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

The Vatican seems to have denied the story in 2007. Plus, there is footage of the Pope celebrating Mass, in the Ordinary Form, in his private chapel

By on Monday, 19 July 2010

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

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.

  • Bwaj

    That's what you say and you're opinion is irrelevant.

  • Bwaj

    Sorry I snapped, however, the Pope not Lombardi represents the Holy See.

  • Bwaj

    What matters more is the following article: 'Is the Pope In Danger?' By Matthew Archbold (19 July 2010)

  • nytor

    Fellay is not an archbishop, is he?

  • nytor

    “It may be, after all, that the Pope has started to say the old rite in private since the Vatican issued its denial.”

    Quite. Let us hope so. After all, he may do so only occasionally, there is no corollary to Fellay's comments which suggests that he must do so every time.

  • Anura Guruge

    Please don't forget that TODAY, July 19, 2010 is an IMPORTANT milestone for Pope Benedict XVI.
    He just became the 7th oldest pope … overtaking Gregory XIII.
    He is now just behind his mentor, Pope John Paul II.
    He will not overtake John Paul until February 29, 2012.
    You can find more details, including a table of the eleven oldest popes at:
    Thank you.
    Grace, may peace be with you.

  • Anura Guruge

    Talking about things SUPPOSEDLY done by popes in private I happen to stumble upon this last night when I was checking the beatification status of Pope John Paul II. Scroll towards the end for the interesting stuff.

  • marc puckett

    No reason to doubt Mons Fellay, really: if the Pope is truly wanting, at any rate for the time being, to celebrate in the usus antiquior privately then he will scarcely do so on days when visitors etc are filming the rites, will he? And so far as I can tell this evening, P. Lombardi hasn't issued a dementi this time around. We all have our opinions of the Lefebvrists but I suspect that Mons Fellay knows what he is talking about in this case (and note that he didn't say 'daily' or 'thrice-weekly' etc).

  • bkovacs

    First mistake is that a Jesuit commented. And stop making cracks at the SSPX. They are a whole lot more Catholic than most Austrian clergy.

  • Sussex Catholic

    There are several reasons why I would respectfully challenge this analysis:

    1. Bishop Fellay is remarkably well informed about what goes on inside the Vatican. He gave a very revealing account a couple of years ago of the extraordinary lengths that Curial officials had to go to to replace Cardinal Sodano with Cardinal Bertone as S of S including an amusing anecdote about Sodano literally refusing to vacate the S of State's apartments and Bertone having to set up a new office elsewhere in order to start work. It was the sort of story that is so extraordinary it must be true and reveals that +Fellay has some very well placed friends.

    2. The confusion over the HF saying the OF ad orientem as featured in the documentary dates back to 2008 and is not the story that +Fellay is now producing. It is of course highly unlikely that the HF would have agreed to let TV crews film him saying the EF.

    3. Fr.Lomabardi is about the last man in the whole of Rome to know what is going on inside the Papal household.

    4. +Fellay must have known that to announce this would anger the HF if it were not true. Unlike +Williamson (who appears actively not to want communion with anyone except himself and the Priory of Sion) +Fellay genuinely wants reconciliation and is a genuine admirer of the HF and therefore unlikely to want to cause him trouble.

    I suspect that the HF prob does offer the EF in private from time to time and he is perfectly entitled to do so. I would guess +Fellay is trying to reassure the SSPX that this Pope is genuinely someone they can deal with.

  • AgingPapist

    The question people should be asking is, why the pope is never seen celebrating the Tridentine Museum Piece Liturgy in public. Bishop Fellay is a heretic and a schismatic and he and fellow SSPX are purveyors of pure fantasy.

    To believe the pope celebrates a private Mass in his chapel using the Tridentine Rite is to believe what you wish to believe. What part of the truth do you not understand when there have been countless reports to contradict Bishop Fellay? Has the bishop ever been present for this pope’s private masses?