Saturday, March 13, 2021

Private Masses in St Peter's: who's in the cross-hairs?

Private Masses before a 'First Mass' of a newly ordained priest
(Fr William Barker FSSP) in Bavaria, in a church near Wigratzbad.

I was at school next to a vast church with masses of unused side-altars, and they are an apt symbol of the changes which followed the Second Vatican Council. Why would a priest wish to celebrate Mass on a day when he has no public Mass to say? Why bother? Or else, why not tag along with a crowd of priests putting on a concelebrated Mass, so he can tick the box saying he's attended the community's 'conventual' Mass and the box saying he's celebrated, both at once?

The answer is: out of devotion. Because priests can celebrate Mass (almost) every day, pastoral need is not the only reason why they might want to do so. This devotion will very often be fed more effectively at a 'private' Mass sine populo, than a concelebrated Mass with a crowd of other clergy. 

This is without saying anything of the, ahem, controversial theology of concelebration, a concept which came more or less out of nowhere in Vatican II. And no, newly ordained priests don't concelebrate with the ordaining bishop in the modern sense, in the EF: their ritual concelebration is not intended to be sacramentally efficacious. They follow the words of the Canon in a Missal with the help of another priest, in a charming ritualised lesson, not in an attempt to say Mass 'with the bishop'.

Private Masses at an LMS Priest-Training
Conference at Prior Park, Bath

The war on private Masses, which has been waged by vindictive liberal sacristans, Cathedral administrators, and the like over the decades, has now come to St Peter's, where the practice of a millennium has apparantly been brought to a halt by the stroke of a pen. No more 'individual celebrations' will be allowed - except for four each morning in the EF.

That seems like a puzzling qualification. If the 'conservative Novus Ordo' option of celebrating Mass without the people is to be banned from the Basilica, it seems surprising that provision, however inadequate, is being made for the celebration of the Traditional Mass.

Part of the answer may be how at odds with Canon law the powers-that-be are comfortable with being. Canons 902 says:

'They [sc. priests] are completely free to celebrate the Eucharist individually, however, but not while a concelebration is taking place in the same church or oratory.'

But that is generally speaking exactly what has been happening in St Peter's: multiple simultaneous celebrations, very often including concelebrations in one of the larger chapels.

Pressing this provision is unreasonable in St Peter's, in my view, for several reasons: one being that a concelebration happening in (say) St Joseph's Chapel (the big chapel in the north transcept) is invisible and inaudible from most of the rest of the Upper Basilica, let alone the crypt, and another being that these larger celebrations are frequently in the language of visitors to Rome, not necessarily shared by priests wishing to say a private Mass. Again, there is the question of the application of Canon 903, allowing priests to celebrate Mass in churches on demand. Nevertheless, it may be that this Canon is providing the faceless functionary behind this strange decree with some kind of cover.

Unilaterally suspending Summorum Pontificum on the other hand may be thought to be a bit much. Rather than to ban the EF- since it can't be concelebrated - they have contented themselves with restricting it to four Masses a day in a tiny chapel in the crypt.

A private Mass at another LMS Priest Training Conference, at Belmont Abbey.
It seems a fair assumption that those who are motivated to stamp out individual celebrations in the OF probably aren't very keen on the EF, but this is a striking result all the same. From now on (while this decree is in force), the only way of celebrating an individual Mass in St Peter's will be by doing so in the EF. The Traditional Mass, thanks to having its own rules, has actually escaped, at least in a limited way, the effects of this decree.

I'm not saying that the paranoia of traditional Catholics is not generally justified, but on this occasion I don't think the Traditional Mass is what this decree has in its sights. What I see here is part of the same pattern with Pope Francis' condemnation of the Reform of the Reform, his slapping down Cardinal Sarah on the subject of celebration ad orientem, and his changes to Canon law allowing the foot-washing of females on Holy Thursday. It is the 'conservative Novus Ordo' which is the target. It is that which represents the prime threat to the progressive project, in the view of the people behind these initiatives. It is that which must be suppressed.

We Catholics attached to the EF need to remind ourselves every now and then how utterly insignificant the Traditional Mass is around the world, as far as most Catholics are concerned. Perhaps a good parallel would be the liturgical adaptations allowed to the Neo-Catechumenate: occasionally a matter requiring some attention, but for most practical purposes of a level of importance indistinguishable from zero.

Long may our opponents continue to take this view. For the 'conservative Novus Ordo' folk, however, I'm afraid the party's over.

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  1. I'm going to have to disagree a little while your assessment in the second last paragraph. Where I live in Canada at least which is by no means a bastion of traditional Catholicism there is easily a 10x TLM To NCW ratio, nor have I ever heard NCW mentioned, known anyone involved in it or had any personal experience of it.

  2. Until the LMS unequivocally condemns the Novus Ordo and joins the battle to save the Church the Vatican will carry on with its warfare against Holy Tradition with only SSPX to resist it. Don't forget the most priests in the modern Church who say the Old Mass also say the New Mass. Hence when there is a universal ban they will scuttle back to the New Mass. We don't follow the Old Mass because we like listening to Latin and Plainchant. We adhere to the Old Mass because it is NECESSARY!

  3. I’m not saying the EF is not bigger than the Neo0-Cats, just that they are equally insignificant from the perspective of some middle-ranking official in the Sec of State in Rome.