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Knoxville, Tenn., Mar 23, 2021 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville expressed his sadness Monday over the restrictions on private Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica, and his hope that they will be removed.

“I am sad to read about the restrictions now in effect at St. Peter’s Basilica. I treasure all times that I was able to celebrate Mass at the revered place … to bring pilgrims to the Mass from my diocese and, in the past, my parishioners in St. Louis was so very special. I hope this is reversed,” Bishop Stika tweeted March 22.

He noted in particular his appreciation of having been able to say Mass “at the tombs of Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II and especially at the Clementine Chapel, which is directly above the tomb of Peter.”

The bishop later tweeted that he was reminded of the perennial joke about the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist — one can negotiate with a terrorist — upon reading “the reasons for the limits of celebrating Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.”

The decree which prohibited private Masses says the changes are intended to ensure that “the Holy Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica take place in a climate of recollection and liturgical decency.”

A decree of the Secretariat of State prohibited private Masses at the side altars of St. Peter’s Basilica beginning March 22, instead inviting priests to take part in several concelebrated Masses held each day at the basilica.

Under the new protocols, groups of pilgrims, accompanied by a bishop or priest who has booked an altar, will be permitted to celebrate private Masses in the grottoes beneath the Church.

Mass said in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is now limited to the Clementine Chapel.

Previously, the 45 altars and 11 chapels in St. Peter’s Basilica had been used every morning by priests to celebrate their daily Mass. Many of them are Vatican officials who would begin their day with the celebration.

When the restrictions were adopted, CNA’s Courtney Mares wrote that “the basilica appeared more like a silent museum where the art above the altars can be viewed, but the altars themselves are left unused for their intended purpose.”

In his homily at a Mass said June 25, 2016 in Gyumri, Armenia, Pope Francis taught that “There is always a danger that can dim the light of faith, and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age, as if the faith were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum.”

“Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all. Faith, however, is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives. We would do well to renew this living encounter with the Lord each day,” the pope said.

The Code of Canon Law states that priests “are completely free to celebrate the Eucharist individually…but not while a concelebration is taking place in the same church or oratory.”

In Sacrosanctum Concilium, its constitution on the sacred liturgy, the Second Vatican Council said that “each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually, though not at the same time in the same church as a concelebrated Mass, nor on Thursday of the Lord’s Supper.”

The Second Vatican Council in fact permitted concelebration in specific cases: on the Thursday of the Lord’s Supper; during councils, bishops’ conferences, and synods; and at the Mass for the blessing of an abbot. With the permission of the ordinary, it permitted concelebration at conventual Mass, at the principle Mass in churches when the needs of the faithful do not require that all priests available should celebrate individually, and at Masses celebrated at any kind of priests’ meetings.

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