Shake Up at Saint Peter’s Basilica Favors the Liturgy of Vatican II

The Vatican Secretariat of State has directed that certain changes be made to renew how liturgy is celebrated at St Peter’s Basilica. The principal differences are the suppression of multiple private Masses, and the restriction of Masses celebrated according to the so-called Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

The latter will be strictly limited to a single altar in the Clementine chapel (in the crypt), and only at designated times by an authorized priest. The instruction also directs that all Masses will be animated by the ministry of lector and cantor. The directives ensure that the liturgy as it was reformed after the Council will clearly predominate at St. Peter’s going forward.

Veteran Vatican reporter Gerard O’Connell, writing in America, notes that it has been the practice of numerous priests in recent times (some working in the Curia) to say their daily Mass, often according to the older rites, at one of the side chapels. He interprets this instruction — correctly, it seems to me — as a reassertion of liturgical priorities flowing from the Council, which moved away from such a model toward a more communal understanding of the liturgical event:

The focus on larger, shared liturgies rather than many lone Masses every day is in accord with the spirit of the liturgical renewal introduced by the Second Vatican Council. The aim of this instruction is to ensure that the liturgy is celebrated in accordance with the liturgical reforms of Vatican II and becomes abundantly clear in the third point of the instruction, which states that “the celebrations (of Masses in the basilica) should be liturgically animated, with the assistance of lectors and cantors.”

The instruction is framed as an effort to “return to the Lord” prompted by the spirit of the season of Lent. It says further that the goal is to “ensure that the holy Masses in the Basilica of St. Peter’s are conducted in a climate of recollection and liturgical decorum.” By simplifying the situation, by having fewer Masses but ones where many can attend together with appropriate ministries included, a “climate of recollection and liturgical decorum” will be easier to achieve.

By itself, the instruction should not alarm those who are attached to the older rites. Those who wish to attend Mass according to the older rites at St. Peter’s will still be able to do so. Yet its appearance suggests that a general shift in the era of Pope Francis, moving away from the agenda of a “reform-of-the-reform” and/or a restoration of the pre-conciliar, is continuing. As a positive statement in favor of celebration of the liturgy as a communal event, according to the letter and the spirit of the Council, it could not be more welcome.

 

54 comments

  1. Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 57
    2. Nevertheless, each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually, though not at the same time in the same church as a concelebrated Mass, nor on Thursday of the Lord’s Supper.

    https://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2013/09/15/re-reading-sacrosanctum-concilium-article-57/

    Fr Michael Joncas wrote:
    The clause in SC 57.§2.2., recognizing the facultas of priests to celebrate individually (thus guaranteeing that they will not be forced somehow to concelebrate against their will), might have been more felicitously expressed if it, too, had offered a rationale grounded in the nature of the Church (i.e., because of the needs of the faithful) rather than seeming to suggest that this is a matter of “rights.”

    There were no comments on this part. May I ask how the direction reflects this?

    1. Hello Peter. I don’t see that these directives will prohibit a priest from saying a Mass individually. He can do it elsewhere.

    2. Peter, thanks for bringing up this fascinating question. Article 57 doesn’t seem to fit with the overall liturgical vision of SC. And yet it is there, in SC. I honestly don’t know what to do with that. I suppose – Rita is going in this direction – one could try to say that this right isn’t absolute, in all churches and at all times apart from the listed exceptions. A bishop can regulate concelebration in his diocese, so I suppose the bishop of Rome (and his delegates) can regulate private Masses in his diocese? That seems a bit forced but it’s the best I can do.
      awr

