Saint Peter’s in Rome: Revisiting the Secretariat of State’s Dictate

April 29, 2021
The interior of St. Peter’s Basilica

On March 12, 2021, the First Section of the Vatican Secretariat of State published a note on the new arrangements for the celebration of Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

These new rules came into effect ten days later, on March 22. From that point on, all priests and faithful wishing to have daily mass in the basilica must participate in concelebrated masses at fixed times, between 7 and 9 a.m., in only two places: the chapel of the choir and the altar of the Chair of St. Peter.

All individual celebrations are considered exceptions to this rule. Groups accompanied by a priest or a bishop practicing the Novus Ordo can have a Mass celebrated individually by their spiritual guide, no longer in the basilica, but in the Vatican Grottos, that is, in the crypt which contains the tombs of many popes.

The priests and faithful who wish to have the traditional Latin rite have only four time slots between 7 and 9 am, at the only altar in the Clementine chapel, in the crypt. And in this case, the priests will have to be “authorized.” By whom and on what criteria? The note from the Secretary of State does not say.

On the other hand, it justifies these particularly restrictive provisions by the need for a “climate of reverence and liturgical decorum” to “return to the Lord” through Mass and listening to the Word of God.

These reasons seem like poor pretexts. In fact, the conciliar liturgy wanted to shed the “Tridentine pomp,” the “constant decorum,” in order to be close to the people of God. 

Cardinal Raymond Burke immediately demanded the revocation of these measures: “For the sake of the Catholic faith and for the good order of the Sacred Liturgy, the highest and most perfect expression of the Church’s life in Christ, the document in question should be rescinded immediately, that is, before its supposed effective date of March 22nd next. Furthermore, the thinking which underlies such a document should be corrected, while the discipline of the universal Church and the liturgical doctrine which underlies it is expounded for the faithful.”

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Vaticanist of the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin, that this note was a “merciless, authoritarian document, imposed without consultation or synodality,” believing that its writers are “anonymous men in the background who don’t know anything about Catholic theology.”

On March 29, Cardinal Robert Sarah, former Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, spoke to Sandro Magister, the Vaticanist on Settimo Cielo, “Observations on the new norms for the celebration of Masses in St. Peter,” in which he says,

“I humbly beg the Holy Father to order the withdrawal of the recent norms issued by the secretariat of state, which 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.”

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former Archbishop of Hong Kong, posted on his blog an “open letter to Cardinal Sarah,” in which he poignantly writes: “If it were not for the restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus, I would take the first flight to come to Rome and get on my knees in front of the door of Santa Marta (now the Papal residence) until the Holy Father has this edict withdrawn.”

Adding forcefully: “It is time to reduce the excessive power of the Secretariat of State. Remove these sacrilegious hands from the communal home for all the Faithful in the world! Let them content themselves with playing worldly diplomacy with the father of lies. Let them make the Secretariat of State ‘a den of thieves,’ but leave the devoted people of God alone!”