Easter Mass with 150,000 fellow believers. While traveling, I am often in awe at the beauty of what I get to see and experience. Easter at the Vatican, which I have been able to attend twice now, inspires a different sense of wonder to be in a place with so many people united in peace and belief.
Easter at the Vatican
Easter is the greatest feast in the Christian calendar. On this Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For Catholics, Easter Sunday comes at the end of 40 days of prayer & fasting known as Lent. In the simplest of explanations – through spiritual struggle and self-denial, we have prepared ourselves to die spiritually with Christ on Good Friday, the day of His Crucifixion, so that we can rise again with him in the new life of Easter.
My first Easter at the Vatican was in 2006. My friend and I woke up very early to get to the Vatican as it was Pope Benedict’s first Easter celebration. The second time was 2014 for the second Easter mass by the very popular Pope Francis which I was able to attend after Good Friday services at the Colosseum. 2014 was a very busy Holy Week in Rome as two popes, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were canonized and declared saints.
What to Expect
Crowds, crowds and more crowds.
Anyone who has traveled with me knows that I generally try to avoid crowds, but this is Easter Sunday and the ONE mass at the Vatican on Easter. However, both masses were some of the more orderly and peaceful gatherings of a large amount of people and it was very easy entrance and exit due to the amounts of entry/exits from St. Peter’s Plaza. The square holds ~80,000 people, but people will also be situated farther down the main street leading to St. Peter’s. In 2014, it was estimated that the crowd was ~150,000.
Walking towards St. Peter’s square, you will be in a rush of people pouring into the square from all directions and especially the subway. Easter Mass starts at 10:15am, but you will need to be there very early in order to get near the front and also to get one of the limited seats. The mass is held outdoors in the square. An altar with a canopy is placed on the steps leading up the St. Peter’s Basilica.
There are a small amount of folding chairs put out in the square – some are reserved and the rest are first come/first serve. To enter the square, you will need to go through a metal detector, but you can bring water bottles and it is a very quick and easy checkpoint. The gates to the square and the metal detector checkpoint do not open until ~8am – 8:30am however people will be in a clumpy line as early as 6am. In 2006, we arrived by 7am and secured a seat near the front of the square. In 2014, I arrived about an hour before mass and it was standing room only near the back. There are large monitors setup on either side also to view the Pope.
Both times I attended Easter mass at the Vatican, I did not have a ticket. I did have a ticket for the Papal Audience which occurs on Wednesday, but they never checked or asked for it. That being said, click here for instructions on how to secure tickets to insure you can attend these events with tickets secured in case they do ask to see the ticket. All tickets are FREE through the Embassy of the Holy See, your local Bishop’s office or the Swiss guards, though having a ticket does not guarantee that you will get a seat or access, so show up early.
Easter Mass at the Vatican
With the logistics out of the way, Easter Mass at the Vatican is one of the most peaceful and spiritual events you will experience, even with 150,000 other people. If you are near the front of St. Peter’s square, the Pope and other priests will still appear as little specs as St. Peter’s is a huge space. The mass is said in Latin. If you are Catholic and attended mass 1-6 times a week as I did in Catholic grade school, you will know all the parts of the mass and be able to follow along.
The most awe-inspiring thing about this mass is that everyone is focused on the Pope and his words, although I am sure many like me could not understand Latin. At least around my areas of the square, all that could be heard was the Latin words on a soft breeze in the square. At one point, I looked back into the crowds of thousands of people behind me and saw them all looking up at the Pope and about 15 different country flags blowing in the wind, united in belief.
Communion is available towards the front of the crowd.
At the conclusion of the mass, a blessing is said in 65 different languages!
- Be early: Arrive early if you want to be near the front or the aisles.
- Meeting the Pope: The Pope did not go around the square in the Popemobile at the Easter Mass. The Pope did use the Popemobile and stopped and greeted visitors at the Wednesday Papal Audience. Try to be near the large white wooden barricades for a chance to meet the Pope. When I was there, Pope Francis stopped and took pictures and tried on someones baseball hat for a picture.
- Dress code: Visitors should remember that there is a strictly enforced dress code for entering St. Peter’s Basilica — shoulders must be covered, even if with just a shawl, and shorts are not allowed. Women’s pants, skirts or dress must reach the knees. The rules are relaxed for a general audience outdoors in St. Peter’s Square.