To say that Easter is important in Rome would be to massively understate the fact and with Pope John Paul’s beatification the following week, there is no doubt that Rome will be brimming with tourists and pilgrims alike come Easter Sunday 2011. We aim to give you a quick guide to getting the best from Easter in Rome and the Vatican Easter masses.

Proceedings start with a Papal mass on Palm Sunday, April 17th. Pope Benedict XVI will lead a blessing of the palms in St. Peter’s Square at 9:30 AM. Since Palm Sunday is World Youth Day as established by Pope John Paul II, the present Pope keeps with tradition, sending an Angelus (or special message) to the youth of the world at 12:00 PM.
Most visitors to Rome during Easter will be keen to be part of an audience with the Pope so if you too want to see Pope Benedict XVI, it’s important to get your name on the list as early as possible for the general audience scheduled for Wednesday 20th at 10:30 AM (arrive at least by 8:30 AM to ensure optimal seating). Tickets are free and must be reserved in advance but if you don’t have the means to book on your own, an easy way to participate in a papal audience is through a tour operator. City Wonders is happy to offer a papal audience reservation service and escorted visit with a qualified tour guide.

Queues at the Vatican

By the time it gets to Easter at the Vatican Holy Thursday on April 21st, Rome will be filled with visitors so make sure to get to mass at the Vatican good and early. Maundy Thursday is one of the few days of the year when the Pope Francis performs an early mass, delivering the Mass of the Chrism in St. Peter’s Basilica at 9:30 AM. A second papal mass later that evening, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, will be held in Basilica of St. John Lateran at 5:30 PM to commemorate Christ’s bathing of the Apostles’ feet.

Good Friday, April 22nd, is always a favourite for visitors to the Vatican. Choirs sing St. John’s version of Christ’s crucifixion in the Vatican Basilica at 5:00 PM. Afterwards the Pope traces the stations of the cross from the Colosseum to the Palatine hill. This solemn, candle-lit procession is an absolute must for any visitor spending Easter in Rome. It begins at 9:15 PM.

At 9:00 PM on Easter Saturday, April 23rd, there will be a Vatican Easter mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, delivered by the Pope. This Easter vigil is traditionally the time when new converts are welcomed into the Catholic Church.

The next morning crowds of people will be lining up from the crack of dawn for the most-attended Vatican Easter mass. Starting from 10:15 AM on Easter Sunday, April 24th, Pope Benedict XVI will deliver the year’s most important mass on the famous balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. At 12:00 PM he will deliver his Urbi et Orbi message, speaking ‘to the city and the world’, and granting forgiveness to those present and Catholics worldwide. While tickets to this event are free, they must be secured quite early due to demand.

Tickets are required for masses on both Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and while they are free, they need to be secured as far in advance as possible. The following is a guide to acquiring tickets for these masses.
The best and easiest method is to contact your local Bishop while you are still at home who will then apply for tickets on your behalf.

If you are in US you can contact the Bishop’s Office for US Visitors to the Vatican by phone at (011 3906) 690 011 or by fax at (011 3906) 679 1448.

Call your state senator and ask for assistance. If your state representative can’t help they should assist you in contacting the US Embassy in Rome.

Get someone else to do it. If you travel with a Catholic group or stay in an upscale hotel, there will often be someone who can secure a ticket on your behalf. Ask around – ask your hotel and ask your tour operator for assistance.