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Cardinal Zen expresses ‘pain and indignation’ at St. Peter’s Basilica private Mass restrictions

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze kiun departs the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome on Nov 18 2014 Credit Bohumil Petrik CNA CNA 11 19 14 Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun departs the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, Nov. 18, 2014./ Bohumil Petrik/CNA

Cardinal Joseph Zen on Tuesday expressed “pain and indignation” at restrictions on private Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The former bishop of Hong Kong said March 30 that if he could, he would fly to Rome and kneel outside the pope’s residence until the decree was withdrawn.

He wrote: “Pain and indignation invade my heart to hear certain incredible news: They have forbidden private masses in St. Peter’s!?”

“If it were not for the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, I would take the first flight to come to Rome and get on my knees in front of the door of Santa Marta (now the papal residence) until the Holy Father has this edict withdrawn.”

Zen made his remarks on his website in an open letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah after the former prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship asked Pope Francis on Monday to reinstate the celebration of private Masses at the side altars in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Zen is the fifth cardinal to voice opposition to the change, which went into effect March 22, after Sarah, Raymond Burke, Gerhard Müller, and Walter Brandmüller.

In his open letter, translated into English by Bree A. Dail, Zen wrote: “It was the thing that strengthened my faith most every time I came to Rome: at exactly seven o’clock I would enter the sacristy (where I almost always would meet that holy man, the Archbishop, then Cardinal Paolo Sardi); a young priest would come forward and would help me to dress in the vestments, and then they take me to an altar (in the Basilica proper or in the grottoes, that would make no difference to me, we were in St. Peter’s Basilica!).”

The new protocols, issued by the First Section of the Vatican Secretariat of State, say that priests will be invited to take part in several concelebrated Masses at St. Peter’s every day but will not be permitted to offer private Masses at the basilica’s many side altars.

It was a long-standing custom that priests would offer individual Masses in the early morning hours at some of the side altars in the basilica. Sometimes priests said the Mass alone or with only a deacon, and other times they would be accompanied by small groups of Catholics.

Priests traveling with pilgrim groups were also permitted to reserve an altar for a private Mass.

There are a total of 45 altars and 11 chapels in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The 89-year-old cardinal, an outspoken defender of persecuted Chinese Catholics, said that he used to pray “with tears” for the Church in China at the Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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“I think these were the Masses that, in my life, I celebrated with more fervor and emotion, sometimes with tears praying for our living martyrs in China (now abandoned and pushed into the bosom of the schismatic church by the “Holy See” [as that document of June 2020 was presented without signatures and without the revisions of the Congregation for Doctrine]),” he wrote.

Zen has frequently criticized the Vatican Secretariat of State’s role in securing a “provisional agreement” between the Holy See and China over the appointment of bishops.

Concluding his open letter, he wrote: “It is time to reduce the excessive power of the Secretariat of State. Remove these sacrilegious hands from the communal home for all the Faithful in the world! Let them content themselves with playing worldly diplomacy with the father of lies. Let them make the Secretariat of State ‘a den of thieves’, But leave the devoted people of God alone!”

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