Rome is an amazing place to experience the end of Lent and beginning of Easter. There is so much history and tradition in Rome – the heart of the Church – that one cannot help but feel the past come to life in your own experiences. Checkout our 9 Amazing Ways to experience Easter in Rome below:
1. Easter in Rome: Palm Sunday & Holy Week in Rome
Palm Sunday is the celebration that begins Holy Week – the final week of Lent that culminates in the Easter Triduum (3 days) of the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday Crucifixion and Easter Vigil (Easter Saturday).
Palm Sunday commemorates the day Jesus entered into the holy city of Jerusalem. On that day, the eager crowds were cheering, singing “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” and laying a carpet of palm leaves before the donkey carrying the Christ.
“Just as he entered Jerusalem, so he wishes to enter our cities and our lives”. Pope Francis 2016
In Rome, Christ’s vicar on Earth and the successor of St Peter, Pope Francis, recalls this event in the Palm Sunday liturgy. Beginning at 9:30am on Sunday 5 April 2020 at the obelisk in the centre of St Peter’s Square, the Pope blesses the palm leaves and begins his solemn procession in the person of Christ (in persona Christi) before continuing Holy Mass in St Peter’s Square. Free of charge tickets are required for this Mass obtainable by emailing email@example.com.
Also consider immersing yourself into the pilgrim meditative atmosphere at this special time with our Easter in Rome Tour.
Stunningly beautiful, the full liturgy of Palm Sunday 2016 can be seen below. For a clip of just the procession, check out the video below that.
Blessing of Palms & Procession
2. Easter in Rome: Holy Thursday Chrism Mass
For those spending Easter in Rome, the Chrism Mass is usually held on the morning of Holy Thursday. At this Mass the Bishop of the diocese blesses the 3 oils used in the life of the Church:
- The Oil of Chrism (used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination)
- The Oil of Catechumens (used in pre-baptismal annointings)
- The Oil of the Sick (used in the sacrament of the Sick)
Of course the bishop of the diocese of Rome is the successor of St Peter – the Pope, currently Pope Francis. This Mass strongly commemorates the role of priesthood in complement to the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper later in the evening. Drawing heavily from St Ignatius of Antioch, this is a time for priests to gather around their bishop and so the Chrism Mass is a Mass celebrated by the pope surrounded by the priests of the diocese of Rome.
The Chrism Mass takes place in St Peter’s Basilica and begins at 9:30am on Thursday 2 April 2020. Again tickets are required to attend (always free) which can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Easter in Rome: Holy/Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper – the beginning of the Triduum Liturgy
About Mass Generally:
Jesus and his disciples were Jews. Jews believe that they are the family of God – the chosen people – because of a binding familial promise/covenant God made with them.
Each year the Jews celebrate a feast called the Passover. The Passover referred back to a time in Jewish history where the Jews were slaves in Egypt and Pharaoh wouldn’t give them freedom. Moses became the Jewish leader and loads of curses happened to Egypt because Pharaoh wouldn’t let them go. The last of these curses was that God said that the Jews had to have a ritual meal called the Passover meal. In this meal they had to eat the meat of a male lamb and eat unrisen/unleavened bread. They then had to put the blood of the lamb on their houses. An angel of death then went over the land and any house in Egypt that did not have this blood on, the angel killed any first born son in that house. It was following this final tragedy that Pharaoh let the Jews leave and they famously walked through the Red Sea.
Ever since then (even up to today), Jews celebrate this same ‘Passover Meal’ where they eat this lamb with unleavened bread. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion was the Passover feast for the Jews. The Last Supper was when Jesus and his disciples came together to eat the ritual Passover meal of lamb and unleavened bread.
However, at this particular Passover meal, Jesus followed the format of the celebration but added to it. He called himself the Lamb – that he was the sacrificial victim. He also added certain other prayers and spoke of a new promise/covenant with God. Now not only the Jews were the family of God – but now this family was open to everyone – Universal (in Greek – Catholicos).
This new ritual Passover meal celebrated by Jesus the High Priest was the first Mass.
When we have any Mass therefore, we are re-enacting this Last Supper of Jesus, the Slaughter of the Lamb on the Cross on Good Friday, and his Resurrection at Easter. The ‘bread’ we eat at Holy Communion is this ‘unleavened bread’ of the Jewish Passover and we believe that it is also the flesh of the new Pascal Lamb – Jesus. Therefore the Mass is the new Passover Meal where we Passover from the slavery of this world (rather than Egypt) and death to a new promised land (heaven) and eternal life.
