16 June 2013

Visiting Rome (Part III) - The Pope

One of the best reasons to come to Rome is to see the Pope.  Even a fair share of non-Catholics will make an effort to attend a Papal event while in Rome, and it usually is not terribly difficult to do so.  (Although see the really important note at the bottom of this post about the need for tickets to papal events.)  Again, this is written with my fellow Americans in mind, but most is applicable to everyone.

There are already some good resources on the website about papal events:

The first is the Pontifical North American College (usually referred to simply as "The NAC"), which is the American seminary residence here in Rome.  They have a number of resources for pilgrims, and especially their page on Papal Audiences and Events.  One of the other very important pages on that website is the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican.  The U.S. Bishops keep an office at the NAC explicitly for American pilgrims to Rome and is run by the Alma Mercy Sisters.  They have lots of good and useful links, and it is worth contacting them before you come over.  Be sure to look at the rest of the NAC "Pilgrim Information" pages as well.

Many American Catholics are surprised to learn that there is an American parish here in Rome.  Over the years, many countries have established national churches in Rome both to have a presence in the eternal city as well as to minister to their citizens--whether as pilgrims or as residents--here in Rome.  Many of those are even sponsored by the governments of those places, but obviously not the American one.  The American parish in Rome is the Church of Santa Susanna, and it is staffed by the Paulist Fathers.  Like the NAC, they have a lot of good information for pilgrims as well as information on Papal Audiences and events.  Also, they are one of the places in Rome where you can find a Mass in English.

There is also a private website (i.e., not an official Vatican website) called St. Peter's Basilica that has a lot of good information.  The one caution on this is that it was done a few years ago and does not seem to have been updated in a while, but much of the information is largely still valid.  You can find the website by clicking here.