    3. Phrasing this as a “right” simply does not confer a corresponding responsibility on the part of any given church to provide a public setting for it. I would contend that given the rest of the document, in no way is this included in order to enshrine celebrating private Masses in public, but rather to preserve the option of celebrating alone in private venues for a priest who determines he needs to do it (for instance because of illness or, as we recently have had occasion to learn, during quarantine, or simply on account of old age and infirmity or disability). There are also instances involving travel during which a priest or bishop may not have the time or setting available for a Mass with a congregation on the Lord’s day. A bishop is required by law to celebrate the pro populo Mass. Cardinal George once celebrated alone in his room at a conference we both attended, because the organizers had not set up provision for concelebration and he “had to” say the pro populo Mass but “didn’t want to divide the community.” OK, a little paradox there, but the provision had him covered. At the time of the Council, I might also add, people were keenly aware that priests in Communist countries were sometimes thrown into prison and even solitary confinement, and somebody might smuggle in a crust of bread… you know the rest. They’d all been through the massive disruptions of World War II. Stuff happens that gets in the way of norms. But having set forward the norm with admirable clarity, allowing for something that falls short of that norm does not mean we abandon the norm. Much less that some guy in Rome going to work at an office in the Curia should have some kind of an absolute “right” to commandeer a side altar at St Peter’s for convenience. Nonsense.

      1. It’s disingenuous and dishonest to say that this is a right without somebody having a responsibility to meet it! Every right entails a responsibility on someone to provide that which one has a right to. Furthermore, the custom of the Basilica has been precisely to meet such a responsibility and it has done so without protest for many many years. In effect, Rita, you are cancelling a provision of Vatican II because you disagree with it – exactly as the Traditionalists would do with what they don’t like with the Council!

      2. Hi Simon,
        No, sorry, you are wrong about this. There are a million chapels, home altars, etc, in Rome where a priest can celebrate alone. St Peter’s has no obligation in the world to provide an altar in the public space for a private service.

    4. Fr. Reginald Foster reportedly (by his own admission) used to celebrate Mass in the nude, in his room. Not the norm either. But nobody fired him.

      1. Thank you all. I think that if the intention is to cancel this article that should be properly explained. It would of course be seen as a precedent to put aside other provisions of the Council.
        As Rita says there may be other places where a private Mass may be offered but then these might seek to replicate St Peter’s.

      2. I was a student of Fr. Reginald Foster, and he told my class that he was exaggerating to make the point that it did not matter what he wore when he celebrated the Mass alone. His boss came after him, about it, and Reggie went to the news reporter to clarify the matter. Fr. Reggie was an incredible man. He usually spoke first and then explained later. He did not care too much because he loved Latin. If you loved Latin like he did, and were committed to learning it like he did, he regarded you as a friend, even if your theological/political views were different than his.

      3. Thanks for the back story, Fr. George. All I know is that I read it in his obituary in the New York Times. They usually fact check those things pretty closely so I presumed he said it, and if he said it he had done it. (I did not see a correction afterwards.) Even with this revised account however it bears out my point. If priests feel they need to say Mass without a congregation, they don’t need an altar at St Peter’s in order to carry it out. And yes, clothes do not make the cleric. 🙂

  2. Having lived in Rome, I always found it a bid odd that within the Basilica where Sacrosanctum Concilium was promulgated as the first Conciliar decree of Vatican II ushering in the great reform of our liturgical patrimony, every morning the most desiccated and sacramentally minimal ‘celebrations’ would be whispered on side altars sans an assembly. Of course valid and within the prerogatives of liturgical legislation, they certainly did not model the best of the reform. I welcome this new order in the Basilica. It should have been done a long, long time ago.

  3. I am not familiar with the current protocols (if any) of pilgrims accompanied by a bishop or priest. How will these instructions impact them? I read the America article. I am just not clear if this is going to have no effect on them or make things harder?

    Or what about pilgrims not accompanied by a priest or Bishop? My understanding (and it seems to be confirmed by a comment on the America article) was you could just find a priest who spoke a language you understood and follow him to an altar and participate in Mass.

    If the new rules prevents this, then for many pilgrims, the vernacular only applies to Italians.

  4. Wooo! Go team! I’ll update the score card…

    Maybe the so-called old rite will be pushed further and further underground until it’s finally suppressed!

    1. with that attitude I am thankful I live in a country that has freedom of religion. that said I agree with the reasoning behind the changes – “when two or three gather in My name” , not a fan of doing a Eucharistic celebration solo.

