Cardinal George Pell reflects on celebrating (and not celebrating) the Mass

“There is certainly a correlation, probably a causality, when the liturgy is poor in the true spiritual sense then almost certainly the Christian life of the parish is poor.”

Australian Cardinal George Pell pictured celebrating the White Mass for medical professionals and health care workers at the Diocese of Phoenixís Virginia G. Piper Chapel in Phoenix Nov. 20, 2021. (CNS photo/Jeff Grant)

George Cardinal Pell has been a priest for nearly 60 years, and served as Archbishop of Melbourne and Archbishop of Sydney, as well as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals. Throughout his many decades of priestly and episcopal ministry, he has gained an ever-increasing appreciation for the importance and role of the Daily Mass in the life of the priest.

His widely-publicized (and unjust) imprisonment threw a wrench into his consistent celebration of Mass.

He kept a journal throughout his trial and imprisonment, which is a remarkably fascinating and engaging read, and will surely become a classic work of Catholic spirituality. It has been published in three volumes by Ignatius Press (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3). Something that stands out is the fact that Cardinal Pell was forbidden to celebrate Mass during this time. The celebration of the Mass is one of the primary responsibilities and privileges of the priest, so to be denied the Mass was heartbreaking.

Cardinal Pell gave a talk recently at the Sacra Liturgia Conference, held in San Francisco from June 28-July 1, 2022.

Catholic World Report: You’ve come to San Francisco to give a talk at the Sacra Liturgia conference called “The Daily Mass in the Life of a Priest: Reflections after 406 Days Without It”. What was it like going so long without celebrating Mass?

George Cardinal Pell: Well, it was a radical change of program for myself. It was very different. But I didn’t feel abandoned by God. I kept up a daily routine of prayers. I realized that I just couldn’t say Mass. And so that was the way it was. And so I just got on with where I was and made the most of it.

CWR: And you couldn’t say Mass. You also didn’t attend Mass during that time, right?

Pell: I attended five Masses.

CWR: Five Masses in 406 days.

Pell: That’s right. A young priest came in twice when I was in Melbourne. And then an older priest, a friend of mine, came three times when I was down in Barwon.

CWR: What role does celebration of the liturgy play in the life of a priest? Or rather, what role should it play?

Pell: First of all, for a parish priest, the priest has to celebrate Mass for his people. But as well as that, I am one of that school that thinks that daily Mass is one of the hallmarks of a priestly life. It’s an explicit act of worship, and thanksgiving, and adoration. It’s the best prayer we have available. And it’s a very ancient custom, daily Mass, going back to the first centuries. And I think it should be one of the hallmarks of priestly devotion.

CWR: You mentioned that it was your practice that even on your day off, you would still personally celebrate Mass.

Pell: Yes, that was my practice. And is my practice.

CWR: It can be easy for parish priests in particular to get bogged down in administration and other issues like that and the celebration of the sacraments to come almost as an afterthought. Is it important for priests to focus on dispensing the sacraments?

Pell: Yes. And I think also to help focus on the sacraments, or to properly order the priorities in a priestly life, you’ve got to pray outside Mass: pray the breviary and perhaps devotions; certainly try to meditate regularly. Without prayers outside Mass, it is difficult to focus on the central things, and it’s not too difficult to become distracted. I think Eugene de Mazenod, who founded the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, said it’s not impossible for a priest to live day to day life like that of an agnostic. And the remedy for that, certainly, a daily prayerful celebration of Mass helps. But on top of that, the breviary and meditation and regular devotions are a great amount of help.

CWR: You’ve been a priest for 55 years now, is that right? Nearly 56.

Pell: That’s correct.

CWR: And a bishop for 35 and a cardinal for 18. Has your experience of, and your appreciation of the liturgy — in particular daily Mass — changed or developed over that time?

Pell: That’s certainly the case. I always appreciated the importance of daily Mass. But after a period of priestly life that became even clearer to me and as a bishop and as I moved around and as I looked at a little bit of work in liturgical circles, and as I started to read the writings, perhaps particularly of Cardinal Ratzinger on the liturgy, I realized just how closely related good, prayerful liturgy is to vitality in parish life. There is certainly a correlation, probably a causality, when the liturgy is poor in the true spiritual sense then almost certainly the Christian life of the parish is poor.

CWR: But as you took on more responsibilities as a bishop, an archbishop, and then a cardinal, was it challenging to maintain this rhythm of prayer in Daily Mass and your divine office and everything?

Pell: It was always a challenge. And when I was busy, as I was certainly as an archbishop and later, in a way that I’m not busy now, I found it was important to get to do your praying early in the morning, because often, as the day went along, you had many good reasons not to pray. So it meant that your life had to be organized and with a pattern of life and with prayer in the morning, particularly.

CWR: There are many valid and licit expressions of the liturgy. Many today speak of the need for a uniformity in the liturgy. But what good does this variety of liturgical expression do for the Church?

Pell: We’re the Catholic Church — which means universal. And the different nationalities around the world, different classes of people, different levels of education are attracted in somewhat different ways to different forms of prayer. So I think the variety of rites is part of the Catholic genius. This has to be balanced around unity, of course, but unity does not have to mean uniformity or the suppression of traditional and established and indeed beautiful forms of worship.

CWR: Is there value in the variety of liturgical traditions within the Roman Rite?

Pell: I think there is, simply because many people like to pray according to the vetus ordo, and I think they’re just too many and too numerous to be ignored. So I think the situation will slowly develop within the organic unity of the Church and peace will return in some form or other.

