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Cardinal Sarah asks Pope Francis to reinstate individual Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica

By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

Cardinal Robert Sarah offers Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for his 50th anniversary of priesthood in 2019. (Credit: Evandro Inetti/CNA)

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2021 / 08:28 am (CNA).- Cardinal Robert Sarah has asked Pope Francis to reinstate the celebration of private Masses at the side altars in St. Peter’s Basilica, after individual Masses were suspended earlier this month in favor of concelebration.

“I humbly beg the Holy Father to order the withdrawal of the recent norms issued by the secretariat of state,” Cardinal Sarah wrote in an essay published Monday on the blog of Vatican journalist Sandro Magister.

The cardinal said the new norms “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.”

Sarah, prefect emeritus of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, joins Cardinals Raymond Burke, Gerhard Muller, and Walter Brandmuller, in publically voicing disagreement with the ban on individual Masses, which went into effect March 22.

The new protocols, which were decreed by the First Section of the Secretariat of State, said priests will be invited to take part in several concelebrated Masses at St. Peter’s every day, but will not be permitted to offer private Masses at the basilica’s many side altars.

It was a long-standing custom in the basilica that priests would offer individual Masses in the early morning hours at some of the side altars in the basilica. Sometimes priests said the Mass alone or with only a deacon, and other times they would be accompanied by small groups of Catholics.

Priests traveling with pilgrim groups were also permitted to reserve an altar for a private Mass.

There are a total of 45 altars and 11 chapels in St. Peter’s Basilica.

In his essay, Cardinal Sarah asked if it was necessary to break this “ancient and venerable custom,” writing, “does such a decision really produce greater good for the Church and greater decorum in the liturgy?”

The cardinal said “the main, not to say the only, role of an altar is in fact that the Eucharistic sacrifice be offered on it.”

“The presence of the relics of the saints under the altars has a biblical, theological, liturgical, and spiritual value of such magnitude that there is no need even to mention them,” he added. “With the new norms the altars of St. Peter’s are destined to serve, except one day a year, only as tombs of saints, if not as mere works of art. Those altars, instead, must live, and their life is the daily celebration of the Holy Mass.”

Sarah also recalled that, over the centuries, there have been many saints who offered Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica when they were in Rome.

He questioned why this experience is now being denied to “the saints of today — who thank God exist, are among us, and visit Rome at least from time to time.”

Cardinal Sarah referenced canon 902 of the Code of Canon Law, which refers to “Sacrosanctum concilium” no. 57, and “guarantees priests the possibility of personally celebrating the Eucharist.”

He also noted that there are priests who come to Rome and do not speak Italian, and who would therefore find it difficult to concelebrate one of the official Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica, as the new norms dictate.

The cardinal quoted the decree “Presbyterorum ordinis,” from the Second Vatican Council, which says: “In the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which priests fulfill their greatest task, the work of our redemption is being constantly carried on; and hence the daily celebration of Mass is strongly urged, since even if there cannot be present a number of the faithful, it is still an act of Christ and of the Church.”

“Not only is it confirmed here that, even when the priest celebrates without the people, the Mass remains an act of Christ and of the Church, but its daily celebration is also recommended,” Sarah commented.

“When possible, community celebration is preferred, but individual celebration by a priest remains the work of Christ and the Church. The magisterium not only does not prohibit it, but approves it, and recommends that priests celebrate Holy Mass every day, because from every Mass there flows a great quantity of graces for the whole world,” he said.

Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Sarah’s resignation as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on Feb. 20, after Sarah turned 75 in June 2020.

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  1. From the back row, and lacking all credentials or qualifications, it’s really hard to read the preeminent Cardinal Parolin, since no convincing rationale is offered for cancel-culturing St. Peter’s Cathedral into mostly a museum.

    Is it simply Italian resentment over three non-Italian popes in a row?
    Is it the optics of rendering the betrayed Catholic Church in China look more active than St. Peter’s in Rome?
    Is it a power play to offset the Secretariat having been stripped of the financial dealings of the Vatican? (Economics versus the economy of grace?)
    With hands on the reins, is it possibly a predictable effort to fade no further as a former front-runner papabile at the next conclave?
    Is it a less ecclesial and more secular-friendly step toward suggested/favored/mandatory concelebration, to diminish the alternative logic of the Apostolic Succession–and what’s left of the each member of the ordained priesthood as alter Christus?
    Is it a de facto reorganization demonstration that all dicasteries within the Vatican are now subsets of the Secretariat of State?
    Or, is it possibly one-upsmanship over the other members of the C-6 Council of Cardinals…to either offset, or oppositely to support with ambivalent nuance, Cardinal Reinhard Marx when Germania’s “synodal drift” infiltrates the Vatican itself–and where the C-6 will surely be asked for advice?

