Francis Celebrates Ad Orientem at Tomb of John Paul II for Centenary
(Rome) On Monday, Pope Francis celebrated the first Mass since the re-admission of public services in Italy - and that versus Deum. It should also be the last to be broadcast on the media due to the Corona crisis.
Among all the measures that have been taken because of the Coronavirus by the Church, this was Pope Francis' most radical. In his diocese of Rome he had all services suspended on March 8th and all churches and chapels closed on March 12th. No diocese worldwide has gone this far. After only 24 hours and an impending uprising, the priests rowed back. At least the parish churches were reopened, all other churches and chapels remained closed. The Pope's diocese remained on the most radical path. The corresponding decrees were signed by Cardinal Vicar Angelo De Donatis, who heads the diocese on behalf of the Pope. The cardinal vicar is formally an auxiliary bishop who acts as vicar general. Cardinalatial dignity has been associated with this since 1558. De Donatis indicated that the order had come directly from Francis. No other would be conceivable. No vicar general would take such a drastic and historically unprecedented step on his own. Since the Vatican had hermetically sealed itself at the beginning of March, Pope Francis also celebrated without the people in the past ten weeks . Only two or three priests, a religious and an organist took part in the morning celebrations in Santa Marta. In return, the Pope's morning mass was carried over the world through direct channels. The Mass last Monday morning was the last to be broadcast because public services have been allowed again in Italy since the same day.
The direct transmissions were not concluded from Santa Marta, but from St. Peter's Basilica, namely from the Sebastian chapel. It is located in the north aisle in front of the chapel. The tomb of John Paul II has been under the altar of this chapel dedicated to the proto-martyr, since 2011. The remains of the Vatican Grottoes, the first burial place, were brought to the beatification. The canonization took place three years later, on April 27, 2014.
At the Sebastian's altar above the tomb of the Polish Pope, who ruled the Church from 1978 to 2005, Pope Francis celebrated the last of the morning Masses that were broadcast. The occasion was the 100th birthday of John Paul II, who was born on May 18, 1920 in the Polish town of Wadowice. Here Pope Francis celebrated versus Deum . It's a direction of celebration that gives his House Liturgist, Andrea Grillo, a flush of anger.
Pope Francis had already celebrated at the Sebastian Altar in the past and in each case versus Deum as an alternative to the direction of celebration that was taken for granted in Church tradition, in the direction of the rising sun, towards the returning Christ who would come from the east.
For the first time, however, the celebration was broadcast by the media on Monday, which is why the unusual direction of celebration since the great liturgical reform of 1969/70 was given special visibility. Photos of the celebration were also distributed by international press agencies such as AFP.
It is said that the Pope celebrated "with his back" to the people, as the actual direction of celebrations has been discredited for half a century, because the previous way of things were adhered to. In plain language: There is no "people's altar" in the chapel of St. Sebastian. Another inaccurate claim, because in the past it has been demonstrated many times over how quickly a portable altar can be set up at any location. Pope Benedict XVI had one removed from the Sistine Chapel, where John Paul II usually celebrated. For the Thanksgiving Mass with the Cardinals, his first mass as Pope the day after the election, Francis had it brought back to the Sistine Chapel.
The unusual orientation for Francis was no tribute to John Paul II. Be that as the people's altar was shuffled into the Sistine Chapel, undoubtedly the celebration versus populum is preferred.
Liturgical gestures by Benedict XVI. paid special attention because Francis knew how serious the liturgical question was to him. The media rush to judgement. Probably for the exact opposite reason of his predecessor.
Gestures that cannot really be classified are an essential feature of the current pontificate.