broad discussion of whether to end the practice of individual Masses, as part of a general reform of the management of St. Peter’s Basilica. However, decisions were postponed until the appointment of the new Archpriest of the Basilica, following the retirement of Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who had previously served in the role but had surpassed the normal retirement age of 75.
On February 20, Pope Francis appointed as the new archpriest Cardinal Mauro Gambetti.
However, the letter from the Secretariat of State is not addressed to Cardinal Gambetti, but to Archbishop Mario Giordana, extraordinary commissioner of the Fabric of St. Peter. This is unusual, since the Fabric of St. Peter does not deal with liturgical celebrations in the Basilica, but is instead charged with its conservation and maintenance.
The fact that the letter was released by the First Section of the Secretariat of State has also garnered attention, as the first section is a sort of Ministry of Internal Affairs, in charge of all the Curia offices’ direction and coordination, but typically not liturgical celebrations.
Additionally, the release of the letter was not accompanied by any kind of official Vatican communication. Nor was the letter signed in full by Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, who heads the First Section of the Secretariat of State, but instead included only his initials. [Note: I do not see the initials in the image above, but evidently they are visible in some other version of this document. —RM]
These anomalies have prompted some speculation that the letter may have been forged. However, two Vatican officials who asked for anonymity confirmed to CNA that the document is real.
Cardinal Burke Says Vatican’s Instruction on Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Should Be Rescinded (link)
The former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura calls it ‘a direct violation of universal Church law.’
By Edward Pentin
March 13, 2021
VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Raymond Burke has expressed his “deepest concerns” about an internal Vatican letter regarding new rules for Masses celebrated in St. Peter’s basilica, saying it is in “direct violation of universal Church law” and should be “rescinded immediately.” (link)
The five-point letter addressed to the administrators of the basilica from the Secretariat of State states that “individual celebrations are suppressed” at the side altars of St. Peter’s, and that priests and faithful coming to the basilica or Mass will only be able to take part in one of four concelebrated Masses each morning, as well as other concelebrated Masses during the day at the main altars.
The Vatican instruction, which is dated March 12 and comes into effect March 22, says that these concelebrations should have the assistance of readers and cantors, and that groups of pilgrims accompanied by a bishop or priest are now to celebrate Mass in the Vatican grottoes underneath the basilica.
Its last point states that “authorized priests” who wish to celebrate Masses in the extraordinary form, or traditional Latin Mass, can do so only in the Clementine Chapel of the grottoes, and at four set times each morning, also limited to 30 minutes.
The letter’s introduction states that being the season of Lent, which gives “greater centrality to listening to the Word of God and to the Eucharistic Celebration,” it is important for Masses to take place “in an atmosphere of recollection and liturgical decorum.”
Until now, priests have been able to celebrate individual Masses, including in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, every morning in the basilica’s many side altars. Often the priests are Vatican officials celebrating morning Mass before their workday begins, and altars were free to be booked whenever a priest wished to celebrate Mass at them.
“It was all very free and thus encouraging attendance both of priests and faithful of all types and leanings or sensibilities,” said a priest speaking on anonymity who has individually celebrated Masses in the basilica.
The contents of the March 12 letter, which carries no clear signature but the initials of the sostituto (deputy) of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, were not formally announced, nor does it have a protocol number usual for legislating the most sacred aspects of the Church’s life. According to Cardinal Burke, these deficiencies mean the document cannot represent “valid legislation for the Sacred Liturgy.”
Other anomalies include the fact that the letter came from the Secretariat of State, which is not competent for the liturgical discipline of the Church, nor was it communicated to the cardinal archpriest of the basilica but rather the extraordinary commissioner for the Fabric of St. Peter, which does not deal with liturgies in the basilica but rather its administration and maintenance.
These questions regarding the document, which have yet to be clarified by the Holy See Press Office, have led some to suspect the document is a forgery. However, sources in the Vatican Secretariat of State have confirmed its authenticity to the Register.
The Register contacted the Holy See Press Office for comment on the letter, but it has not yet responded, as the Vatican offices were closed Saturday to mark the eight anniversary of Pope Francis’ election.
For Cardinal Burke and other canonists and priests contacted by the Register, the most serious element of the letter concerns its imposition of concelebration upon priests who wish to offer Mass in the basilica — a change, they say, that pertains not only to the basilica but the universal Church, as St. Peter’s is the spiritual home for all Catholics and, they say, should be a model of liturgical discipline.