  5. Civilians call it rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; in the Navy we have a more descriptive word for it, characterizing a chicken’s solid waste. Either way is a description for sweating the small things due to inability or disinclination to handle real problems. Catholics are leaving the Church, they’re donating less money, corrupt bishops are elevated to curial appointments and given $2 million a year for unspecified “ministry” while American Catholics are trying to survive a pandemic, our brothers in the Middle East and China are being slaughtered and jailed, and this is what the Holy Father decides is worth vigorous enforcement. When I was younger and more ardent, I couldn’t understand why Luther did what he did. Now I sympathize with him strongly.

    1. I disagree. There are valid and weighty theological issues involved in the church regulating its worship. Multiple simultaneous private Masses are a countersign to the very nature of the Eucharist. You may think there are other more important issues – but even if so, that doesn’t mean the Church has no business worrying about lesser issues. If they indeed are ‘lesser’ – the Church thinks liturgy is the center of the Church’s life.
      And I’m pretty sure Luther would be horrified by multiple private Masses at the heart of Christendom, which suggests that the Eucharist is a commodity (the more the better) and that ordained ministry is about the devotional ‘needs’ of the cleric rather than service to the church in worship that expresses the nature of the true church.
      awr

  6. Kumbaya or else. Authoritarianism worked so well in the ’60s and ’70s. Let’s try it again and drive Mass attendance even lower.

  7. I doubt this decision will play well, save among those who are ideologically opposed to the celebration of so-called private Masses, and who insist that everyone else must do things the way they prefer, even when what someone else is doing is perfectly legitimate.

    The one-size fits all approach to liturgy hasn’t born much fruit. I doubt that everyone will now joyously and loudly participate in Italian (presuming they know Italian), complete with cantor and lector. Even without considering the pandemic, this will probably result in an emptier basilica, not in some liturgical renaissance.

    1. The legitimacy and desirability of private Masses is the central issue here. I’m trying to imagine the apostles, after Jesus celebrated the Last supper with them and told them to “do this in memory of me,” celebrating 12 separate eucharists at the same time in the same room. The form of the liturgy – so that it expresses the nature of the true church – very much matters. This is something different that what one “prefers.”

      One of the principles of the liturgical reform – surely you know this – is that it does not have a ‘rigid uniformity’ and can be inculturated and adapted. It’s not one-size-fits-all in all its particulars. But the wide range of possibilities it allows are all to be within the fundamental vision of what liturgy is.

      awr

      1. Then why are we applying a one-size-fits-all approach here at St. Peter’s? Why only Italian language masses when pilgrims from all over the world come to St. Peter’s, and come partly because they know that they can come in at almost any time and find a mass beginning, being said or about to be said?

      2. We may have our own views about how well “private” Masses express the nature of the Eucharist, but they are personal views that we should be cautious to impose on others who legitimately share a different view. So until the Church teaches otherwise, it remains a valid option for the priests. If these priests do not have a duty/invite to celebrate on a particular day, and wish to fulfil their sacerdotal responsibility by offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice on their own, with whoever may happen to be around, then I don’t think it is anyone’s role to make it difficult for them – where the Church grants liberty, surely that should be supported, whatever one’s preferences and theology May lie. It’s always interesting to me to notice how “progressives” and “conservatives” are really cut from the same cloth so often.

        There is of course a theological question, yet to be answered, about how well concelebrations with other priests express the fullness of Eucharistic and ministerial theology. Concelebrations with the Bishop, yes, but with other priests?

  8. @David Bushey
    That looks like treating the Mass as a convenient commodity that should be there on tap for whenever I decide to wander past.
    I can’t be the only person who actually enjoys Mass in the local language when I travel. Its part of the thrill.

  9. Where this will also make an impact will be those many group pilgrimages (particularly choral pilgrimages) that are used to obtaining their own “private” celebrations in St Peter’s. Although at the present time these groups cannot make use of the Basilica at all, I think that when things return to “normal” there will be a financial impact on the Vatican, too, since these groups spend significant sums of money on the Vatican Museum tours, etc, etc.

  10. According to the instruction, groups of pilgrims can still apply to use a chapel for Mass. I don’t see that this is going to suppress that, although they may need to follow a schedule so that the “regular” Mass is not going on at the same time.

