Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Why doesn’t Pope Francis Celebrate Mass? Part II

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 23, 2024

Forgive me for returning to a question that I have asked once before—and only a few weeks ago, at that. But frankly I am dumbfounded, and wonder why the same question is not on the lips of all believing Catholics.

Why has Pope Francis not celebrated Mass in public for well over a year? He will frequently “preside” at a Mass—which means he sits enthroned at the side of the altar in liturgical vestments, often delivering the homily—but he has not been the principal celebrant since sometime in mid-2022.

When I asked this question two months ago, some readers pointed out that (as I had already acknowledged), Pope Francis is now elderly, with painful knee problems that limit his movements. But many elderly and infirm priests celebrate Mass regularly, and the Vatican staff can find ways to help the Pontiff cope with his physical limitations. Pope John Paul II continued to celebrate Mass in public until just before his death, despite the ravages of a disease that robbed him of his ability to move or even speak freely.

Earlier this year Pope Francis suffered from breathing difficulties serious enough so that he was unable to read his own prepared talks aloud. During that spell it might have been understandable that he would refrain from celebrating a public Mass. But he has apparently recovered; his breathing is now normal; he has no discernible difficulty giving a lengthy interview. And remember that he stopped celebrating Mass in public long before that breathing problem appeared.

Does the Pope simply lack the stamina for a public Mass? The physical acts involved in celebrating the liturgy are not terribly demanding, especially when other clerics can do the readings and distribute Communion. The Pope could use a stool at the altar. The Proper prayers of the day take only a minute or two to recite, and are interspersed with times when the celebrant can rest. The Eucharistic Prayer is no longer than some of the talks that the Pontiff gives at private audiences every day—and if other prelates concelebrate, the Pope can save his voice.

Speaking of private audiences, Pope Francis maintains a very active schedule, sometimes meeting with four or five—or even more—groups in a single day. He takes time to greet guests individually, as well as delivering a formal address. He holds two public audiences, on Sundays and Wednesdays, every week—again giving a talk and speaking personally to at least a few dozen of the people in attendance.

Pope Francis recently returned from a visit to Verona. He has scheduled an 11-day trip to the other side of the world—stopping in Indonesia, East Timor, Singapore, and Papua New Guinea—in September. Later that month he will visit Belgium and Luxembourg. There are reports, based on Vatican sources, that he will make time to fly to New York that same month to speak at the UN. All this in September, when the general session of the Synod on Synodality, widely viewed as the capstone of his pontificate, will take place in October.

Does this look like the schedule of an elderly man who lacks energy? Clearly Pope Francis does not think of himself as suffering from grave limitations. He will travel to Turkey early next year for ecumenical celebrations marking the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicea. He has promised to visit his native Argentina. There are even rumors of efforts to arrange a trip to Moscow.

At each stop on his foreign voyages, the Pope typically meets with government officials and other religious leaders, gives speeches, and presides at Mass for the local Catholic community. Since in many cases he is traveling countries where Catholics form only a minority of the population, I sometimes wonder how the natives react to this visit from the Roman Pontiff. When he speaks, offering advice and encouragement, he will be at the center of attention. But during Mass he will be at the side of the altar. Wouldn’t it be easy for non-Christians—even for Catholics who are not properly formed in their faith—to fall into the belief that this is the most important function of the Sovereign Pontiff: giving speeches?

The Pope, as foremost representative of the faithful, is called to serve as priest, prophet, and king. The priest comes first. I assume—I hope!—that Pope Francis celebrates Mass in private. But when he celebrates the Eucharistic liturgy in public, he reminds the world that this is the most important thing we do, the source and summit of our spiritual life.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: dkmayernj8551 - May. 24, 2024 6:39 PM ET USA

    An investigative reporter should determine whether he is celebrating mass privately.

  • Posted by: chapman18668 - May. 24, 2024 10:31 AM ET USA

    It truly is odd and deserves an answer.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 24, 2024 7:08 AM ET USA

    I would like to hear an answer to the headline question from cardinal Cupich, or McElroy, or any other prelate from Francis' circle of trust.

  • Posted by: ewaughok - May. 23, 2024 11:28 PM ET USA

    I know, I know! (Hand raised) it’s because of his love for the TLM!

  • Posted by: Cinciradiopriest - May. 23, 2024 10:30 PM ET USA

    The Mass at Santa Marta with the Pope was widely covered early on, even with them reporting his homily. I have noticed this as well. I really don't have an explanation for it.