24 April 2011

LIFE: Celebrating Easter at the Vatican

SARONNO, Italy - For the past few days  the Italian television airwaves have been taken over by the religious Easter festivities in Rome. Here in Italy the celebrations  officially start on Holy Thursday with the Mass of Chrism, (holy anointing oil).  This mass includes the reading of the Passion, which  chronicles Jesus’ capture, suffering and death. 

Later in the day, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Pope Benedict XVI will wash the feet of 12 men, following the tradition of Jesus and his Apostles. Both masses mark Christ's founding of the priesthood at the Last Supper on the night before he died.

 The Vatican, Rome
  On Good Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion in 33AD, the Pope says mass in the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano). St. John’s was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity and St. John’s is the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. It is known as Omnium urbis et orbis Ecclessarium Mater et Caput – the Cathedral of Rome and of the World.   

On Friday evening the Pope leads a torch-lit procession from the Colosseum to Palatine Hill (Via Crucis Procession), and at predesignated stops, they recite the prayers appropriate for each of the Stations of the Cross.

The Easter Vigil mass at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica will start at 9PM on Saturday night. No lights will be lit. The Basilica will be shrouded in darkness until Pope Benedict XVI enters. He will be carrying a long, white Paschal, a special Easter candle decorated with gold leaf. 

Pope Benedict XVI carrying the Paschal candle
From the single flame of the Paschal, twelve candles are lit and from those twelve, hundreds of other smaller candles will be lit, one by one,  until the entire church is bathe in candlelight. As the candles are being lit, the Pope will proceed to the altar and begin Mass by saying: 
Brothers, on this most holy of nights, in which Jesus Christ our Lord passed from the depths of death to life, the Church, in every part of the world, calls on its children to keep watch and pray.” 

He will be dressed in a gold robe, called a chasuble, with a white and gold stole around his neck. On his head will be a precious gold and white mitre encrusted with jewels. Versions of the chasuble and the mitre were part of the normal clothing worn by the Romans in the early days of Christianity, and were adopted by Christian clerics.  The Romans wore hats that were very similar in style to the mitre, and the chasuble is simply a variation of the robes worn throughout the Roman Empire. 

The colors of the Pope’s chasuble and mitre are important as colors represent qualities such as virtue and holiness.  The gold color of the Pope’s chasuble symbolizes what is precious and valuable. It also symbolizes majesty, joy and celebration, and because of its brightness, metallic gold, like that found on the Pope’s mitre, symbolizes the presence of God. 

Under the chasuble he is wearing a white robe. You can see part of the collar around his neck and the edges of the cuffs under his sleeves. The color white has long symbolized purity, holiness and virtue, as well as respect and reverence. It is used for all high Holy Days and festivals.

  St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
Easter Sunday is joyful. The Vatican altar is filled with flowers in anticipation of the mass that will be said there to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and his Ascension into Heaven. The Pope shares this special day with the thousands of faithful followers who gather in St. Peter’s Square to see him. He stands before the crowd and delivers his message of peace for the Urbi et Orbi (the city and the world).  After the Urbi et Orbi message, which is broadcast throughout the world, the Pope blesses the crowd.  
 Invitation for Holy Saturday Mass
You can participate in all of the Easter events  and and information on how to do that is available on the Vatican web site (www.vatican.va). And it is all free. You do need to make reservations for everything however, including the Sabato Santo (Holy Saturday) mass at the Vatican. 
As you can see, it's free
You can also make a reservation for a Papal audience on the same web site. Some tour operators have been known to charge large amounts of money for a Papal audience, but there is absolutely no charge . Actually you are better off if you organize your own visit.  You just have to do it well in advance as tickets are limited. 

To reserve a place at a Papal audience go to this page of the Vatican website http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/index en.html and click on the “continue” button at the bottom of the page. It will take you to an application form that you can download, fill out and return to the Vatican office. The form must be sent by fax or mail (no email) - the instructions are on the site - and when your application has been processed you will receive instructions regarding your audience and where to pick up your tickets. 

It's a good idea to stay until the end of the audience as that is when the Pope will bless everyone in the audience and those who can’t be there. And if you take your medals and rosary beads and other items to the audience, you can then give them as gifts knowing that they have received the Pope’s personal blessing.
Happy Easter.

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