Vatican Note on Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica

Ensure Masses ‘Carried out in an Atmosphere of Recollection and Liturgical Decorum’

Transitory Norms

The Vatican on June 22, 2021, issued the following note to clarify procedures for the celebration of Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Note of Saint Peter’s Basilica Regarding the Order of

Eucharistic Celebrations

22.06.2021

Having received from the Holy Father the mandate to look after and animate the liturgical life of Saint Peter’s Basilica, I would like to propose some considerations that I hope will be useful to understand the guidelines drawn and to select how and when to live the Eucharistic Celebration in the morning’s first time slot.

The Secretariat of State’s press release has given some provisions with regard to the celebration of Holy Masses in Saint Peter’s Basilica, with the intention to ensure that they are “carried out in an atmosphere of recollection and liturgical decorum.” The pointers make reference to a precise context, namely, to the organization of liturgical actions in the time slot between 7:00 and 9:00 am.

They are inspired, essentially, by two principles:

a. to order the celebrations under the profile of the time scan and their quality;

b. to welcome and integrate particular and legitimate desires of the faithful, within the limit of the possible.

In fact, the content of the statements proposed by the Secretariat of State can be summarized thus:

a. Between 7:00 and 9:00 am priests can concelebrate at one of the scheduled Masses in the established places; the liturgical animation foresees the help of altar servers;

b. Exceptions are admitted regarding the places of the celebration — on the occasion of the Memorial of a Saint whose remains are kept in the Basilica — and to the contemporaneity of some celebrations for groups of pilgrims or in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. For practicality of reading, these notes follow the two points mentioned above.

A. Concelebrations from 7:00 to 9:00 am 

The way of arranging the morning’s celebrations provided in the Secretariat of State’s press release constitutes the occasion to recall the meaning and value of the Eucharistic Concelebration that, as the Fathers recalled in the last Council, is inserted in the wake of the Church’s Tradition: “Concelebration, which manifests in an appropriate way the unity of the priesthood, has remained in use up to today in the Church, both in the East s well as in the West” (SC57). Therefore, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Vatican Council II has extended for priests the faculty to concelebrate and some magisterial documents have subsequently specified the rules.[1] In this connection, it might be useful to recall some cases in which the Magisterium recommends concelebration as, for example, at the principal Mass of a church or the Masses on the occasion of meetings of priests, secular or religious, whatever their character (cf. SC 57; General Ordering of the Roman Missal 199).

 On the other hand, the nature itself of the celebration is clearly described in Sacrosantum Concilium, where it addresses the Rules stemming from the hierarchical and communal nature of the liturgy: “Liturgical actions are not private actions but celebrations of the Church, which is “sacrament of unity,” namely, the Holy People gathered and ordered under the guidance of the Bishop. Therefore, such actions belong to the entire body of the Church, they manifest and involve it [. . . ]. Every time that the rites entail, a communal celebration, in keeping with each one’s particular nature, and characterized by the presence and the active participation of the faithful, it must be inculcated that this is the one to be preferred, in so far as it is possible, to an individual or quasi private celebration. This is true especially for the celebration of the Mass as long as any Mass always has a public and social character and for the administration of the Sacraments: (SC 26-27).

Therefore, the assembly gathered for the Eucharist manifests fully the mystery of the Church, living body of Christ. Lumen Gentium[2]recalls it when it addresses the common priesthood exercised in the Sacraments, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church also recalls it clearly, in which it is affirmed that it is the whole community, the Body of Christ united to its Head, which celebrates (n. 1140). Understood in this perspective is how the greatest fruit of the Eucharist is drawn by participation in the same action because it expresses better the mystery that is celebrated.[3]

Clearly, all those that make up the assembly gathered for the Eucharist take part in the one sacrifice and priesthood of Christ, each according to his state and his condition of life: Bishop, priest, deacon, baptized, married, religious. In a concelebrated Mass there is no diminution, because of more priests, of the value and fruits of the Eucharistic sacrifice, but rather a full exaltation of them. Hence, in our context, the first element for discernment is this: when it’s possible, for priests it’s more than opportune to concelebrate, also given the fact that a regular alternation is foreseen of the presidency for concelebrations that ordinarily take place in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The same is also true for individual faithful and groups, invited to take part in the same Mass so that it is an expression of fraternity and not of particularisms, which do not reflect the meaning of the ecclesiastical communion manifested by the Eucharistic celebration.[4]

B. The Exceptions 

The Magisterium teaches that in situations in which concelebration is recommended, there are exceptions in cases in which the benefit of the faithful does not require and does not advise differently.[5] In this connection, the importance must not be underestimated of the understanding of the language in the liturgy geared to charity (cf. 1 Corinthians 14) and the pastoral value that the Eucharistic celebration can imply for a group of pilgrims, in agreement with the existing Rites in the Catholic Church.

Added to these considerations are some elements of the reality characterizing the Basilica that must be taken in due account:

  • the dimensions of Saint Peter’s Basilica and its architecture make it possible to meet the different needs of those that want to celebrate the Eucharist in a group without overlapping with the celebration underway in the principal liturgical places;
  • Saint Peter’s Basilica is characterized by the Petrine ministry of unity, mercy and orthodoxy of the faith and welcomes pilgrims from every part of the world;
  • in the time slot between 7:00 and 9:00 am frequentation to the Basilica is numerically contained;
  • For the celebrations with the Missale Romanum of 1962, every possible effort must be made to listen to the desire of the faithful and priests as provided in the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Moreover, without taking anything away from the legitimate celebration of the Mass of individual priests, even when the faithful cannot take part,[6] the decisive character must be recognized of the rule that prohibits to celebrate “in an individual way [. . . ]at the same time in which in the same church or oratory a concelebration is being held.”[7]

Therefore, I have already given provisions so that requests to celebrate in the time slot from 7:00 to 9:00 am by groups with particular and legitimate needs are accepted. Also requests to celebrate individually from time to time can be the object of discernment, without prejudice to the principle that all can be done in an atmosphere of recollection and decorum and watching over so that what has the character of exceptionality doesn’t become ordinary, upsetting the intentions and sense of the Magisterium. In this way, I am confident that the path begun can foster for every priest and every faithful the possibility to live the celebrations in Saint Peter’s in a way ever more ordered to the good, the beautiful, and the true.

Vatican City, June 22, 2021

Mauro Cardinal Gambetti

Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter

 [1] For example: General Ordering of the Roman Missal; Declaration on Concelebration of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, August 7, 1972; CCC 902.

[2] “[The faithful] participating in the Eucharistic sacrifice, source and summit of the whole Christian life, offer to God the Divine Victim and themselves with it; thus all, be it with the offering or with Holy Communion, fulfill their part in the liturgical action, not, however, in an undifferentiated way, rather each one in his own way. Then by eating the Body of Christ in the holy assembly, they show concretely the unity of the People of God, which from this most august sacrament is appropriately expressed and wonderfully effected” (LG11).

[3] Joseph Ratzinger expresses himself thus in his contribution Sacrifice, Sacrament and Priesthood in the Development of the Church (in Heralds of the Word and Servants of Your Joy, LEV, 2013): “The true place of the existence of the Church is not in some bureaucracy and even less so in the activity of a group that states it is the “base,” but the “assembly.” It is the Church in act [. . . ] More exactly: the content of the assembly is the welcome of the Word of God, which culminates in the memorial of the death of Jesus, in a memorial that realizes His presence and signifies mission. From this results that every assembly is entirely Church, because the Lord’s Body cannot but be every time all and the Word of God in  turn cannot but be all. However, at the same time, it results that the individual   assemblyassembly, the individual community remains Church only if it is in all, in unity with the others” (p. 82).

assembly, the individual community remains Church only if it is in the whole, in unity with the others” (p. 82).

[4] Illuminating on the goodness of the concelebration of the Eucharist is what is indicated for Shrines in n. 268 of the Directory on Popular Piety and Liturgy. Principles and Guidelines, Vatican City, 2002.

[5] Cf. SC 57; General Ordering of the Roman Missal 199; CCC 902.

[6] When there is no possibility for the faithful to take part, advocated for priests in any case is the daily celebration of the Mass. The Council teaches it in the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis: “In the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice, in which priests carry out their principal function, the work is exercised uninterruptedly of our redemption and, therefore, warmly recommended is the daily celebration, which is always an act of Christ and of His Church, also when it’s not possible for the faithful to attend” (n. 13).

[7] CCC 902.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester