Easter in the Vatican
Last updated: 8 April 2019
As a Vatican resident, Easter is my favorite time of year when the Vatican team of groundsmen, gardeners and florists work day and night to cover the front of St. Peter’s Basilica with brightly colored blooms. It’s glorious stepping out on Easter Sunday morning for Church to the brilliant mass of color! Here are all the details of dates and times and what to expect from someone who has been participating in these celebrations for over ten years. Ticket orders for all Papal events need to be requested by fax or post from the Prefecture.
Easter Week starts this coming Sunday (April 14) on Palm Sunday with a Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Square. There is also a beautiful procession of the Cardinals and many priests and pilgrims alike will be carrying palms to be blessed by the Holy Father. Most of the congregation will be offered palms on the way into Mass. The Procession and the Blessing of the Palms, and of course Holy Mass, will begin at 9.30am, followed by the Angelus at midday. Palm Sunday 2019 is the 34th World Youth Day, a tradition established by Saint Pope John Paul II. Hence Pope Francis will read a special message to the world’s youth during the Angelus on the theme, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1: 38). At the end of Angelus prayer and reflection, he will no doubt wish everyone a “Buon Pranzo” (have a good lunch), just as he does every Sunday! It’s a very festive time to be in St. Peter’s Square, surpassed only by Easter Sunday.
As a side note, Sydney hosted World Youth Day in 2008 and Madrid followed in 2011. So, two days after I converted to Catholicism in St. Peter’s Basilica on 3 April 2009, on the steps of the same Basilica - in front of Pope Benedict XVI and all the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square - I was blessed to be part of the contingent of Australian youth who handed over the World Youth Day Cross to the Spanish youth. As a new Catholic, all I could think was, “I’m not worthy” but at the same time I was so filled with joy to be a part of this special event in the Church’s calendar celebrated by young people all across the world.
Anyway, back to 2019!
Wednesday General Audience
The best chance to get up close and personal with Pope Francis over the Easter period will be either on Wednesday, April 10th or 17th, at the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square. You’ll need to line up early because the Vatican gates open at 7:30am and the Pope starts his tour of the square in the Popemobile about 9:30am. It’s lots of fun but be ready for some pushing as people try to get close to the Pope. He’s like a rockstar for nuns and diehard Catholics alike! The Gospel reflection is read aloud in many languages including English and it’s all over by about 11:30am. FYI there are restrooms available and do take some water, a snack and definitely an umbrella. It always rains over Easter in Rome!
Holy or Maundy Thursday (April 18th) commemorates Christ's Last Supper and is celebrated by a Chrism Mass at 9.30am inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Later that day, at about 5:30pm, the Pope will lead the Church of Rome into the Paschal Triduum by celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (historically held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran). For the last year two years, Pope Francis celebrated this Mass inside prisons, last year at the “Regina Coeli” Prison in Trastevere, Rome and the year before at a prison about 50km away from Rome. To commemorate the bathing of the apostles’ feet by Jesus, he bathed the feet of 12 prisoners (nine men and three women). In 2016, the Pope celebrated the Mass at Castelnuovo di Porto - in the outer suburbs of Rome - at a home for refugees and asylum seekers. It is still unknown at the the time of posting where the Pope will commemorate the Mass of Lord’s Supper this year. We’ll find out inext week!
The solemn Good Friday service will be held in St. Peter’s Basilica at 5:00pm on April 19th. Pope Francis will lead the Passion of Christ in the Basilica, which includes Veneration of the Cross and the rite of Holy Communion. He will wear crimson-colored vestments to commemorate the suffering of Jesus. In past years the Holy Father has prayed barefoot and prostrate on the ground as a sign of penance. Later that evening, about 9:15pm, he will participate in one of the most spectacular events over the Easter Triduum, the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum. Imagine a torch-lit procession against a backdrop of ancient ruins on the Palatine Hill. It’s quite eerie listening to the prayers of the 14 Stations of the Cross, remembering Jesus’ last moments in a place where many thousands lost their lives.
