Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent


Vatican essentially prohibits traditional Masses in Saint Peter’s Basilica

There are only four time slots per day for traditional Masses in one small chapel, and individual Masses in general are canceled.
Fri Mar 12, 2021 - 5:05 pm EST
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St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican Shutterstock

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VATICAN CITY, March 12, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — In a new development infringing on the freedom to celebrate the “extraordinary form” of the Roman rite, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State circulated a note with details of new dispositions restricting all “individual” Masses in Saint Peter’s Basilica, with special, even more restrictive measures for the traditional rite.

The new rules will enter into effect as of March 22, Monday of the fifth week of Lent. From that day onward, and for an indefinite period, all priests and faithful who come to daily Mass in the Basilica will be required to join “concelebrated” Masses at fixed times between 7 and 9 a.m. in only two locations: the Chapel of the Choir (“Cappella del Coro”) that is situated halfway down the left-hand nave, opposite the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, and usually closed by a wrought-iron grille, and the Altar of the Chair of Saint Peter, behind the main altar in the apse of the Basilica.

All individual celebrations of Mass will be in practice considered as exceptions to the rule.

Groups accompanied by a priest or a bishop using the Novus Ordo are “assured” of the possibility of having a Holy Mass celebrated individually by their spiritual attendant, but no longer in the Basilica, the heart of Christendom. These Masses will be relegated to the “Grotte vaticane,” in other words, the Crypt where many former Popes lie buried.

Priests who prefer the Vetus Ordo, the traditional Latin rite of the Catholic Church, will be confined to four time slots between 7 and 9 a.m., at only one altar: the Clementine Chapel of the Crypt.

Before commenting on the rest of the measures imposed by the First Section of the Secreteriate of State, the wording of this last disposition regarding traditional celebrations deserves a special mention. It reads: “Regarding the extraordinary rite, authorized priests will be able to celebrate at 7 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 8 a.m., and 9 a.m. in the Clementine Chapel in the Grotte vaticane.”

Strangely, the text refers to the “extraordinary rite,” when Pope Benedict who coined the phrase in his 2007 Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum recognizing the right to existence of the traditional Mass took such pains to clarify that it was the “extraordinary form” of the one Roman Rite (with the Novus Ordo designated as the “ordinary form”).

Not only strange, but disturbing is the mention of “authorized” priests. Celebrating in the extraordinary form, since the said Motu Proprio, is a right of all Roman Rite clergy. They need no special permission to do so. What sort of “authorization” will be required in Saint Peter’s Basilica? One given by the Basilica’s Liturgical Service itself? On what grounds? With what recourse, should it not be given? Or is this referring to something more general? Will priests be required to present a note of permission from their bishop?

Since the Motu Proprio came into effect in 2007, many priests who are attached to the Vetus Ordo or who celebrate it exclusively come to the Basilica in the early morning and simply ask to be ascribed an altar at the Sacristy of Saint Peter. Usually this is a seamless procedure; in practice — before COVID restrictions set in — several usus antiquior Masses would be offered at the same time, by priests celebrating alone or accompanied by traditional groups and pilgrims. Tourists and locals happening to be in the Basilica at those early hours would join if they wished; for some, it would be the first time they witnessed the timeless reverence and quiet of a traditional Low Mass.

Some Roman priests and prelates would come daily to celebrate the traditional Mass at the same altar, ensuring individual pilgrims to Rome of a sure time and venue.

No longer will this happen; no longer will priests who love the traditional Mass be able to come in on a whim or with the almost-certainty of getting an altar to celebrate in the Basilica of Saint Peter, marking their union with the Pope and all Christendom. With only four possible time-slots each day, their hope to be able to say Mass in the Clementine Chapel will be dim. And chance visitors will no longer see them: it is tiny, hidden underground, with no windows and room only for a handful of faithful.

On the other hand, the Clementine Chapel is the heart of the heart of the Basilica, since this is where Saint Peter’s relics were venerated at the beginning of the Middle Ages: His skull, kept in a marble reliquary placed there by Emperor Constantine, was moved to Saint John Lateran at the end of the middle ages. The Chapel is right behind the niche that presently finds itself over the other relics of Saint Peter. Its altar was consecrated in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, crowning the archeological works that brought to light the tomb of the Apostle and first Pope under his pontificate.