  11. I’ve been to Italy. The postconciliar vernacular music heard at most Masses in Italy is so insipid it makes “Kumbaya” sound like Palestrina. This circular mandates “cantors,” the very people who typically screech those wretched ditties.

    Bad music, bad vestments, bad architecture, the whole gruesome melange, that’s what this all about. Too many Catholics are beginning to realize there are viable alternatives to being trapped forever in the 1970s. That’s one thing the liturgical authoritarians won’t tolerate.

    1. So you see “bad music, bad vestments, bad architecture” coming to St. Peter’s Basilica now? I don’t.
      awr

      1. You may be right about St. Peter’s. Indeed, I hope you are. But I fear that this document is about much more than St. Peter’s.

    2. I think we want to be a lot more cautious about bad-mouthing an American Black spiritual in this context. Spirituals can be interpreted as “folk music” easily enough, and maybe that’s the nightmare some traditionalists are referencing when they cite this song. I’d suggest using “On This Day” if we really wanted to quote overly saccharine music and lyrics. But that might sting white people a little too much.

      I don’t see the problem with saying Mass in a hotel room, especially if you open the window for a view of St Peter’s dome.

      1. Goodness, when I consider the emotional saccharine Victorian hymns I sang as a child most modern stuff seems almost puritan in comparison.

      2. Do you mean “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother” or another hymn that starts with those words (like “On This Day, Earth Shall Ring” or “On This Day, The First of Days”)?

      3. Yes that sort of thing. The Westminster Hymnal of my youth was a shrine to bad, sentimental verse set to mawkish tunes with oily chromatic harmonies.

  12. May I add my thoughts, numbered only as they may each be separate?

    1. We read that it is the “practice of numerous priests in recent times (some working in the Curia) to say their daily Mass” in St Peter’s. Presumably these clergy work normal working hours in an office and it was not for that activity that they sought ordination. It seems mean to hinder their limited chance to say Mass.
    2. The side chapels were established for these Masses and it seems right that they are used for the purpose they were intended.
    3. Clergy unable to say Mass in St Peter’s may do so in their accommodation which seems an absurd result. Still worse they might not say Mass at all.
    4. Pilgrims who visit St Peter’s touch the foot of the statue of St Peter. It is a sign of adhesion with St Peter and his successor. In the same way a visiting priest, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, may wish to offer Mass in his church: the directive may seem like a rebuff: “You are not welcome”.
    5. Being part of a concelebration in Italian with many other clergy may seem a poor substitute for saying an individual Mass especially for a priest with very limited Italian.

    I am cautious on the theology but note that Article 57 extends permission for concelebration it does not indicate that it is generally preferred to individual Masses.

    1. Hi Peter,

      I think the main issue dividing commenters is on the nature of the eucharist more as an act of the church building up the church, or more as something that belongs to a priest and pertains to his devotion. There is some overlap between the two views, I suppose, but difference in emphasis. Too much emphasis on the second view (although there may be remnants of it in the SC article you helpfully cited) puts at risk the first view – and in fact that is what happened historically and what the conciliar reforms sought to change.

      I won’t respond to your points individually – the response to each of them relates to what a priest thinks his role in the church is. I think it is to preside at the church’s liturgy – to be sure, in persona Christi, providing a necessary role for sacramental validity but always in service to the community of the church. I honestly don’t think I have a ‘right’ to do ‘my’ private Mass, and my desire to say Mass at St. Peter’s or anywhere else needs to be purified of the clerical privilege and distorted understanding of Eucharist underlying it.

      awr

      1. Greetings Father and thank you for responding so quickly.
        I agree entirely with you that discussing rights is not the most fruitful way to advance. You are also right that discussion has not focused solely on St Peter’s though this takes us away from Rita’s initial observation that a priest can say Mass elsewhere.
        I agree that it would be odd for a priest to exclude a congregation from Mass. My intention was to offer suggestions as to why a priest may reasonably wish to offer Mass in St Peter’s even in the absence of a congregation.
        Your comment prompted me to look at Mediator Dei.
        http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20111947_mediator-dei.html
        Here paragraphs numbered 94 to 96 seem to be behind the pertinent part of SC 57.
        I hesitate to say which approach is best but still think that it would be helpful if the Secretariat addressed this part of SC and, if I am correct, Mediator Dei.
        God bless
        Peter

        Here are the paragraphs cited:
        94. We are very pleased to learn that this teaching, thanks to a more intense study of the liturgy on the part of many, especially in recent years, has been given full recognition. We must, however, deeply deplore certain exaggerations and over-statements which are not in agreement with the true teaching of the Church.

