There is nothing like attending Mass in St. Peter’s Square. It’s the stuff bucket lists are made of. Packed inside the little area are thousands of people from all over the world. And when it’s Easter week in Rome, it will be especially busy at the Vatican.
Pope Francis is certainly now a fixture in Rome and in the Catholic Church, but the newness of a pope isn’t what draws thousands to Vatican City for Easter. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside, Easter in Rome constitutes one of the city’s peak tourist seasons.
It’s important to note that some of these events, especially those with seating, require tickets in advance. While these are not easy to come by, your best bet is to check with the Prefecture of the Papal Household. Here are the Easter Week dates for 2016.
March 20: Palm Sunday
Start the week of services with this special event to kick off Holy Week in Rome. This papal Mass takes place at St. Peter’s Square at 9:30 a.m. The service includes the Blessing of the Palms, Procession and Holy Mass. Oftentimes the pope will dedicate a portion of time to send a special message to the world’s youth.
March 24: Holy Thursday
Beginning at 9:30 a.m. at St. Peter’s Basilica, this Chrism Mass is a special event since morning Mass is not the norm. Hours later, at 5:30 p.m., at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, there is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and beginning of the Paschal Triduum. This mass commemorates Christ bathing the feet of the apostles.
March 25: Good Friday
Expect the crowds to really take shape today and continue to pick up steam the entire weekend. At 5 p.m. at St. Peter’s Basilica, the papal Mass takes place, celebrating the passion of the lord. Then, at 9:15 p.m. at the Colosseum, there is the Way of the Cross, during which the pope leads a torch-lit procession of the faithful through the Stations of the Cross from the Colosseum to Palatine Hill. At each station of the cross, there are prayers. Other than Easter Sunday’s Mass, this event is one of the most spectacular to attend.
March 26: Holy Saturday
Get a spot early for this event, the papal Mass and Easter Vigil, which begins at 8:30 p.m at St. Peter’s Basilica. During this Mass, those who have converted are accepted into the church.
March 27: Easter Sunday
There are two morning services today. The first, the Easter Sunday Mass, is at Saint Peter’s Square at 10:15 a.m. Then, at noon, is the “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and the World”) message and blessing. By far, this is the crowning glory of all of the services. The pope takes center stage and addresses the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Amongst the historic structures, he stands from his balcony overlooking the Vatican and speaks to visitors (of all all faiths) in attendance (and those watching along on television).
Sticking around after Easter? Note that the Monday after Easter — known as Pasquetta, or Little Easter, in Italy — is also a national holiday, and a popular day for young people to take picnics into the countryside with friends (having spent the weekend holidays with family).