  2. i do not understand why Fr Sarah do such a thing.
    after Vat. 2 the meaning of mass is for common, public not private.
    the mass is for universal

    • Or, is this precisely the point–

      …that with the ordained alter Christus acting in person, even singularly, each Mass (as a continuation and extension of Christ’s singular and sacrificial communio) is always of/for the universal Church across space and time, and not anything less (neither public nor private as commonly understood). The Church is assembled sacramentally by the Eucharist, not congregated as in Protestant “ecclesial communities” lacking the Apostolic Succession.

      Lay participation “after Vat. 2” does not change the meaning of the Mass. But, for some reason regular attendance has slipped from 75% in 1955 to less than 40% (probably much less) today.

      The need “after Vat. 2” is for real evangelization, not turning off the lights.

    • Fr. Ben, Cardinal Sarah knows what he’s talking about. The Vatican ll you mention is an imaginary Council. Pope Benedict XVl said about the Mass, “The priest does not need the Mass, the people do not need the Mass, God the Father needs the Mass”. Also, Saints like St. Padre Pio said, “Without the Mass, God would have destroyed this world long ago”. The Mass does not need people present as it is a Divine act and not a human act. It is Christ who undergoes His Passion and death all over again and offers it to the Father. This act causes the Father to withhold His wrath from striking us. In today’s Church, the people have only made themselves a distraction and made themselves a nuisance at Mass. That’s why I prefer the Tridentine Mass, there’s no room for entertainment or distractions. It’s all about God.

      • i want to say look at the world! in my country notion of family is totally changing even in law. what do we keep ordinary?

  3. The new norms are as lacking in justice as in love (Cdl Sarah’s theological sword). Justice regarding the Mass is giving God his due. What is due him is love, fulfilling the perfect gift of Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father. A priest who offers Mass emulates Christ’s offer of himself in fulfilling the commandment, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. Fortune had it that I began graduate studies Rome 1999 when John Paul II issued this Holy Thursday letter to all priests,“In the Eucharist, the priest personally draws near to the inexhaustible mystery of Christ and of His prayer to the Father. He can immerse himself daily in the mystery of redemption and grace by celebrating Holy Mass, which retains its meaning and value even when, for a just reason, it is offered without the participation of the faithful, yet always for the faithful and for the whole world”. That year I offered Mass with John Paul in his private chapel, the experience lasting, beneficial to me as a priest. He offered Mass as depicted in his letter, transmitting a beautiful spiritual awareness. It can be described as contemplative in form. It was a lesson on how the Mass, [yes it was the Novus Ordo] can deeply affect a congregation with a sense of sanctity. Of the presence of Christ. Since then, and as mentioned previously acquiring the habit from fellow grads at the Casa Santa Maria of daily Mass alone. Response since from parishioners a great blessing and constant reminder of the words of a Saint.

  4. A contempt for justice is the very mark of the Pontiff Francis, and his electioneer-abusers of the Danneels-McCarrick cult. Hence, The Pontiff Francis, enthralled by his personal attainment of the pinnacle of the cult of the unjust, even displayed his contempt for justice owed to God, and orchestrated idolatry in Rome in 2019. To such men as these, St. Peter’s Basilica is treated as their personal property.

  5. The notions of concelebration of and public presence at Holy Mass is pure novelty in the Latin rites. An individual sacrificing priest at an altar facing his God is the historic, liturgical norm. The validity of the Mass is not dependent upon the presence of a congregation. No quorum is needed. We are not Protestants. If, however, you hold to the «reformed» view that the Eucharist is a memorial service and not the actual re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice then anything innovative goes; and in the legions of modern Protestantisms it generally does.
    Cardinal Sarah is Catholic and orthodox in his thinking. A reminder to those who hold the Petrine office to be likewise. Theological shape-shifting is not part of the brief.

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