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Cardinal Joseph Zen speaks with LifeSiteNews in New York on February 14, 2020Jim Hale/LifeSiteNews

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HONG KONG, March 31, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen has added his voice to those demanding a return of so-called “private” masses to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, after such Masses were essentially banned by the Secretariat of State earlier this month.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, formerly the Archbishop of Hong Kong and still a champion of the beleaguered Church in China, has written an open letter to the former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Robert Sarah, to express his pain at the recent abolition.

Zen published the Italian original of his letter on his own website, and Catholic News Agency provided an English translation.

“Pain and indignation invade my heart at hearing certain incredible news,” Zen wrote. “They’ve prohibited private masses in St. Peter’s!?”

Cardinal Zen said that if it were not for the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 measures, he would “take the first flight to Rome and kneel before the door of Santa Marta,” the hotel in which Pope Francis resides, “until the Holy Father retracts the edict.”

The cardinal — the leading critic of the Vatican’s secret deal with the ruling Chinese Communist Party regarding Catholic worship in China, described what a comfort saying Mass at one of the side altars at St. Peter’s had been for him.

“It was the thing that most strengthened my faith every time I came to Rome,” he wrote.

“At seven o’clock precisely, I would go into the sacristy (where I would almost always encounter that holy man, the Archbishop and then Cardinal Paolo Sardi), a young priest would come forward and help me vest, and then they would lead me to an altar (whether in the Basilica or in the [crypt] did not make a difference to me; we were St. Peter’s Basilica!).”

Zen wrote that he thought he never celebrated Mass with more fervor and emotion that at these Masses, and was sometimes in tears as he prayed “for our living martyrs in China, now abandoned and driven into the bosom of the schismatic [Chinese Patriotic] church by the ‘Holy See.’”

The cardinal, who is a sharp critic of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his China policies, attacked the Secretariate of State for its role in the edict against individual Masses at St. Peter’s. At times, his tone was bitter.

“It is time to reduce the power of the Secretariat of State,” Zen wrote.

“Away with the sacrilegious hands from the communal home of all the faithful worldwide,” he continued. “Let them content themselves with diplomatic games played with the father of lies. Go ahead and make the Secretariat of State a ‘den of thieves’, but leave in peace the devoted people of God!”

Zen then ended his letter with a quotation from John 13:30, which was part of the Gospel reading for the day: “It was night.” It follows the Evangelist’s description of Judas Iscariot’s departure from the Last Supper.

A former Canadian ambassador to China and practising Catholic, David Mulroney, told LifeSiteNews that he was not surprised that both Cardinal Zen and Cardinal Sarah had spoken out against the ban on individual Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“It is not surprising that, in the midst of a Pontificate notable for its confusion, and in which the universal call of the Church is enfeebled, its two most saintly figures are raising their voices in concern that a reassuring sign of universality has suddenly disappeared,” Mulroney said via social media.

Earlier this month, a notice dated March 12 appeared on the door of the sacristy in St. Peter’s Basilica, saying that from March 22 all Masses in St. Peter’s said in the ordinary form would be concelebrated. The notice specifically states that “individual Masses” — that is, Masses said by a single priest, were “suppressed.” Mass in the Extraordinary Form, which cannot be concelebrated, would be offered in the Clementine Chapel in the Vatican grottos (crypt), but limited to only four Masses a day.

Laymen and clerics alike were astonished by the development and the Secretariat of State’s role in it. Cardinal Raymond Burke responded on March 13, saying that the new rules should be withdrawn.

“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,” Burke wrote.

Cardinals Gerhard Müller and Walter Brandmüller also objected to the abolition of individual Mass. Both cardinals pointed out that the Secretariat of State had no authority to make such a decision.

“It seems to be a mystery why the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s diplomatic service, should be involved in this, and no less strange that it should apparently contradict the right of priests to celebrate individually enshrined in canon law (can. 902), and the presumption, also in canon law, that priests in good standing be allowed by the rector of any church to celebrate Mass if an altar is free (can. 903),” wrote liturgical expert and LSN columnist Dr. Joseph Shaw on March 17.

“The fact that priests from all over the world, and those living and working in Rome, have been able up to now to celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s in the early morning, and that visitors can see them stream out of the great sacristy to a myriad of little altars around the upper basilica, and to a whole lot more in the crypt, has been a real joy: an illustration of the Church’s unity in diversity, and of the ceaseless prayer offered to God by His Spouse, the Church.”

On March 29, Cardinal Robert Sarah, until recently the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote a long letter explaining the canonical and theological problems that arose from forbidding priests to celebrate individual Masses.

He concluded with an appeal to Pope Francis, saying: “For all the reasons set out here and for yet others, together with a boundless number of baptized persons (many of whom do not want to or cannot express their thoughts) I humbly beg the Holy Father to order the withdrawal of the recent norms issued by the secretariat of state, which are as lacking in justice as in love, do not correspond to the truth or the law, do not facilitate but rather endanger the decorum of the celebration, devout participation in the Mass, and the freedom of the children of God.”