Sunday, 8 April 2012

Happy Easter & mass at St. Peters

Hello everyone. First I need to wish everyone a very Happy Easter and second to apologize for being so long in posting. I was going to work on sharing some events that are now part of the history of my experiences in Rome and the surrounding area. Instead I absolutely must share the events of today as it has been more than life changing and is more than memorable. Words just can not describe how unbelieveable today was for me. I am still in awe and disbelief. So without further delay here is my day.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day in Umbria with Barbara, her husband, Paolo and Monali who is from India. The plan for this mornings event was to head to St. Peter's to experience a mass with the Pope. More specifically an Easter Mass with the Pope. Barbara and Paolo had made arrangements for tickets to the event so I was thinking that we would be somewhere down in the square, closer to the fencing and this would be where I would experience the ceremony. It couldn't have been further from the reality of my experience.

Paolo insisted on picking us up from Ponte Bionco so we met our hosts at the bottom of the hill and headed towards Vatican City in their car. Before I can even process what is happening we are driving through a guarded gate and into the heart of Vatican City. I am in an area that tourists and siteseers have no access. I can't believe it. Monali and I are of the same mind, pinch me please as I can't believe that I am really here inside Vatican City. Paolo drives around the basillica and parks. Monali and I pretty much jump and fall out of the car with our mouths open. Paolo opens the trunk of the car to get an umbrella and I explain that there is no need that I am sure that it is not going to rain on us, even though the sky is very overcast and it has been raining for 2 days. He says that if he gets wet it is my fault and once again I explaing that this is not going to happen. He closes the hatch and we turn around to begin our walk through the gardens towards the basillica.

In front of us is what was once an old train station. The building is now used as a sort of department store for the people working, living and/or staying in the Vatican. The gardens are lush and green, some of the fountains are bubbling water. I turn to Barbara and tease her about them being her fountains. Yes she says, she has over 100 inside the walls. This is going to be a walking tour with her for another day.

I turn around and there is the back of St. Peter's as Michaelangelo intended it to be. It is in the shape of a Greek cross which has each of the arms the same length. This was his vision and intention of what the basillica should look like when finished. I find out from Paolo that when Carlo Maderno took over the completion of the bulding of the basilica, he extend the nave east elongating it so that the interior plan became a Latin Cross. Also with the change, you can not view the interior of the dome of Michaelangelo from the crypt. What is left is the familiar facade known around the world as the entrance to St. Peter's, but it is not the one envisioned by Michaleangelo.

Instead I am looking at the great masters work from a view point that I could never have dreamed I would be blessed to see. There are statues in recesses all around the building as we walk down to enter the basillica. Barbara informs me that they are not ancient, but new statues. Gifts from various countries from around the world. Still in awe she stops us to point out a specific flower garden. It is really beautiful. She explains that the flowers form the crest of Benedict XVI and that it is clearly visible from the top of the cupola of the dome. We stop at another building that is an ancient church from the 1st century. This was the church used by pilgrams from Africa long ago and funny enough the place where Barbara and Paolo were married. This calls for a picture to make the momemt.

We continue walking around the barrel of the basillica and before I know what is happening we are entering it through a back door. How many times in ones lifetime, mine, do I have the opportunity to be inside St. Peter's basically alone. There are no pushing tourists, screaming, running children, there is just the interior of this most amazing and majestic building. One of a kind in the world. Priests, cardinals, bishops and Nuns are moving about getting ready for the mass. My mouth is hanging on the ground as it feels like I have the whole building to myself. Monali once again says pinch me as I can't believe that I am here. Paolo and Barbara are casually strolling through the building, this is not their first time to experience a moment like this and will not be their last. As we wander around the interior taking pictures they ask to be excused and go to wish the head of the Swiss Guard, a friend, Bona Pasqua, Happy Easter.
We are slowly moving through the basillica towards one of  the main gates which will lead us out onto the diasis where the mass willl be performed. All of a sudden the giant pipe organ comes to life. The sound fills the building and is so beautiful. I am moved almost to tears as this is something more than I could have ever hoped for to experience. I ask Barbara if the organ will be played during the mass and she says that it will and that yes the people in the square will be able to hear and experience the music. As we draw nearer to the exit we pass by Michaelangelo's Pieta. There is a screen blocking the area and Barbara explains to me that this is where the Pope will remove his vestments before heading to the Papal balcony to give the Easter blessing and wish everyone a Happy Easter in every language of the world.
We step outside and were now overlooking the square and collonnade which is beginning to fill with people. The cardinals are seated with many other clergy to the right. We will be seated to the left one row from the front and about 20 feet from the alter where the mass will be held. OMG am I really here! The diasis is covered with beautiful flowers and plants. There are 4 vases each holding the same flower arrangement and of particular interest to me, peach coloured roses which were my Mom's favorite. The head of the Vatican police greats Barbara and Paolo and we are asked to be seated. Our seats are to the left of the alter. Paolo is seated in the front row just slightly behind the alter. Monali and I are seated next one row behind and one seat from the end of the second row which has a black trench coat covering it. Barbara is seated directly behind us and then is eventually moved to the front row and seated beside her husband. People within our section are standing up and taking pictures, talking and looking around. Wow.

There are crisp white booklets on each seat with the service contents inside, all 79 pages including the music and I mean the score of what will be sung. The mass will be in Latin. At 10 am the bells of St. Peter begin to toll. The mass in about to begin. The Swiss Guard enter first and take up various positions on the diasis and at the gates leading into the basiliica that are now closed. The processional begins with candles and the cross. Cardinals, bishops and monsienurs lead the way with the Pope following at the rear. He crosses the top section of the diasis and hands his large staff with the cross to an assistant, then 2 clergy assist the Pope in decending the staircase walking down the red  carpet to the alter. I am not sure what I expected, I thought that he was taller and much more vibrant. Instead he is this very small, very fragile old man who in some ways seems to be carrying the weight of the world. I just want to give him a hug. Strange reaction I know, but that is how I felt. He is once again helped up the stairs to the alter and takes the crozier with the incence and the ceremony has begun. I won't go through all of the details as I know that the mass was televised around the world. I will tell you that the music and singing were angelic and sublime. The experience beyond words even though I have tried to share the moment with you, I really don't think that I will ever really be able to describe the feelings. It still brings me close to tears and I feel incredibly verclempt. There are no words in any language that can express my thanks to Barbara and Paolo for taking me on this journey and allowing me to be part of such a moving and life transforming event. All I can say is thank you and Bona Pasqua.


I apologize for the order of the pictures but no matter how hard I try this program will not allow me to put them where I really want them!


  1. What an amazing experience, unimaginable really - yes, even for me. TV doesn't quite cut it. Moments in history have to be experienced in real time.

  2. My entire catholic family is so very envious that you were able to have this fantastic experience during your trip.

  3. Quite the experience, June. Wow. Should we be preparing the baptismal gown for you when you get home? (just kidding)

    Do you get a sense of the tradition and continuity of the Mass for almost 2000 years (since on the road to Emmaus, Catholics would claim)?

  4. holy smokes. this just hit me as I looked more closely at your photos. You took pictures of the POPE saying the Easter Liturgy at St. Peters. Holy, holy, holy smokes. I thought my inner heritage Catholic was totally dormant but she (and I) am impressed.