So, when can you see the Pope?
  • Wednesday Audience.  Every Wednesday (except usually in August, when it is at Castel Gandolfo) the Pope makes an address to pilgrims gathered in Rome from St. Peter's Square.  The Papal Audience is usually at 10:30am in the Square, except in the winter when it is moved into the Paul VI Auditorium.  You can just show up and stand with the crowds, if you want. However, if you want a seat, you need a ticket.  The websites above can give you details on how to get those.  Note that when the Audience is indoors (winter), you can only see it with a ticket.
  • Sunday Angelus.  There is a long tradition in the Church, sadly largely discarded in the U.S., of praying the Angelus prayer at Noon every day (and usually also at 6:00am and 6:00pm).  (If you go to Ireland, for example, TV broadcast is still suspended each day at Noon to broadcast the Angelus prayer.)  The Pope does this publicly every Sunday at noon from the window of the (former) Papal Apartments.  You don't need a ticket for this, just stand in the square and face north.  It makes for a nice Sunday to attend the main Mass (at 10:30am) at the Altar of the Chair (often celebrated by a Cardinal or Bishop, but not the Pope) and afterwards to go to the square for the Audience.  The 10:30am Sunday Mass at St. Peter's is in Latin with the readings and homily in Italian.
There are also other events throughout the year worth attending, but these all depend on when you are in Rome.  Here are some of the regular annual Papal events, following the order of the Liturgical Year:
  • First Sunday of Advent - It has become customary for the Pope to celebrate Vespers (Evening Prayer) with Roman University students on the evening of the First Sunday of Advent.  This is held in St. Peter's Basilica.  usually these tickets are distributed through the schools, but you still may be able to acquire one.
  • Dec. 8 - The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  Every December 8, the Pope offers prayers at the statute of the Immaculate Conception near the base of the Spanish Steps.  This event is usually in the evening.  No tickets are required for this, but if you want to get close you need to be there early, and be prepared to stand for a long time.  This event is usually very, very heavily attended, and it is usually a bit cold (so dress warmly!).
  • Dec. 25 - Christmas Midnight Mass.  This is usually not at midnight, but about 10:00pm.  However, with a new Pope, this might change.  This Mass is held at St. Peter's.
  • Jan. 1 - Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  This is always on New Year's Day and is celebrated by the Pope inside St. Peter's Basilica around 10:00am.  Following the Mass is the Pope's address from the Papal Apartment window.
  • Jan 6 - Epiphany.  The Holy See maintains the custom of observing Epiphany on January 6, rather than the Sunday following.  This will be a morning Mass in St. Peter's, with the Angelus to follow in the Square.
  • Feb 2 - Candlemas.  The Pope usually, but not always, celebrates a papal Mass for the feast of the Presentation on February 2.  This is an evening Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
  • Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina.  There is a long custom of the Pope celebrating the Stational Mass of Ash Wednesday--and distributing ashes--at our Dominican church of Santa Sabina.  It begins with the Pope praying at the church of Sant'Anselmo at the top of the Aventine and then processing to Santa Sabina as the choir chants the Litany of Saints.  The Mass is inside the Church, but they usually set up monitors and seats outside as well, and ashes and Holy Communion are distributed to those seated outside.  It is usually held in the evening.
  • Palm Sunday.  The Pope celebrates Mass with the blessing of Palms at St. Peter's Basilica.  It is usually a morning Mass in St. Peter's Square.
  • Holy Week:
    • Chrism Mass- Holy Thursday morning.  The Pope has Mass with the blessing of the oils and the Priests' renewal of promises in the morning in St. Peter's Basilica.
    • Mass of the Lord's Supper.  In the past, this was an evening Mass at St. John Lateran.  For his first Holy Thursday, however, Pope Francis chose to say this Mass at a local youth prison.  He will likely continue that, and so there will be no more Papal Holy Thursday evening Mass.
    • Good Friday - Liturgy of the Lord's Passion.  This is usually at 5:00pm (not 3:00pm) in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday.
    • Good Friday - Way of the Cross - This is another very popular event held very close to the Colosseum (not, as many people believe in the Colosseum).  It is usually an evening event.
  • Easter Sunday Mass.  This is one of the largest Masses in Rome for the year, and lots and lots of Pilgrims come to this.  It is an outdoor Mass on St. Peter's Square and starts about 10:00am.  After Mass, the Pope delivers the Urbi et Orbi address from the window of the Papal Apartments.
  • Corpus Christi.  The original day for celebrating Corpus Christi was Thursday after the end of the Pentecost Octave.  Sadly, the Pentecost Octave is no more, but the Holy See maintains the tradition of observing Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.  There is a large outdoor Mass at the entrance to the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  Following Mass, there is a Eucharistic procession from the Lateran to St. Mary Major for Benediction.  
  • June 29 - Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  This is usually a morning Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.  It is also the Mass at which the Pope bestows the pallium on the newly made Archbishops.  As many of these Archbishops bring pilgrims with them from their home dioceses, it is often difficult to get tickets for this Mass.
  • August 15 - Solemnity of the Assumption. The Italians usually go on vacation in August, usually before or after "Ferragosto" (i.e., August 15).  The Pope is typically no exception.  Usually this Mass is celebrated at Castel Gandolfo.  However, Pope Francis has indicated that he will not be spending August in Castel Gandolfo, so this Mass may be held in Rome.  
  • Last Sunday before Advent - Solemnity of Christ the King.  Pope Benedict often arranged for the Consistory--at which the new the Cardinals are created--to occur the day before the Solemnity of Christ the King.  He would therefore end the liturgical year with this Mass with the new Cardinals in St. Peter's.  This is not one that the Pope regularly celebrates publicly, and if he does have it following a consistory, it is usually hard to get tickets because of the pilgrimage groups of the attending cardinals.
Although not Papal events, I might also recommend the following:
  • Sunday Vespers at St. Peter's.  The Canons of St. Peter celebrate Vespers at the Altar of the Chair (i.e., at the very back of the Basilica) every Sunday at 5:00pm (following the 4:00pm Mass and immediately followed by the 5:45pm Mass).  The Office is chanted in Latin, with a choir.  It is usually led by a Bishop, or sometimes a Cardinal. The area will be blocked off, and open only to people attending Mass or Vespers.  Tell the guards at the barrier that you are there for Vespers (It: Vespri) or Mass (It: La Messa).  
    • On the 5th Sunday of Lent St. Peter's is the Stational Church.  There is an old custom of displaying the relic of Veronica's Veil on that day, from where it is usually kept above the statue of St. Veronica under the main dome of St. Peter's.  In the older calendar of the Church, this Sunday marked the beginning of Passiontide, elements of which remain even in the post-Vatican II liturgy.
  • Stational Masses of Lent.  There is a long custom of churches in Rome being designated as "Stational Churches" and associated with the different days of lent.  The NAC has an early morning Mass at every one of these Stational Churches throughout Lent (except for Sundays).  It is usually very well attended by American Catholics in Rome.  Full details are at the NAC's website.  Note, however, that these are not the official stational liturgies.  Most of these Churches will have the proper stational Mass in the evening, which involves a penitential procession.  
    • At San Clemente, our Stational Mass day is Monday of the Second Week of Lent (in 2014, that also happens to be St. Patrick's Day).  The Basilica here follows a very ancient custom of covering the floor with basil leaves, so that when the procession walks over them, the fragrance of the leaves is released.  
  • Pentecost Sunday at the Pantheon.  After the 10:00am (I think) Mass on Pentecost, the Church of Santa Maria della Rotonda (also called Santa Maria ad Martyres, but best known simply by its old Pagan name, "The Pantheon"), a great batch of red rose petals are dropped from the hole in the ceiling of the church in memory of the Holy Spirit who descended as "tongues of flame" on Mary and the Apostles.  You need not attend the Mass, but they will not let you into the Church until after Mass is finished, around Noon.
  • Sunday Mass at St. Mary Major. People always ask me where to go to Mass.  I find that the 10:00am Sunday Mass at St. Mary Major is one of the most beautiful in Rome.  They have one of the best choirs.  That Mass is also in Latin, with the readings and homily in Italian.
IMPORTANT NOTE:  These are all subject to change.  The best source of papal events is the website of the Pontifical Liturgy Office, which maintains a calendar of the Pope's public events.  Make sure to check that before you come to Rome.

REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE: Almost every Papal event--especially if it is indoors--requires you to have a ticket in advance.  They will not let you in without displaying a ticket.  You can get those through the U.S. Bishops' Pilgrimage office.  

MOST IMPORTANT NOTE OF ALL (FOR CATHOLICS):  For Papal Masses, the norm is to receive communion on the tongue and not in the hand.  The priests are instructed to give the response (The Body of Christ) in the original Latin (Corpus Christi), after which you give your "Amen".  If you have never received communion on the tongue, here is a good guide and description:  How to Receive Communion on the Tongue.  If the Mass is outdoors, after receiving Holy Communion, please quickly move aside so that others may receive.  Obviously, if you are not Catholic or are not properly disposed, please do not receive  Holy Communion.  Most of all--and I cannot believe this is necessary to say--under no circumstances whatsoever or for any reason may you take the host home with you.  That would be gravely sinful.