So the Pope says the old Mass privately? Well, probably not

Pope Benedict adores the Eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi (Photo: CNS)

According to Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the SSPX, the Pope says the old rite of Mass privately. (Hat tip to Fr Z at WDTPRS.)

This story has been around for some time, but is it true? Probably not.

So far as I can make out the story first appeared in Catholic World News on July 16, 2007. Beneath the headline “Pope Benedict uses older ritual for his private Mass”, CWN reported:

“Pope Benedict XVI, who recently issued a Motu Proprio allowing all Catholic priests to celebrate the old Latin Mass, uses the older ritual himself for his private Mass, CWN has learned.

“Informed sources at the Vatican have confirmed reports that the Holy Father regularly celebrates Mass using the 1962 Roman Missal.”

That story is still being presented as news today, but think about it for a moment. CWN says it “has learned” that the Pope says the old Mass. No, it hasn’t. All it has learned is that unnamed sources have “confirmed reports” that he does so. Not the same thing at all.

The day after CWN released its story, the Vatican declared that the story was not true.

According to the Catholic News Service (CNS):

“Claims that the Pope celebrates his private Mass using the Tridentine rite are incorrect, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi told Catholic News Service July 17.”

Fr Lombardi is the director of the Vatican press office, and seems an honest man. It is hard to believe anyway that if the rumours had been true, the Vatican (and therefore ultimately the Pope) would have denied them.

Fr Lombardi suggested that there may have been some confusion about the Pope’s liturgical customs because footage had been issued of the Pope saying Mass facing the altar in his private chapel, where the altar is against a wall.

Here is a clip of the Pope saying Mass in his private chapel (though whether it is the one issued by the Vatican I do not know). The Mass is the Novus Ordo. The Pope is concelebrating in Italian, and a woman gives one of the readings.

Does that mean that Bishop Fellay is fibbing? Absolutely not. Bishop Fellay is an honest man. It may be however that from time to time, like so many of us, he believes what he wants to believe. Perhaps also passionate traditionalists are too fond of secrets. They tend to live in a world where nothing is as it seems. So the Pope says the old Mass “privately”, and therefore secretly.

Has CWS ever corrected its original story? I cannot find a correction. If I am wrong about all this, if Bishop Fellay is right and the Pope does say the old Mass privately, I will immediately post a correction. It may be, after all, that the Pope has started to say the old rite in private since the Vatican issued its denial.