        95. Some in fact disapprove altogether of those Masses which are offered privately and without any congregation, on the ground that they are a departure from the ancient way of offering the sacrifice; moreover, there are some who assert that priests cannot offer Mass at different altars at the same time, because, by doing so, they separate the community of the faithful and imperil its unity; while some go so far as to hold that the people must confirm and ratify the sacrifice if it is to have its proper force and value.

        96: next comment

    2. Continued from previous comment
      96. They are mistaken in appealing in this matter to the social character of the eucharistic sacrifice, for as often as a priest repeats what the divine Redeemer did at the Last Supper, the sacrifice is really completed. Moreover, this sacrifice, necessarily and of its very nature, has always and everywhere the character of a public and social act, inasmuch as he who offers it acts in the name of Christ and of the faithful, whose Head is the divine Redeemer, and he offers it to God for the holy Catholic Church, and for the living and the dead.[88] This is undoubtedly so, whether the faithful are present – as we desire and commend them to be in great numbers and with devotion – or are not present, since it is in no wise required that the people ratify what the sacred minister has done.
      Footnote
      88. Roman Missal, Canon of the Mass.

  13. That private masses should not be the norm is sound. And it is the norm. In the U.S. most priests do not offer private masses. Usually those occur during travel, when they don’t want to deal dealing with legitimate variations in celebrations (or sometimes illegitimate, significant variations from the Rite). I imagine this is the case in much of the world.

    I understand that St. Peter’s is an Italian parish. But it is also a significant place for pilgrims all over the world. The private come as you go masses said in a multitude of languages served a real benefit. Perhaps the priests who work at the Curia could take turns celebrating and liturgy in a variety of languages at set times, that way the pilgrims could be accommodated.

  14. As a positive statement in favor of celebration of the liturgy as a communal event, according to the letter and the spirit of the Council, it could not be more welcome.

    I’m sorry, but saying that this letter is “according to the letter and spirit of the Council” is laughably ridiculous. The second half of SC 27 was added at the Council, and the reason for this, as Jungmann says in his commentary, was as follows:

    “In [this paragraph] the stress lies in the subsidiary clause. It was meant to satisfy some of the Fathers who were concerned that the emphasis on the communal could imply a rejection of the private Mass, which could not have been the intention of the Council; cf. also Article 57, § 2, 2. This supplement was confirmed by 2054 votes to 22.” (in H. Vorgrimler, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 1 [1967], p. 21)

    This effective banning of individual/private Masses is contrary to the Council, contrary to the mind of the Council Fathers, contrary to Canon Law, and contrary to the reformed Roman Missal itself (which specifically provides an ordo Missae for private Masses). I understand that the norm is public Masses, but this can never be to the exclusion of private Masses, which can always be celebrated for a just and reasonable cause (cf. can. 906; GIRM 254).

    1. Hi Matthew,
      I think you are not seeing the forest for the trees. Private Masses are safe. But the norm against which these are measured has indeed changed. St Peter’s is simply putting that Vatican II norm in a more prominent light at the Pope’s basilica. Which is a good thing.
      I stand by my statement.

  15. Tom @11.20: “ The postconciliar vernacular music heard at most Masses in Italy is so insipid it makes “Kumbaya” sound like Palestrina. This circular mandates “cantors,” the very people who typically screech those wretched ditties.”
    ———————————

    For very practical reasons necessitated by the lack of a stable congregation, I suspect the Missa de Angelis or other simple Latin chant will be used (although granted the psalm may be in Italian or the vernacular). We also don’t know yet if any of the 4 masses will be in other languages eg English/Spanish to accommodate tourists. To be honest, I’m much more worried that the cantor services will be provided by an unemployed operatic soprano redeployed from the Sistine Chapel Choir (aka “Vatican Screamers”). If so I’ll wear ear defenders!

