A most enlightening piece by Andrea Gagliarducci. If I had to give it a subtitle, it would be: “Synodality everywhere except Rome.” I posted this in FB and Twitter as well.


Once upon a time St. Peter’s sacristy was really crowded in the early mornings with priests vesting for Mass at some of the scores of altars in this majestic basilica. Many of those priests worked in the Vatican and this was their morning Mass routine. Priests visiting Rome could say Mass at a side altar, and often invited a friend to do a reading. I was blessed to be a reader on many occasions at many altars, including at one of my favorites – the altar of Pope St. John XXIII.

Priests with a pilgrimage group could (and still can) say Mass in one of the chapels in the Grotto area.

All that (except for pilgrimage groups) changed over a year ago when orders came down that forbade priests to say individual Masses at the basilica chapels. If, for example, a Vatican or Roman Curia priest now wants to say morning Mass, he may do so only with other priests and only at those altars where they face the congregation, that is, the Altar of the Chair and the Altar of the Choir.

By its mere layout, the only chapel where a priest can have his back to the congregation is the Clementine Chapel in the Grottoes: you saw my photos of Fr. Ryan Brady’s Mass here on June 18.

You have absolutely no idea how many priests were saddened, even deeply wounded, by this change. You have no idea how many told me in person or sent emails or other messages with vivid memories of their special Masses at side altars and chapels.

Saturday, after Mass with Fr. Ryan and six seminarians, we roamed around the basilica a bit and I saw something that so shook me up, so saddened me and yes, even angered me, that I could not post the pictures I took. Mass with Ryan and the seminarians was such a special, happy story that I didn’t want to spoil the mood.

There is an altar in the center of the left transept of the basilica dedicated to St. Joseph an altar blessed by Pope John XXIII on March 19, 1963, the feast of St. Joseph. Hundreds of people attend the daily Masses offered at this altar and most do not realize they are in the presence of two of the twelve apostles!  We know the basilica is dedicated to Peter but the relics of two more Apostles, Simon and Jude Thaddeus are in an ancient sarcophagus beneath the St. Joseph altar! At the sides of the altar are two round mosaics of these saints.

Here are some pictures of that altar where I’ve attended daily Mass dozens of times:


And here is what I saw Saturday that broke my heart! In front of the communion rail, naturally, as the small chapel sanctuary would not have room for a second altar.

You see what was done! Why I am heartbroken! In order to force priests to face the congregation, a new altar was placed in front of the original, very beautiful, historic altar with relics of two Apostles. In no way, can one even suspect that Simon and Jude Thaddeus are here as you can’t see the original altar!

P.S. Simon is also known as Simon the Canaanite or Simon the Zealot because of his zealous following of Jesus and his evangelizing work, whereas Jude is also called Jude Thaddeus and he is always distinguished from the apostle Judas who betrayed Jesus. Tradition says that both apostles traveled together to preach the gospel in Persia, and both were martyred there: Jude was beaten to death with a club, and Simon was sawed in half. They share a feast day – October 28. St. Jude is usually depicted with an axe or sword, and St. Simon with a saw—the instruments of their deaths.


The sacristy is two-thirds the way up the left aisle of St. Peter’s basilica. You will know you’ve reached the entryway to the sacristy area when you see this above the large doorway:

And this opposite that doorway:

Then you enter and walk for perhaps 40 or so meters, passing windows that look out over Vatican City, statues, marble engravings and a list of all the Popes through St. John Paul (deceased Popes). You’ll see a gift store just before you turn left to get to the sacristy:

And then the sacristy: