A Busy Holy Week For Pope Benedict

VATICAN CITY — Benedict XVI’s first Holy Week as Pope will be a reassuring period for the faithful as they once again experience a continuity with Easters past.

Still fresh in people’s minds is the poignant, painful and sad Holy Week and Easter 2005 when the world’s 1 billion Catholics — as well as the faithful of other religions — watched Pope John Paul II, suffering and unable to speak, slowly, agonizingly, bade farewell to the people and Church he so loved.

John Paul’s inability to walk, his labored, sometimes incomprehensible speech at the end, allowed people of faith to enter, to a greater or lesser degree, into the suffering of Jesus Christ, into the Redeemer’s final hours as he fulfilled the mission his Father gave him. No one who saw the televised images — or the photo published later — will ever forget John Paul’s tight grip on the crucifix, pressing it against his forehead, on Good Friday evening as he watched the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum on TV in his private chapel, as he lived his own Via Crucis.

Those images will undoubtedly be in Pope Benedict’s mind this year as he relives Holy Week — not only the historical commemoration of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, his passion, death and resurrection — but recent history, his predecessor’s death on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.

The April 6 meeting with young people in St. Peter’s Square, three days before Palm Sunday Mass and World Youth Day celebrations, again in St. Peter’s Square, marks the start of this sacred period for Benedict XVI (see page 14). The only new event on the Holy Week agenda is a penitential service presided by Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, major penitentiary, in the Holy Father’s name, April 11, at 5:30 p.m. in the Vatican basilica.

Two days later on Holy Thursday, the Roman Curia starts its long Easter break, not returning to work until April 19, the Wednesday after Easter. However, the anniversary of the day a Pope was elected — in Benedict’s case, the same date of April 19 — is always a Vatican holiday so it is likely that the Curia will take advantage of an extra day.

After all, they did lose one holiday with Benedict: A Pope’s name day — the feast day of the saint of his birth name — is always a holiday but as the Vatican already celebrates St. Joseph, no additional day off was given for Joseph Ratzinger.

Benedict is scheduled to preside over all major liturgical events on the Holy Week calendar. On Holy Thursday he will concelebrate the Chrism Mass, with the blessing of the holy oils, at 9:30 a.m. in St. Peter’s and then the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 5:30 that afternoon — only this year he will bring the Mass back to St. John Lateran Basilica.

In recent years, to facilitate matters for the ailing John Paul, that second Mass had been moved to St. Peter’s.

April 14, Good Friday, the Holy Father will preside at the Passion of the Lord at 5 p.m. in the Vatican basilica and at 9:15 p.m. he will lead the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum. He plans to walk the entire 14 stations. At this writing, there is no word on whether the Pope will go to the Vatican basilica to hear confessions as his predecessor did on Good Friday

Nor has it been announced who wrote the meditations for Good Friday’s Way of the Cross. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote some remarkable meditations last year, almost a pre-taste of what his pontificate would focus on. Should you wish to read them, go to the Vatican’s website (vatican.va). Click on “Liturgical Celebrations” then “Easter” then “Holy Week 2006.”

The Easter vigil Mass is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. on Holy Saturday in St. Peter’s Basilica. In recent years, again to facilitate Pope John Paul’s participation, Mass had begun at 8 p.m.

Easter Sunday will be doubly festive this year, marking not only the glorious resurrection of Our Lord but also the 79th birthday of Pope Benedict XVI. Record crowds are expected to participate in his Easter Sunday Mass and hear the blessing and message urbi et orbi (to the city and the world).

Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, will welcome Pope Benedict for a brief period of rest. On Easter Monday, known to Italians as Pasquetta (Little Easter), he will recite the Regina Coeli (which substitutes the Angelus during the Easter season) at noon from this lakeside papal residence. He is set to be in the Vatican on April 19 — the anniversary of his election to the Chair of Peter — for the weekly general audience.

Joan Lewis

writes from Rome.