The side altars of St. Peter’s basilica were almost all devoid of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass this morning as a Vatican directive suppressing individual Masses being celebrated in the upper part of the basilica came into force. 

From today, priests can only concelebrate the Masses in the main body of the basilica in the morning between 7am and 9:30am Rome time — a break with the usual custom of allowing individual priests to freely celebrate their daily Mass at the basilica’s many altars. 

The five-point directive was imposed in a “top-down” fashion without any consultation, according to an informed Vatican source who asked to remain anonymous.

Initialed by Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the deputy Secretary of State, the instruction stated that, in order to ensure “an atmosphere of recollection and liturgical decorum,” individual celebrations would be “suppressed” at the side altars of St. Peter’s beginning March 22. 

In a March 13 statement, Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest court, said the directive was in “direct violation of universal Church law,” that it breached the standard methods for making changes to the Sacred Liturgy, and should therefore be “rescinded immediately.” 

He and others critical of the directive say it unjustly conditions priests to concelebrate Masses in violation of their freedom to offer the Mass individually. Faithful from around the world coming to the basilica will also now almost always be restricted to taking part in Masses in Italian. 

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who remarked on EWTN’s The World Over last week that the Secretariat of State had neither the legal nor theological competence to make such a decision, told the Register March 22 that it will have the effect of making clergy working in the Vatican “more like functionaries and with less priestly identity.” 

The directive, which he said was a “merciless, authoritarian document, imposed without consultation or synodality,” represents a “secularized understanding” of the Mass as religious entertainment, disregards “the Catholic spiritual tradition of the priesthood to celebrate the Mass every day,” and is further proof of the “self-secularization of the Church.” 

Cardinal Müller said the directive’s authors “want to have this ‘recollection and decorum’ but it’s not the reality.” He added that he hopes it will not make the basilica “more and more like a museum.” 

It is still not clear who was behind the directive which has been discussed for many years but has coincided with the departure in February of the previous archpriest, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who was known to be resistant to such a change. Reliable sources have told the Register Pope Francis authorized it himself with the help of one of his close confidants, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and a number of other cardinals close to the Holy Father. 

Full story at National Catholic Register.