The structure of a normal Mass is basically
- Entrance and asking forgiveness
- Recalling of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem by singing the song the angels sang at the time – the Gloria
- Readings from Scripture
- Homily explaining the Scripture
- Offertory of gifts to the altar
- The extra Prayers Jesus said at the Last Supper and prayer for the Church
- Our Father and preparation for Holy Communion
Tonight’s Mass – Mass of the Last Supper
Obviously, as Thursday is the night before the Jewish Passover, the Mass tonight is a little special as it coincides in the calendar with the day of Jesus’ last supper and the Jewish Passover now. For this reason, certain things are added to the Mass tonight only:
- Bells ring during the Gloria
- Special readings about the night of the Last Supper and the beginning of Jesus’ arrest and suffering
- Washing of feet (to emphasize the importance of service in our lives – that we should serve others, and in recognition that we should cleanse ourselves before God by confession and penance and sacrifice)
- At end of the Mass, the altar is stripped and the Communion Hosts are taken to another place for us to contemplate the Garden of Gethsemane and the arrest of Jesus apart from his disciples. The stripping of the altars is symbolic of the stripping of the clothes and dignity of Jesus by the guards.
This Mass is therefore the beginning of the 3 days of Easter, Good Friday is part 2 where Jesus is crucified, and Easter Saturday is part 3 when he rose from the dead as he prophesied.
Therefore at the end of the Mass tonight, it’s all quiet and silent as if it’s just a pause/interlude with part 2 to continue tomorrow.
In Rome, Pope Francis will begin this Easter Triduum by celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday at a yet to be disclosed site. In 2018 this place was the Roman prison of Regina Coeli. During this Mass, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates.
For pilgrims remaining in Rome, they can experience the Mass of Our Lord’s Last Supper in English at the Basilica of San Camillo de Lellis at 5:30pm. Catholics can also receive confession in English at this Basilica before the Mass from 4:30pm until 5:15pm. For a general listing of Mass in English in Rome please follow the link.
4. Easter in Rome: Good Friday – Liturgy of the Crucifixion
Good Friday commemorates the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Catholics recall his Passion, his judgement by the authorities, his carrying of his Cross up to his place of execution, and his final death on the hill at Golgotha outside Jerusalem’s walls. It is an extremely poignant and moving time for those who believe that Jesus was dying for each of us in an act of love and reparation for things we have done wrong in our own personal lives.
Liturgically, Good Friday in Rome can be split into two events. The Good Friday Liturgy with the Pope in St Peter’s Square, and the Stations of the Cross (Via Crucis) with the Pope at the Coliseum.
Good Friday Liturgy
The second day of the Triduum, this liturgy recalls the Passion and Death of Jesus. Those who have watched Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of Christ’ or who are familiar with the Gospels may already know it, but for those who don’t this Liturgy consists primarily of the recalling of the events of Good Friday with an enactment of the Scripture.
This then culminates with the Veneration/Adoration of the Cross where Catholic process to and kiss the wood of the cross. Just as the fruit of our damnation hung from the wood of the tree in the Garden of Eden, so the fruit of our salvation hung from the wood of the cross on Good Friday. Symbolically therefore the Cross (or as St Paul calls it, “the Tree”) is actually the Tree of Life spoken of in Genesis<footnote>Genesis 2:9</footnote>.
Although the Good Friday liturgy usually begins at 3pm throughout the world, in Rome, the Papal Good Friday liturgy will begin at 5pm in St Peter’s Basilica.
Later that evening, the Pope will then journey to the Coliseum (aka Colosseum) – the place of so many early Christian martyrdoms – and make the public Way of the Cross (Via Crucis). In 2020 this will begin at the Coliseum at 9:15pm on Good Friday – 3 April 2020. No tickets are required.
5. Easter in Rome: The Wood of the Cross
In the 4th Century, the mother of Emperor Constantine, St Helena, collected a vast array of the relics of the Passion of Christ. She then transported them back to Rome for safekeeping and for veneration by Christians.
Relics rescued by St Helena include the Holy Steps (the steps that Jesus ascended in judgement by Pontius Pilate), a Nail of the Crucifixion, two Thorns of the Crown of Thorns, fragments of the cave of the Holy Sepulchre and the cave of the Nativity, a small walnut board reading “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”, and Wood of the Cross of the Crucifixion. Why not partake in our PASSION OF CHRIST TOUR during the day to contemplate these objects on the very day that commemorates their awful use.