The letter, Cardinal Burke wrote in a statement to be published on his website, is “contrary to universal Church law” as it “unjustly conditions the primary duty of the individual priest to offer the Holy Mass daily for the salvation of the world.” More specifically, he and other canonists say it is in breach of both Canon 902 and Article 57 § 2 of Sacrosanctum Concilium.
“In what church more than in the Basilica of Saint Peter would a priest desire to offer the Holy Mass, which is the most perfect and fullest way in which he carries out his priestly mission?” the former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura asked. “If an individual priest wishes to offer the Holy Mass in the basilica, once the directives in question are in force, he will be constrained to concelebrate, in violation of his freedom to offer the Holy Mass individually.” Cardinal Burke added that for a priest to individually offer Mass is not only a right but brings “great spiritual fruit for the whole Church.”
Regarding its rules on celebrating Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (which he notes the letter “falsely calls the Extraordinary Rite”), Cardinal Burke stressed that according to the Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum no priest in good standing needs authorization to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
He also wondered if, according to the letter, the basilica is restricting such Masses to only four priests each day, a provision that, if true, would be another “direct violation of universal Church law.”
Restricting Mass in the Extraordinary Form to the Vatican grottos is also a return to previous practice that existed before Summorum Pontificum.
Further criticisms the cardinal makes about the letter is its requirement that the concelebrated Masses be “liturgically animated” by lectors and cantors.
Cardinal Burke said while liturgical discipline provides for their service, it is “not their purpose to animate the Sacred Liturgy,” but rather it is “Christ alone, in whose person the priest acts,” who “animates the Sacred Liturgy.”
Given all of these reasons, he said that letter “should be rescinded immediately,” that the “thinking which underlies such a document should be corrected,” and that the underlying liturgical doctrine and discipline of the universal Church be “expounded for the faithful.”
Cardinal Burke also takes issue with the letter’s introduction, which says that the new rules are intended so that Masses in the basilica are celebrated in an “atmosphere of recollection and liturgical decorum.” This presupposes that this currently is lacking in some way, but he said this was certainly not the case “in his experience,” nor in the experience of many priests he knows in Rome and abroad who have celebrated or regularly celebrate Mass in the basilica.
The cardinal ended his statement by referring to Canon 212, which recognizes the right for the faithful to make their concerns known to their pastors for the good of the Church, and calling on the faithful, for whom the basilica is their “mother church,” and priests throughout the world, “to make known to Pope Francis and to his Secretariat of State their strong objection to the document in question.”
Some have wondered if COVID-19 is part of the reason for this proposed change, but it isn’t mentioned in the letter. Concelebrated Masses were also temporarily banned during last year’s lockdown to help prevent contagion.
However, Church sources have told The Register that this is a change some in the Vatican have been pushing for many years, going back to when Cardinal Virgilio Noè was archpriest of the basilica from 1991 to 2002.
CNA’s Andrea Gagliarducci also reported in January that a “broad discussion” among members of the Chapter of the Basilica had been taking place over whether to keep the possibility for priests and pilgrims to book individual Masses or rule that they must take part in those already scheduled. These decisions were postponed until the Feb. 20 retirement of Cardinal Angelo Comastri as archpriest, and his subsequent replacement by Cardinal Mauro Gambetti.
Gagliarducci also reported that abolishing daily Mass in Latin in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite in the basilica was part of the discussions but there is no mention of that in the letter.
“Private” Masses banned in St. Peter’s Basilica? (link)
The recent unsigned document from the Secretariat of State is yet another insult and assault on the priesthood and a glaring violation of ecclesial hospitality to laity who visit the church which is the common home of all believers.
March 13, 2021
By Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas (excerpts)
…There are many oddities connected with the document, which I wish to address presently, and then proceed to deal with the substance. Suffice it to say for now, that this decree has raised a firestorm among priests from around the world.
First of all, the document is unsigned. We have been subsequently (unofficially) informed that its author is Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, sostituto, successor to the infamous Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu…
Second, why is Archbishop Giordano an addressee?…
Third, why are the canons of the Basilica summarily informed about such an issue? Indeed, the Chapter of the Basilica has canonical responsibility and jurisdiction over that edifice and over what goes on therein. Were they even consulted? There is no evidence of that. And, if not, what about the “collegiality,” so often vaunted by this Pope? Rather, this seems like yet another bizarre, unthought-out command from Mount Olympus.