CWR: What advice would you give to priests — and laypeople, for that matter — who might not appreciate the value of of the daily Mass?

Pell: Well, I think it’s recommended by the Church today. Certainly, Pope Benedict has spoken about it was explicitly; while it isn’t absolutely commanded by canon law, the official writings encourage us to celebrate each day. It gives praise to the good God, is the source and summit of the Christian life. And I think it’s a good anchor for daily priestly life. So I would urge any priest who is not celebrating daily, in fact, to do so. And I think it will enrich his devotional life.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Paul Senz 137 Articles
Paul Senz has an undergraduate degree from the University of Portland in music and theology and earned a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from the same university. He has contributed to Catholic World Report, Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, The Priest Magazine, National Catholic Register, Catholic Herald, and other outlets. Paul lives in Elk City, OK, with his wife and their four children.


  1. Pell has done good work over time. His defence of the gospel is inspiring. If he has been unjustly treated, so too the Lord Jesus.

    What to make of new allegations against Him! It is saddening yet the Lord knows the complete story. if he is guilty, he needs to confess and assume a different role.

    • The allegations are not new. As reported recently, an Australian court heard from the lawyer representing a man seeking legal action against the Catholic Church and Cardinal Pell. The man is the father of a former choirboy, who prosecutors alleged had been abused by Pell. His son died from an accidental drug overdose in 2014, having never made a complaint against Pell. The father is apparently seeking compensation in a civil case against the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Cardinal, who served as archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001. Australia’s High Court unanimously overturned Pell’s conviction for the alleged sexual abuse on April 7, 2020.

    • Brian, the present case is not about any sexual abuse. The father of one of the two boys involved in the last case – for which the Cardinal was eventually found to be not guilty – is claiming compensation for the hurt he has suffered. However, this man’s son, who had committed suicide, is reported to have said that he was not abused by Card Pell. It is also important to bear in mind that the same media (especially the ABC which is very heavily funded by taxpayers) is trumpeting this case.

    • In my opinion Cardinal Pell deserves an apology from the Vatican.
      He has been a faithful and obedient shepherd of the Church despite unjust charges, unlike many wolves that still exist in the Church today.
      God bless C. Pell

      Cardinal Pell: My time in jail ‘was a gift and a grace’ – LifeSitenews

      “Pell was among those Synod fathers who joined the now-famous rebellion of bishops against the “manipulation” of the Synod in October. It was widely reported in Rome during the Synod in October that Pell directly and forcefully confronted the Synod’s organizer, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, over the apparent push for a change in the Church’s “pastoral practice” of withholding Communion from divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
      Pell also opposed P. Francis on climate change – the latter’s pet project.
      All of this was probably causing an upset in the the Vatican global plans.

      • Thank you for your perception into this matter. i feel blessed and have a fuller appreciation for Pell. It appears he has been treated in a shabby and unbecoming way! Yet, he is in good company with the Lord Jesus.

        God bless you.

  2. Yours truly is fortunate enough to have been mentored partly and over many years by a solid, academic, prayerful and slightly abrasive Catholic priest from the Jesuit Order. He said Mass every day, often alone as alter Christus (Mostly Novus Ordo, but done well). On my shelf is a thick file of our correspondence, largely on Church crises of the day (1970s into 2000).

    But there were also several visits. On one occasion we were hiking through the forests of the Coastal Range in Oregon…We scared up an elk and then a flock of preoccupied Turkey Vultures.

    I asked then why it was, besides burnout, that too many priests seem to lose their way?” “It has nothing at all to do with theology,” he said, “they stopped praying years ago.” And I asked why they then hang around in the Church? To which he responded: “three squares and a flop.” And of those chancery offices too preoccupied with routine administration over the always non-routine Real Presence in the Mass, he remarked, “they’re not even good administrators.”

  3. What Cardinal Pell observes about priests who only offer Mass when required as spiritually lax, compared to the evident spirituality of those who offer Mass daily in season and out so to speak targets me. I was in the habit of enjoying days off flyfishing or hiking without the ‘duty’ of offering Mass. That changed under somewhat unusual conditions.
    When I was accepted at the Angelicum for doctoral studies the rector advised I apply to the Casa Santa Maria [not to be mistaken with the rather infamous Casa Santa Marta] graduate studies dorm of the N Am College. Most were chosen candidates for upward ecclesial advance. Not I. Fitting in was a challenge my orientation and background different. What began to impress me was that many of the ‘chosen’, were apparently chosen for good reason. They offered Mass daily in an elongated room with side altars, old and used since the Casa’s foundation. It must have been holiness wafting out into the hall that drew me in and begin offering Mass every day, soon becoming the highlight of my day. Everything Cardinal Pell says about offering daily Mass, the reverence in how the N Ordo is offered, its power to profoundly change us within, the rewards is on the mark.

    • Father, this is interesting to hear you share. As a lay person I always assumed that Priests did in fact offer Mass every day. I am astonished that is not the case, and further I am amazed that some Priests would not want to do so. In choosing to be a Priest one would imagine a huge end goal would be to draw THEMSELVES closer to Jesus. I roll this into what I have also seen of various surveys of Priests which also indicate that many Priests go to Confession seldom or NEVER!!! Again, shocking information to me. One imagines that Priests frequent the sacraments more often than the rest of us. I think perhaps Priests need more ongoing retreats and training, etc, and time to develop their own spirituality. This would, I believe, greatly enhance their own spirituality and their ability to function well as a Priest. Thank you for revealing a piece of your personal life in the above post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.