Private Masses no longer permitted in St. Peter’s Basilica

By Andrea Gagliarducci for CNA

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. / Luxerendering/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, Mar 12, 2021 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A new letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State has banned the 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 decency.”

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.

Not all of the Masses are crowded – in some cases, in fact, the priest celebrates Mass alone, with no faithful participating.

The individual Masses were in addition to the general daily Mass schedule in St. Peter’s Basilica. According to that schedule, there is one Mass per hour from 9 a.m. to noon, in Italian, at the Altar of the Chair. There is another Mass in Italian at 8.30 a.m. at the altar of the Most Holy Sacrament, while every day at 5 p.m., there is a Mass in Latin.

On Sundays, there are five Masses celebrated in Italian and one in Latin.

Under the new measures, all priests will be able to participate in a pre-listed series of concelebrations: at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. in the Chapel of the Choir; and at 7.30 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the Altar of the Chair. All the other Masses stay scheduled as they have been until now, although the Mass schedule on Sunday might change. 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 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 Pena Parra, who heads the First Section of the Secretariat of State, but instead included only his initials.

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.

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  1. I challenge any of the papal apologists who sometimes visit this site to offer a justification
    for this move. Perhaps a little too much time and space is spent here and elsewhere admonishing Traditionalists and conservatives who have no power in the Church or society. Faithful Catholics who sometimes in their frustration get a little carried away with their rhetoric are right to be outraged by the actions of those who currently dominate the Church hierarchy and can be called accurately enemies.

    • Simple. Private mass is an oxymoron. This move should have been made 60 years ago. As it is, it is still a very modest half-measure. There is literally no excuse for a priest to celebrate mass by himself when he can celebrate it with people. It is literally an historic liturgical abuse.

      • What you say is an abuse of Catholicism. There is no such thing as a private Mass. A priest alone saying Mass is inherently a public act as virtually every Church Council has affirmed and virtually every Code of Canon Law has affirmed. The Trinity and the Church is present at every Mass. Consider not always reading your prideful mind into the behavior of others.

  2. Andrea Gagliarducci, among the more perceptive journalists, usually has it right. It “might seem tailored to meet COVID restrictions, however, the new rule appears to be permanent”. Discussions on reform of Basilica Masses he reports had been ongoing. Whoever the ghost author of the letter the tone reflects community function not the intrinsic efficacy of the Mass, as on Fr Stravinskas’ article Richard M put’s it well horizontal rather than vertical, “a modern theological conception of the Mass as horizontal, communal, and immanentist”. And Cardinal Burke in his critique addresses that vertical value directed primarily to God for salvation of the world, my addition the sanctification of the priest in his identity with the crucified Christ. Christ who literally dies of love for us on the Cross is Aquinas’ model for us, priests especially. This identity of Man, although not simply priests who are ordained as the communal exemplars, called to emulate the crucified savior has been mitigated for decades, Amoris Laetitia the intended coupe de etat. Our question now is how far? The Mass is the center of our faith. Is the ghostly written letter signal for commencement of the secular fraternization of the Mystical Body? For this writer if so it cannot succeed entirely. Christ has given us that promise.

  3. ? The Holy Father , on his election to the Papacy , very likely offered himself as a ‘victim ‘ for The Church , which St.Joseph too likely did , since he ‘knew ‘ the role of The Mother and The Son ..
    8th Anniv. of the election of the Holy Father and he , like St.Joseph , in oneness with The Lord , in His hidden days in the desert , ? facing the dust storms of misunderstandings ..

    As much as one can be embarrassed to be in the midst of a topic that is best left to those who would know the issue in its complexities , if that is what it is , going into a week that celebrates Feast of St.Jospeh , in this Year of St.Jospeh , given in the good hearted initiative of the Holy Father , seems right to seek out as to what could be the deeper truth .
    The Holy Father has been misunderstood many times in the past , including the mention of his endearing words to the young – ‘ make some noise ‘, heard as ‘ make a mess ‘ – the former , from the heart of a loving G.Pa , who loves to see the young having an active interest in matters of faith , trusting enough to bring their concerns and be heard .

    The love and enthusiasm with which the Holy Father is often met with being the evidence as to how his goodness and warmth is recognized among the ‘little ‘ .

    There is mention that the changes which is the subject of the above article are related to the Vatican 11 directive in matters of Liturgy . St.Paul mentions how a person speaking in tongues can be an occasion of scandal for an outsider ; at St.Peter’s too , ? would there be such an occasion if the Holy Mass is at multiple altars , with some with only the celebrant present ( the supernatural aspect not discounted ) where as concelebration be more reverential as well as more fruitful when under obediance to The Father , as given through the Vicar of Christ !

    What would Padre Pio have chosen !

    May the Fatherly love and blessing of St.Joseph as well as of St.Patrick be there for all the Father figures as well as all the little laity who ache .. in seeing the sand being thrown around .. then again , The Church has always been in need of the cleansing tears as well, esp. in our times !

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