Now, why this document? Some sources claim that it emerged from the will of the Pope himself because he is supposedly “annoyed” by the crowds of people milling about the Basilica in the morning! Why should that bother him? Beyond that, one would think that any cleric (let alone the Pope) would be delighted with crowds in St. Peter’s. Another possible rationale is financial, which has some credibility since we know that the Vatican is in the hole for some $61 million this year and also because the prelate in charge of the Basilica’s upkeep is a recipient of this document.
So, what’s the financial angle? From as long ago as I can remember, going back at least forty years, the sacristy of St. Peter’s has been packed with priests desiring to celebrate Holy Mass. Each priest is given a fresh amice, purificator and finger towel (which are sent to the laundry immediately after his Mass), along with an alb, cincture, stole and chasuble (which have to be cleaned regularly and eventually replaced due to use). Of course, he is also given wine and a host as well. An altar boy is assigned to bring him to an available altar, where candles are burning and electrical lighting is provided. This can add up to a hefty sum over the course of a year. If memory serves, there is a box in the sacristy, where priests can leave a donation to help defray some of the costs; I am not sure how many even notice the box!
Now, if money is the motive behind this “instruction,” why not say it? I have no doubt that any number of individuals or organizations would be more than happy to foot the bill. Another point to consider is that if the number of pilgrims hadn’t dried up due to lack of interest in this pontificate (it is important to note that the embarrassing numbers pre-date the “pandemic”), there would be more dollars and euros in the Vatican coffers.
Now, onto more substantive dimensions of this debacle.
The decree indicates that, except for the one daily Mass in Latin at 5:00 p.m., all the other public Masses will be in Italian. The Basilica does not belong to the Diocese of Rome, the Republic of Italy, or the Italian people (whom I love dearly). St. Peter’s is the home of the Church Universal, which is the precise symbolism of the colonnade’s outstretched “arms”. Since priests will now be prohibited from offering Mass for their pilgrims,1 priests and their people (from every corner of the earth) will now have to “participate” in the Sacred Liturgy in a language unknown to them. Where is Vatican II’s “full, conscious and active participation” when you need it? Under these circumstances, not only will a priest be forced to celebrate in an unknown language (will the Eucharistic Prayer at least be in Latin?), but he will be forced to concelebrate Mass – explicitly forbidden by all the documents of the Church from the Council forward.
Francis has wanted to be recognized as the Pope of “accoglienza” (welcome). Where is the hospitality for pilgrims and their priests? Where is the fatherly support for Vatican officials who, for decades, have begun their day offering Holy Mass in the Basilica, getting a coffee and pastry on the run (with their brother priests), and then heading to their offices? Further, do Parra and the Pope realize the constraints under which pilgrim groups operate? A tour guide will give a group 45 minutes for Mass; no one will be able to wait around until the next publicly scheduled Mass, which could be more than an hour away.
Some initial reactions suggested that this was a ploy to marginalize the Extraordinary Form Mass. Ironically, this does the exact opposite as it seems that priests wishing to celebrate Mass in the Usus Antiquior [“the more ancient use” or “the more ancient rite”] can do so and, ironically, in one of the most coveted spots of the Basilica, the Clementine Chapel (directly behind the present niche which is above the relics of St. Peter, so that it correlates to the present high altar of the Basilica).
Word around the Piazza is that some of the Pope’s “magic circle” have surveyed the landscape of the Basilica in the early morning hours and have been disturbed at the sight of priests (many, very young) celebrating “alone.” They take this as evidence of the “clericalism” constantly targeted by Francis, unable to distinguish between the flaw of “clericalism” and a healthy priestly identity.
A most regrettable part of the “Francis effect” of the past eight years is that priests and seminarians (and bishops, too) have known the sting of this Pope’s regularly discharged “nastigrams” at us, which contributes in a major way to the terrible level to which priestly morale has sunk during this time. It is disheartening for a “veteran” in the priesthood like myself to have to counsel young priests and seminarians not to give up on the priesthood because of what they have witnessed in this pontificate. That perception is likewise shared by many potential candidates for the seminary, which is why we have seen those numbers dry up to a most troubling degree in the past few years.
