Celebrating Holy Week 2016 at the Vatican

While not yet officially confirmed, Pope Francis will reportedly wash the feet of refugees during this year’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

Pope Francis venerates the cross at the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday in St. Peter's Basilica on April 3, 2015.
Pope Francis venerates the cross at the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday in St. Peter's Basilica on April 3, 2015. (photo: L'Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will reportedly break from his usual practice on Holy Thursday by washing the feet of refugees rather than prisoners during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this year.

The Vatican has yet to confirm the news, first reported in America, but if true, it will be the first time the Pope performs the washing-of-the-feet ritual since he issued an instruction to allow “all the people of God” to take part, not only men.

But during the previous three Masses of the Lord’s Supper since his election, Francis visited prisons, where he washed the feet of women detainees as well as Muslims.

The rest of Holy Week at the Vatican is likely to proceed similarly to previous years.

On March 20, Pope Francis will celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, where he will bless the palms and olive branches at the end of the opening procession and celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Passion.

As is customary, he will also issue the XXXI World Youth Day message (this is directed at the local level, in contrast to the international World Youth Day event that will take place this July in Krakow, Poland). This year’s theme is “Blessed Are the Merciful, for They Will Be Shown Mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

In the morning of Holy Thursday, he will celebrate the chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, concelebrated with cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and priests present in Rome. He will then celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the evening.

The Holy Father will preside at the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday, during which the papal preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, will deliver the homily. He will then be driven across Rome to the Colosseum, where he will host the Via Crucis and address the faithful at the end, imparting his apostolic blessing.


Station of the Cross Meditations

This year’s meditations for the Stations of the Cross have been written by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, archbishop of Perugia.

In a March 16 interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Bassetti said he chose the title “God Is Mercy” for this year’s meditations. He said the Way of the Cross as well as the Year of Mercy “speak to all men and women of today who seem to me more and more lonely and confused, inserted into a society in continuous movement that rapidly consumes everything — goods, affections and desires — and that seems to have lost both the notion of sin and truth.”

People today, he said, “seem to me dramatically unhappy and suffering.”

He highlighted how there is currently the “visible suffering” seen in the poor, the migrant, the sick, the alone and the abandoned. “But at the same time, we meet rich men who seem to have everything, but, in reality, have nothing — they live an empty life and, in some cases, even desire death. As someone once wrote, evil, therefore, can also be ‘banal,’ but Jesus on the cross gives another meaning to life and shows a different path: that of conversion.”

Cardinal Bassetti said he will make many references to the magisterium and draw on the teachings of John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. But more important than quotes, he said he has tried to “speak to the human heart.”

“In every station, I have tried to make reference to current events,” he said, adding that he refers to the “new martyrs” who are being killed for being Christian, migrants and refugees and the scourge of violence against children. “When I wrote those lines, I had the feeling I wasn’t using a pen and a piece of paper, but a chisel on a piece of marble, so much was the suffering in the face of these plagues.”

Cardinal Bassetti said the first (Christ’s exchange with Pilate), fourth (Jesus’ encounter with his mother) and 11th (Crucifixion) stations affected him most when writing them. All three, he said, are linked by the “dimension of power”: the “political power” of Pilate, the “generating” power of Mary and the “divine power” of the cross.


Easter Celebrations

The Easter vigil will begin at 8:30pm in St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Mass will be concelebrated with cardinals, bishops and priests. This will be followed by Easter morning Mass in St. Peter’s Square and the papal blessing urbi et orbi (“to the city of Rome and to the world”).

During the Easter Octave, the Pope will lead the Jubilee Prayer Vigil in St. Peter’s Square on April 2 for those devoted to the spirituality of Divine Mercy, followed by celebrating the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square on April 3.

All of the ceremonies will be available for live-streaming on the Vatican YouTube channel as well as EWTN. The Via Crucis on Good Friday, Easter Sunday Mass and the urbi et orbi blessing and message from St. Peter’s Square will also be live-streamed with audio commentaries in English and Spanish at: CTV.va/content/ctv/it/worldtelecast/mondovisione-marzo-2016.html.


Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy