Last Monday, Pope Francis issued norms suspending private celebrations of Mass at the many side altars in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Today, Cardinal Sarah became one of four cardinal’s publicly voicing their disagreement with that decision in an essay published on the blog of a Vatican journalist.
“I humbly beg the Holy Father to order the withdrawal of the recent norms issued by the secretariat of state. The new norms 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.”
Saint Peter’s Basilica has a total of 45 altars and 11 chapels, a long-standing tradition is that priests would offer private Masses at these during the early morning hours.
Cardinal Sarah asked if by breaking this “ancient and venerable custom, does such a decision really produce greater good for the Church and greater decorum in the liturgy?”
“The main, not to say the only, role of an altar is in fact that the Eucharistic sacrifice be offered on it. The presence of the relics of the saints under the altars has a biblical, theological, liturgical, and spiritual value of such magnitude that there is no need even to mention them. With the new norms the altars of St. Peter’s are destined to serve, except one day a year, only as tombs of saints, if not as mere works of art. Those altars, instead, must live, and their life is the daily celebration of the Holy Mass.”
Sarah also brought up Canon Law that “guarantees priests the possibility of personally celebrating the Eucharist.”
“When possible, community celebration is preferred, but individual celebration by a priest remains the work of Christ and the Church. The magisterium not only does not prohibit it, but approves it, and recommends that priests celebrate Holy Mass every day, because from every Mass there flows a great quantity of graces for the whole world. Not only is it confirmed here that, even when the priest celebrates without the people, the Mass remains an act of Christ and of the Church, but its daily celebration is also recommended.”
He also asked why “the saints of today – who thank God exist, are among us, and visit Rome at least from time to time” are being the denied the experience that many saints who came through Rome before have had.
Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Sarah’s resignation as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments last month after his 75th birthday.