While Pope Francis’ last motu proprio, Desiderio Desideravi, tried to revive the bloodless new liturgy and laid down the requirements for a dignified celebration, its message fell on deaf ears.
The Raw Facts
Fr. Mattia Bernasconi, vicar in the parish of San-Luigi-Gonzaga in Milan, celebrated the Eucharist in the water, submerged to the waist, half-naked, and using an inflatable mattress as an altar. The 36-year-old priest explained that he had participated in a week-long summer camp for high school students in southern Italy organized by Libera, an anti-mafia organization.
“We wanted to spend the last day at the beach; it was Sunday and there arose the issue of Mass, which we always celebrate,” Bernasconi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “It was 10:30 in the morning and the sun was scorching, so we decided to veer into the only comfortable place: in the water,” he added.
“The Mass off the shore of Crotone, in the southern Italian region of Calabria, caught the attention of beachgoers. Some joined the Mass, while others posted photos online.”
The priest, for his part, apologized. “It was not at all my intention to trivialize the Eucharist or to use it for other messages of any kind,” he wrote in a letter published on his parish's website, where he is vicar for youth ministry.
“I hope you will understand my good intentions, tarnished by an excess of naivety, and that you will accept my sincere request for forgiveness,” he concludes in this letter of apology sent to the Metropolitan Archbishop, Msgr. Mario Delpini, and to all the faithful.
He added, however, that the parents of the students who participated in the summer camp were not upset by this Mass. “A lady thanked me, saying she felt like the Church had reached out to her even at the beach. Any place is good for spreading the word of the Lord.”
The priest finally said that his gesture was “misunderstood” and that he was shocked by the many “messages of resentment” he had received. Contrite, but not repentant… And above all, he did not understand where the fault lay: abasing the sacrifice of the Mass in such a way is simply monstrous. But it takes faith to understand that.
As for the Archdiocese of Crotone-Santa Severina – in which this aquatic Mass was committed – it issued a statement on July 25, in which it is said that it is “necessary to maintain the minimum of decorum and care for the symbols necessitated by the very nature of liturgical celebrations.” Certainly, but what comes next supplies the nuances.
“In some special cases, during retreats, school camps, in vacation spots, it is possible to celebrate Mass outside of a church,” said the archdiocese. “It is always necessary, however, to make contact with the ecclesial leaders of the place where one is, in order to advise each other on the most appropriate way to carry out such a Eucharistic celebration.”
The statement goes on to quote Pope Francis' recent letter on the liturgy, “Let us be clear here: every aspect of the celebration must be carefully tended to (space, time, gestures, words, objects, vestments, song, music…) and every rubric must be observed.”
The strongest and most Catholic reaction came from the Crotone public prosecutor's office, which opened an ex officio investigation and entered Don Mattia Bernasconi in the register of persons under investigation for a possible “offense to a religious confession.”
Giuseppe Capoccia, the attorney general for the city of Crotone, said he deemed it appropriate to investigate the priest for “offense to a religious confession,” according to a report by Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
As the ceremony was quickly taken to social media by onlookers, the online reaction to the photo of the shirtless priest in the water holding a chalice above his head was immediate. Some users have asked why this liturgy is allowed at a time when the Traditional Latin Mass has been restricted.
The answer is quite simple: the liturgical reform, especially if we consider the way in which it has been lived and exploited – even today – by itself authorizes this kind of deviation.
The examples are countless and documented.
The letter Desiderio Desideravi wants to try to bring some order, but it is enough to quote the end of the note by the Archdiocese of Croton to understand how it is understood. Quoting Pope Francis, it explains: “Ifthere were lacking our astonishment at the fact that the paschal mystery is rendered present in the concreteness of sacramental signs, we would truly risk being impermeable to the ocean of grace that floods every celebration.”
The act of this priest, more or less justified – in any case not condemned – by the bishopric, only illustrates a liturgy adrift on an ocean of errors.