The Clementine Chapel is sacred indeed, and surely, priests will be privileged to celebrate Mass there, but the measure is a dire limitation to the rights and development of the traditional Latin Mass.

How long will all this remain in force? The letter of the Secretariat (LifeSite’s full translation can be found below) opens with the explanation that the “time of Lent” is a proper moment to “return to the Lord,” especially through Holy Mass and listening to the Word of God. It invokes the need for a “climate of reverence and liturgical decorum” in order to justify the decision to send all individual Masses underground, out of the Basilica.

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As if traditional Low Masses could disrupt the search for climate of reverence and liturgical decorum … Many of LifeSite’s staff who have had the opportunity of joining traditional Masses at one of the altars of Saint Peter’s could witness that following the ceremony is sometimes quite difficult because of the sounds of loud prayers and singing at other altars in different languages!

The letter’s explanations would seem to indicate that the restrictions will be proper to the Lenten season, but on the other hand, it says “from now on,” without mentioning a specific period of time, and the dispositions will be effective already a week from now, starting less than two weeks before Easter which this year falls on April 4.

Novus Ordo celebrants with a more traditional mindset, in particular those who prefer not to concelebrate — that is, to participate in a joint celebration with other priests all offering the Holy Sacrifice together — will also be facing a kind of liturgical persecution. Only if they are leading a group will they have the possibility to celebrate alone, and then only in the “Grotte vaticane.” If they come alone, they will have to join the fixed Masses in the Chapel of the Choir at 7 or 8 a.m., or at the Chair of Peter at 7:30 or 9 a.m., in order to concelebrate with any number of other priests, and probably not in Latin, but in Italian, or perhaps any language that happens to be that of the central celebrant.

The said “concelebrations” will have lectors and chanters and all manner of “liturgical animations.”

The new rules also mean that there will no longer be celebrations at the altars of saints whose relics lie beneath the side altars to the right and left of the nave of Saint Peter’s: Saint John Paul II, for example, and Saint Pius X. Only on their feast days will one Mass be allowed at their altars.

It is of course difficult not to fear, given these authoritarian restrictions on individual Masses, especially the traditional Mass, in the heart of Rome and under the ferule of the Secretariat of State, further attacks on the Tridentine liturgy both there and in the wider Catholic world.

Some see it as a sign that the removal of Cardinal Robert Sarah as the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments three weeks ago is already producing its first effects.

Here below is our full translation of the letter, which bears only a paraph and the stamp of the First Section (“General Affairs”) of the Secretariat.

To the most excellent extraordinary commissioner of the “Fabbrica” of Saint Peter,

To the Canons of the Chapter of the Vatican,

To the liturgical celebrations service of the Basilica,

The time of Lent invites us to return to the Lord with all our hearts (cf. John 2:12) by giving greater centrality to listening to the Word of God and to the Eucharistic celebration. In this sense, seeking to ensure that Holy Masses in the Basilica of St. Peter will take place in a climate of Reverence and liturgical decorum, the following is established:

1. Individual celebrations are canceled;

2. Priests and faithful who come daily to the Basilica for Holy Mass have the opportunity to participate in the following concelebrations: 7 a.m. in the Chapel of the Choir, 7:30 a.m. at the Altar of the Chair of Peter, 8 a.m. in the Chapel of the Choir, 9 a.m. at the Altar of the Chair. Times for the other Holy Masses remain unchanged. On the occasion of the memory of a saint whose remains are in the Basilica, one of the Holy Masses will be allowed to be celebrated at the corresponding altar. On Sundays and solemn feast days, the appropriateness of retaining those times will be assessed;

3. Concelebrations will receive liturgical animation, with the help of lectors and cantors;

4. Groups of pilgrims accompanied by a bishop or a priest will be assured of having the opportunity of celebrating Holy Mass in the Grotte vaticane.

5. Regarding the Extraordinary Rite, authorized priests will be able to celebrate at 7 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 8 a.m., and 9 a.m. in the Clementine Chapel in the Grotte vaticane.

The present dispositions will be effective as of March 22, Monday of the 5th week of Lent.

From the Vatican, March 12, 2021

  latin mass, st. peter's basilica, vatican secretariat of state

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