After photos of a shirtless Italian priest celebrating Mass in the sea using an inflatable lounge chair went viral this week, the local Catholic archdiocese has called for liturgical decorum and respect.

Father Mattia Bernasconi, a priest of the archdiocese of Milan, publicly acknowledged in an interview on July 26 that his liturgical choice to swap out his vestments for swim trunks was “perhaps imprudent” and said that he would not do it again. 

The 36-year-old priest explained that he had been helping with a week-long summer camp for high school students in southern Italy organized by Libera, an anti-mafia organization.

“We wanted to spend the last day at the beach; it was Sunday and there arose the issue of Mass, which we always celebrate,” Bernasconi told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“It was 10:30 in the morning and the sun was scorching, so we decided to veer into the only comfortable place: in the water,” he said.

The Mass off the shore of Crotone in the southern Italian region of Calabria caught the attention of beachgoers. Some joined the Mass, while others posted photos online. 

The online response to the photo of the barechested priest in the water holding a chalice above his head was immediate. Some social media users asked why this liturgy was allowed at a time when the Traditional Latin Mass has faced restrictions.

Giuseppe Capoccia, the head prosecutor of the city of Crotone, said that he considered it appropriate to investigate the priest for “offense to a religious confession,” according to a report from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. 

The Archdiocese of Crotone-Santa Severina issued a statement on July 25 responding to the incident that said it is “necessary to maintain the minimum decorum and care for the symbols necessitated by the very nature of liturgical celebrations.”

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“In some special cases, during retreats, school camps, in vacation spots, it is also possible to celebrate Mass outside of a church,” the archdiocese said.

“It is always necessary, however, to make contact with the ecclesial leaders of the place where one is, in order to advise each other on the most appropriate way to carry out such a Eucharistic celebration.”

The statement went on to quote Pope Francis’ recent letter on the liturgy: “‘Let us be clear here: every aspect of the celebration must be carefully tended to (space, time, gestures, words, objects, vestments, song, music…) and every rubric must be observed.’” 

“‘Such attention would be enough to prevent robbing from the assembly what is owed to it; namely, the paschal mystery celebrated according to the ritual that the Church sets down,’” it said, quoting Desiderio Desideravi.

In response to the archdiocese’s call for restraint, Bernasconi said: “I blame myself for being perhaps a little naive.”

The priest said that his gesture was “misunderstood” and that he was shocked by the many “resentful messages” that he received.

He added defensively that the parents of the students who participated in the summer camp were not upset at how he offered the Mass. 

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“One lady thanked me, telling me that she felt the Church had reached out to her even at the beach. Any place is good for spreading the word of the Lord,” the priest said.

Bernasconi is the assistant parish priest at the Church of San Luigi Gonzaga in Milan. The official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Milan republished the note on the liturgy from the southern Italian diocese at the request of local Church authorities. 

The note, quoting Pope Francis, said: “‘If there were lacking our astonishment at the fact that the paschal mystery is rendered present in the concreteness of sacramental signs, we would truly risk being impermeable to the ocean of grace that floods every celebration.’”