Due to the Wujan virus, many priests discovered for the first time the celebration of Holy Mass without a congregation – and they were surprised to find it spiritually uplifting. The Pope and his “collaborators” ought to be thrilled that priests on vacation (or officials of the Curia) are so devoted to the Mass that they want to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice whenever and wherever possible. Pope John Paul II – a Pope who didn’t simply love the priesthood but loved priests – actively encouraged priests to celebrate even alone, for their own spiritual benefit but also for the benefit of the whole Church.
When would-be liturgists or left-wing ideologues condemn “private” Masses, they demonstrate an embarrassing ignorance of the cosmic nature of the Mass. No priest ever celebrates “alone,” which is precisely why the Preface of every Mass ends by reminding all that our present act of worship is being joined by all the angels and saints. It’s the fulfillment of the vision described by the Prophet Isaiah in the sixth chapter of his book.
This document needs to be walked back: it is yet another insult and assault on the priesthood and a glaring violation of ecclesial hospitality to laity who visit the church which is the common home of all believers. This is yet another self-inflicted wound, needlessly inflicted. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – unless your goal is “to make a mess.”
Perhaps we can launch a campaign called, “Give us back our home!” It might be a good idea to register your sentiments about this matter to our Apostolic Nuncio, so that he can pass them on to those responsible at the Secretariat of State:
The Most Reverend Christophe Pierre
3339 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008
The banning of “individual” celebrations of Mass would have troubled Cardinal Newman. St. John Henry knew the meaning, beauty and power of the Mass; it pained him greatly that he couldn’t offer it for most of the last year of his life. His sorrow for that physical inability was multiplied many times over, precisely because of his appreciation for the Mass. Reflect on these words he puts on the lips of his literary alter ego in his novel, Loss and Gain:
“To me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses forever, and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words — it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. Here becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the scope, and the interpretation, of every part of the solemnity.”
[End Fr. Stravisnkas]
Cardinal Raymond Burke: His Official Statement in Response to the New Directives
Statement on the Offering of the Holy Mass in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter
March 13, 2021
By Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke
On March 12, 2021, the First Section (General Affairs) of the Secretariat of State of Pope Francis published a document containing certain dispositions regarding the offering of the Holy Mass in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican. The document is addressed to the Extraordinary Commissioner of the Fabric of Saint Peter (Commissario Straordinario della Fabbrica di San Pietro), the canonical institute responsible for the care of the Papal Basilica, to the Canons of the Vatican Chapter (Canonici del Capitolo Vaticano), and to the Service for Liturgical Celebrations of the Basilica (Servizio Celebrazioni liturgiche della Basilica). Both the form and content of the document rightly sustain the deepest concerns of the faithful and, above all, of priests. The concerns pertain not only to the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter, but to the universal Church, inasmuch as the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter is, in a particular way, the spiritual home for all Catholics, and, as such, should be a model of liturgical discipline for the particular Churches.
Regarding the form of the document, there are several concerns.
1. It is an unsigned document from the First Section of the Secretariat of State, without a protocol number, legislating regarding the most sacred aspect of the Church’s life, the offering of the Holy Mass. It bears the seal of the First Section with initials. While the document appears to be authentic, that is, not forged, it cannot be retained to be a document containing valid legislation for the Sacred Liturgy.
2. The Secretariat of State is not competent for the liturgical discipline of the Church and, in particular, for the liturgical discipline at the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican. Rightly, one asks by what authority has the Secretariat of State issued directives which are contrary to the discipline of the universal Church. A further question regards what process was followed to arrive at the publication of such an anomalous document.
3. Given the incompetence of the Secretariat of State in the matter, the faithful have the right to know what competent authority gave the mandate to the Secretariat of State to legislate regarding the Sacred Liturgy, that is, to issue directives regarding the offering of the Holy Mass in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter.
4. The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican now has a Cardinal Archpriest, but the document in question is not officially communicated to him. Neither is any reference made to his responsibility for the liturgical discipline at the Basilica confided to his care.
The content of the document is likewise a source of deepest concerns.