The Easter Vigil Mass will be held on Saturday evening at 8:30pm inside St. Peter’s Basilica. In this Church and many others, new converts are traditionally baptized and welcomed into the Catholic Church. While it very much adds to the joy of the celebration, it also makes for quite a long Mass. So pilgrims coming to this Mass may be lining up from about 5:30pm and be there until about 10:30pm. But it’s so worth it!
Another option to celebrate Easter with the Pope is to be in St. Peter’s Square for 10.00am Sunday Mass. There will be huge crowds so get there early! As he does every Easter after Mass, the Pope will go up to the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square to deliver his Urbi et Orbi message “to the city and the world”. When all the formalities are complete, there is another treat to look forward to. The Swiss Guards, the Vatican Gendarmes and Papal Band who have been standing to attention since prior to the start of Mass, will march out of the square to triumphant music. As a proud Swiss Guard wife, my heart skips a beat when I see the guards marching through the square. I hope to see you there!
If you want to be able to walk out your door and be at St. Peter’s Square in one to five minutes, here are my top local hotels (in alphabetical order because I love them all):
Hotel della Conciliazione: 4 star hotel in Borgo Pio between the Vatican and Castle St. Angelo. Chic option with free wifi and ample buffet breakfast.
Il Cantico: 3 star hotel in Via del Cottolengo (800m). Upmarket 3 star with scenic dining.
Hotel Atlante Star: 4 star hotel in Via G. Vitelleschi between the Vatican and Castle St. Angelo. Chic option with free wifi and ample buffet breakfast. Spectacular 6th floor Roof Garden overlooking Vatican City.
Sant’Anna Hotel: 3 star hotel in Borgo Pio very close to the Vatican. Pretty rooms in a 16th century palace, often with balconies overlooking the Borgo or quiet internal courtyard. Very good breakfast.
Starhotels Michelangelo: 4 star hotel between St. Peter’s train station and the Vatican. Stately hotel with a restaurant and nice lobby bar.
Be prepared for many restaurants and businesses to be closed on Easter Sunday and Monday since the Monday is also an Italian National Holiday known as ‘ Pasquetta’ (little Easter) and traditionally spent with family. Here are a few of my local favorite eating spots and takeaways that will be open over Easter, in addition to the hotels listed above which obviously have kitchens going across the long weekend. And keep an eye out, you might just bump into some off-duty Swiss Guards! You’ll need to book all lunches and dinners over the Easter weekend if you don’t want to be turned away and forced to eat at the tourist traps.
1-5 minutes walk from the Vatican:
Da Romolo: newly renovated upstairs and downstairs with good quality pizza and pasta, with a view of the famous ‘Passetto’ (passageway from the Vatican to Castle St. Angelo). Tel. +39 06 6861603
I Quattro Mori Hostaria: Fixed seafood menu. The plates just keep coming. Don’t eat beforehand and say hi to owner Fabio for me! Tel. + 39 06 6390195
Isola della Pizza: a favorite pizza, pasta and steak hangout for the Swiss Guards. Great for large groups. Tel. +39 06 39733483
La Vittoria: Food is a little touristy but always reliable. Order the cacio pepe (Roman specialty of spaghetti with sheep’s cheese and pepper). Tel. +39 06 631858
Pastasciutta: Fresh pasta and sauces for takeaway. The pasta is usually made only hours before and it’s only 6 euros per serve! Tel. +39 333 6503758
Pizza Alice: Large variety of pizza by the slice for takeaway. Next door to Pastascuitta. Try the spicy eggplant! Tel. +39 06 6875746
Ris Cafè Pub: Great for burgers and beers. Tel. +39 06 39754330
Ristorante Tre Pupazzi: Always one of the top restaurants within walking distance of the Vatican (extra Portugese menu on Friday and Saturday nights). Tel. +39 06 6880 3220
5-10 minutes walk from the Vatican:
Ristochicco: Delicious, large servings of pasta. Also great cheese plates! Tel. +39 06 6889 2321
Taberna de’ Gracchi: Classic yet elegant, old-fashioned Roman eatery. Set menu for Easter which will blow your mind. Book it! Tel. +39 06 321 3126