    Although I am surprised that at least one mass won’t be available in Latin, or that there isn’t an evening celebration after the Basilica closes for tourists yet – which I imagine would be much better attended than early morning. However, I’m very glad that there will at long last be daily public worship in our mother church – my pet peev are landmark churches that become solely tourist attractions and fail to give witness to the Church’s living mission. I’d much rather attend evensong or a communion service in order to view an English cathedral (with the added benefit of avoiding hefty admission fees – £26 for St Paul’s – and choral music thrown in for free).

    1. Our mother church? That honour belongs properly to the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Pope’s Cathedral as Bishop of Rome.

      1. Well Robert, you are of course technically correct that the Lateran is the Cathedral for the Bishop and Diocese of Rome – although as I live in London, it’s definitely not my mother church. However, I doubt most Catholics and non-Catholics across the world are aware of that.

        Like it or not, St Peter’s Basilica is the focal point for the worldwide Catholic church, closely associated with the Petrine ministry and frequently televised. If anywhere should be setting a good example of right worship, it’s the Vatican!

  16. I cannot find this document anywhere on the Vatican website. Can anyone give us a link to it?

      1. I find it strange that this document is coming from the Secretariat of State instead of from the newly-appointed Archpriest of St Peter’s, Cardinal Gambetti, who presumably has jurisdiction in this matter. And why is the document unsigned?

  17. It was common to see dozens of solitary Masses being said in St Peter’s every morning. But the Rite of Mass itself never imagined this: the prayers include dialogues which require another to answer. There was never a form of the rite without this structure. The Missa sine populo could be offered without a congregation, but not without a server or at least someone to answer the prayers. The prohibitions of the solitary Mass over more than a millennium represent the strength of this theological intuition, even in the West. In the East a solitary Eucharist would be unthinkable.

    Canon 906 states: “A priest may not celebrate the eucharistic Sacrifice without the participation of at least one of the faithful, unless there is a good and reasonable cause for doing so.” (It was formerly “a server” and “a grave cause”.) A priest’s mere preference or convenience hardly seems a good and reasonable cause. In monasteries before concelebration was allowed monks took it in turns to serve Mass for celebrating priests in order to fulfil the traditional law.

    A look at Thomas Rausch’s article “Is the Private Mass Traditional?”, Worship 64 (1990): 237–42, will demonstrate how strongly the solitary Mass was resisted in church legislation over many centuries. Bl. Charles de Foucauld, for example, when living in the Sahara at the end of the 19th century, did not say Mass for years until he successfully petitioned for an indult to allow him to celebrate Mass alone in a region where he was the only Christian, so strong was the sense of the prohibition of the solitary Mass.

    That, it seems, is not the only issue being addressed in the recent ruling for St Peter’s, but solitary Masses were surely one of the abuses being addressed.

    1. On the other hand, Canon 904 says:

      Remembering always that in the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice the work of redemption is exercised continually, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfil their principal function.

      Given this, it seems a bit strong to call a solitary mass an “abuse”.

    2. I don’t know that priests in St Peter’s were celebrating without a server. Fr Zuhlsdorf posted :-
      ” For years I said my daily Mass each morning in the Basilica of St. Peter. I was there as a regular for so long that I had my own niche, a locked cabinet with my own chalice, alb, amice, books, etc. … The sisters who cared for the sacristy took care of our gear. …
      Many were the mornings when, accompanied by one of the altar boys from the minor seminary, we’d walk across the nave and there would not be another person in sight, like being alone in the basilica. Sometimes individuals or groups would wait outside the sacristy for priests to follow to an altar for Mass. Sometimes they would ask about the language the priest would use. “Latino” always picked up a few. But people would usually have the chance to follow a priest about to celebrate in French or Spanish or German or Italian or English, etc. ”
      So this move prevents priests celebrating in their own language, and indeed celebrating in other than OF + EF. What about Maronites etc..?

      1. The choice of verbs at the end epitomizes my theological problem with this post. The priest is about to “celebrate” while the people will “follow.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.