VATICAN CITY — Amid the buzz created by Pope’s Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will retire, it could be easy to miss the fact that his last public Mass as Pope will be on Ash Wednesday and not in the normal location for the first day of Lent.
“It’s very clear that St. Peter’s is a much bigger church than Santa Sabina in Aventino, so, for a celebration in which we expect there will be a lot of faithful, bishops and cardinals who wish to be present to pray together with the Pope, St. Peter’s Basilica was chosen spontaneously,” Father Federico Lombardi told Catholic News Agency Feb. 12.
“It’s a natural motive of space, and it’s also necessary to bear in mind that this will probably be the last big liturgical celebration, the last Mass, presided over by the Pope with the cardinals."
“So, it’s normal that it occurs in his church, in St. Peter’s Basilica,” the Vatican spokesman said.
Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to preside over the traditional Lenten Stations of the Cross at Sant’ Anselmo Church, followed by a procession to Santa Sabina Basilica on Rome’s Aventine Hill.
The traditional procession is composed of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, the Benedictine monks of Sant’ Anselmo, the Dominican friars of Santa Sabina and laypeople.
As the Pope, cardinals, bishops and faithful make their way between the two churches, they sing the Litany of the Saints.
When they arrive at Santa Sabina, the Pope celebrates Mass, receives ashes and places them on the foreheads of those who come forward to receive them.
The practice of beginning the Lenten season of prayer and penance has begun this way since Pope John XXIII first started the tradition in 1961.
The Pope will also hold a general audience on Feb. 27 and recite the Angelus from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter’s Square two more times before he retires.