1. The document supposes that the Holy Masses in the Basilica of Saint Peter are presently offered in a climate lacking, in some measure, in recollection and liturgical decorum (“di raccoglimento e di decoro”). This is certainly not my experience. I know many priests, resident in Rome and visitors to Rome, who have celebrated or regularly celebrate the Holy Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica. While they have expressed to me their profound gratitude for the opportunity to celebrate the Holy Mass in the Basilica, they have not indicated that the climate in which they have celebrated the Holy Mass in the Basilica was in any way lacking in the reverence, recollection and dignity which befits the Sacrament of Sacraments.
2. The document imposes concelebration upon priests who wish to offer the Holy Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, which is contrary to universal Church law and which unjustly conditions the primary duty of the individual priest to offer the Holy Mass daily for the salvation of the world (can. 902). In what church more than in the Basilica of Saint Peter would a priest desire to offer the Holy Mass, which is the most perfect and fullest way in which he carries out his priestly mission? If an individual priest wishes to offer the Holy Mass in the Basilica, once the directives in question are in force, he will be constrained to concelebrate, in violation of his freedom to offer the Holy Mass individually.
3. Regarding the individual offering of the Holy Mass, it must be observed that it is not only a question of a right of the priest but also of great spiritual fruit for the whole Church, since the infinite merits of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are more greatly and widely applied in a manner befitting our finite and temporal nature. It is helpful to reflect upon the teaching of the Council of Trent, regarding the situation of a priest who offers the Holy Mass without any member of the faithful receiving Holy Communion. Regarding the participation of the faithful at the Holy Mass, the Council teaches: “The holy council would certainly like the faithful present at every Mass to communicate in it not only by spiritual devotion but also by sacramental reception of the Eucharist, so that the fruits of this most holy sacrifice could be theirs more fully.” It goes on to state: “But, if this does not always happen, the council does not for that reason condemn as private and illicit Masses [can. 8] in which only the priest communicates. Rather, it approves and commends them, for they too should be considered truly communal Masses, partly because the people communicate spiritually in them and partly because they are celebrated by a public minister of the Church, not for his own good alone, but for all the faithful who belong to the body of Christ” (Session XXII, Chapter 6). It should be further observed that a priest never offers the Holy Mass alone, even if there is no one else physically present, for the angels and saints assist at every offering of the Holy Mass (can. 903).
4. With regard to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, which the document falsely calls the Extraordinary Rite, the document refers to “authorized priests”, but no priest in good standing needs authorization to offer the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art. 2). What is more, the document limits the offering of the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form or Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter to the Clementine Chapel, at four fixed times. Is it supposed, therefore, that, each day, only four priests will be permitted to offer the Holy Mass according to the Usus Antiquior in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter? Since universal Church law permits the individual priest, in such circumstances, to offer the Holy Mass, according to either the Ordinary Form (Usus Recentior) or the Extraordinary Form (Usus Antiquior), the directive in question is in direct violation of universal Church law.
5. The document also legislates that the concelebrated Masses be animated liturgically (siano animate liturgicamente) by the service of lectors and cantors. While the liturgical discipline of the Church provides for the service of lectors and cantors, it is not their purpose to animate the Sacred Liturgy. Christ alone, in Whose person the priest acts, animates the Sacred Liturgy. Therefore, it should not be thought that the individual offering of the Holy Mass is somehow less animated, in the true spiritual sense, than the concelebrated Mass.
6. For the sake of the Catholic faith and for the good order of the Sacred Liturgy, the highest and most perfect expression of the Church’s life in Christ, the document in question should be rescinded immediately, that is, before its supposed effective date of March 22nd next. Furthermore, the thinking which underlies such a document should be corrected, while the discipline of the universal Church and the liturgical doctrine which underlies it is expounded for the faithful.
In conclusion, Church discipline recognizes the right, and indeed the duty, of the Christian faithful to make known to their pastors their concerns regarding matters which pertain to the good of the Church and, likewise, to make such concerns known to all the Christian faithful (can. 212 §3). Given the gravity of the situation represented by the document in question, it is my hope that many of the Christian faithful for whom the Basilica of Saint Peter is, in a particular sense, their mother church, and, above all, many priests from throughout the world will make known to Pope Francis and to his Secretariat of State their strong objection to the document in question.
+ Raymond Leo Cardinal BURKE
Rome, 13 March 2021