In Catholic Tradition, the Wood of the Cross has the same degree of reverence shown to it as the Blessed Sacrament and the faithful perform a double genuflection before it.
6. Easter in Rome: The Via Crucis / Way of the Cross / Stations of the Cross
Like Simon of Cyrene, we too journey with Christ as he carries his Cross to Calvary sharing in his Passion and Death. The Via Crucis commemorates this journey and in Rome the Pope gathers with huge numbers of pilgrims to perform this devotional liturgy (not part of the Triduum Liturgy) in the evening of Good Friday.
Involving a candle lit procession and an address by the Holy Father, the event takes place at the Coliseum in Rome where many Christians were martyred at the hands of the Romans during the persecutions before Constantine.
The event begins with Pope Francis at 9:15pm on Good Friday at the Coliseum and no tickets are required.
7. Easter in Rome: Holy Vigil on Easter Saturday
For those spending Easter in Rome, the Holy Vigil liturgy on Easter Saturday is the climax of the Christian Liturgical Calendar and the highlight of their visit to the Eternal City.
The Easter Vigil is the final part of the Easter Triduum Liturgy. It commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the 3rd day. The format of the Easter Vigil Liturgy is as follows:
- The Service of Light – the people congregate outside of the Church around a blazing fire signifying the burning love of God. From it, the Paschal Candle is lit signifying Jesus as the Light of the World – the Alpha and Omega (First and Last) that dispels all darkness. From there, the Candle leads the procession of the faithful into the church, signifying Christ leading his people like a Pillar of Fire through the shifting waters of this world and the desert of our lives, into the promised land of heaven.
- The Exultet – this ancient hymn dating in Rome from the 4th of 5th century (introduced by Pope Zosimus d. 26/12/418) is sung before the Paschal candle.
- Then the Liturgy of the Word begins with 7 readings of the Jewish Old Testament and 2 readings from the Christian New Testament.
- The great Alleluia is then sung before the Gospel. This word has been banned for the entirety of Lent and this proclamation now signals the great Joy of Easter and the Good News that Christ’s Resurrection brings about.
- Liturgy of Baptism – at this point we recall the association of Christ’s death and resurrection with the sacrament of baptism. Just as we descend into Christ’s tomb with him in death when we descend into the waters of baptism, so too when we rise from them we rise with Christ into a new life. Just as the Jewish people passed through the waters of the Red Sea to escape bondage and enter the promised land, so too do Christians pass through the waters of baptism to escape the slavery of sin. It is at this time in the liturgy, that those who have been undergoing instruction for becoming Catholics are formally received into the Church and all renew their Baptismal Promises.
- Finally, we enter into the stage of the Liturgy of the Eucharist where the Last Supper, Cross and Resurrection are made present in the Blessed Sacrament. Following Holy Communion, we are dismissed in the Joy of Easter.
For those spending Easter in Rome, the climax of the Easter Triduum and the Liturgical Year takes place in St Peter’s Basilica with Pope Francis at 8:30pm on Easter Saturday – 4 April 2020. Tickets are required but are always free.
8. Easter in Rome: Easter Sunday Mass
Although Easter has officially begun, the Easter Sunday Mass is a great way to share that joy and experience it once again. Perhaps the most beautiful time of the year with the altar bursting with colour and glory, the Easter Sunday Mass is always spectacular.
For those enjoying Easter in Rome, they can attend the Easter Sunday Mass with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square at 10am. Tickets are required but are free of charge. However, beware – it tends to also rain at this time!!!
9. Urbi et Orbi Papal Blessing
The term Urbi et Orbi means “for the city and for the world” and is used to describe the solemn papal blessing that occurs at 12 noon on Easter Sunday. At this time, Pope Francis appears at St Peter’s Square and blesses the people present, the city and the world.
Why not check out our pilgrim tours page to deepen your understanding of the Faith and Rome and this holiest time of year…
If you really want to be ahead of the game, then also consider being in Rome at the start of Lent – Ash Wednesday 2020 when the Pope will celebrate Mass at 17:30 at the Dominican Basilica of St Sabina. Tickets are required but are free. You may also consider combining this with our St Benedict in Rome Tour which also includes this ancient Basilica as part of the many wonderful and poignant places to visit.