Eighth anniversaries aren’t special. Neither are administrative circulars. Normally, I wouldn’t bother thinking about either, let alone writing about them – unless the anniversary was mine, in which case, it’s chocolates and roses all around, and book that reservation Da Valentino (our favorite neighborhood trattoria when we lived right in the middle of things)! – but these aren’t normal times and these haven’t been a normal eight years.
So, about that circular — the one saying private Masses at side altars in St. Peter’s Basilica are banned as of March 22nd — let me go on record as saying I hope it’s a fake, because it’s too silly for words.
I asked the Holy See Press Office for confirmation yesterday. Earlier today I heard they’d be looking into it. Since then, it’s been crickets from official sources.
It shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to nail down — and several people with whom I’ve spoken have it as good, though no one in a position to offer confirmation — but then, journos on this beat have learned that sometimes silence is a response.
Nutshell, the circular does three things: suppresses individual Masses at side chapels in the basilica; tells priests who want to celebrate and the faithful who want to assist at Mass to do so at one of the four “public” Masses scheduled to start between 7am and 9am; orders that the public Masses be “animated” i.e. accompanied by lectors and cantors (no word on dancers).
It also says that pilgrims can celebrate with their bishops or priests in the Vatican Grottoes, and sends people to the Clementine Chapel for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. There’s no mention of what Eastern Catholics are supposed to do, or where they’re supposed to do it.
It appears to come from the Secretariat of State, but why State should be the competent authority over the internal order of the basilica is anything but apparent. So, what gives? The order isn’t signed, so there’s no indication who actually gave it and no easy way to know to whom one should complain, did one have a mind to register some grief.
It offers some preambulatory mumbo-jumbo about Lent being a season in which to give “greater centrality” to “the Word of God and Eucharistic Celebration” – but Lent will be almost over before the decree takes effect, and the decree itself has no sunset clause. So, Orwell much?
It mentions “wanting to ensure that Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica are conducted in a climate of greater recollection and liturgical decorum,” but doesn’t say what specific problems it is addressing, nor does it discuss how to implement the new measures so they achieve the desired effect. At best, it’s fixing what ain’t broke.
There simply is no good reason for this. More to the point: Every reason given (or conceivable in light of what has been given as a reason) is bad. There’s a lot more one could say about it, but basically, it’s government-by-slogan.
One friend, whose feathers were not ruffled in the least, said she thought it sounded like a move akin to a pastor calling everyone sprinkled all over the church to move down front. Maybe, maybe not. Even so, the question is: Why? If the answer is: “So people behave more like we want them to,” that’s just not anywhere near good enough for something like this.
I mean, priests like to be able to celebrate Mass there. People trundle into St Pete’s in the early hours of the morning because they know they’ll find a Mass starting / just started / just about to start, any time between 7am and 9am on any day of the week. Lots of people just like to be in church – that church, not just any church – while Mass is going on. They’re there because Mass is being said at all the altars. They might just be having their morning walk, or talking something over with the Lord, or killing 20 minutes, but they’re doing it there because of what is happening there.
I like to go in there and just walk around right when it opens – used to do it more often, when I worked just down the street and around the corner – because I knew Mass was happening all around. Most days I was just letting myself be with the Lord while He was pouring out graces, but I wonder whether that’s even “praying” in any way these guys would recognize.
It is an exercise of brute force clothed in a gossamer administrative fig-leaf, with implausible reason given — raising questions of the true motive — ill-considered, ad hoc, juridically slapdash at best, and did I mention it’s plain silly?
About the anniversary: whatever one might say about Pope Francis’s ability to turn a phrase, paint a picture, or inspire by means of the grand gesture — and there’s a lot to say on those counts — this decree is about as perfect a world-in-a-nutshell example of Pope Francis’s eight years’ governance as one is likely to get.