Holy week is an essential part of the Christian calendar, which starts on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter. In the Vatican, celebrations are quite a special time for the state, especially for believers hoping to see the Pope in St. Peter’s Square.
Celebrations in the Vatican go on for some time, starting with Ash Wednesday, which signifies the beginning of Lent, continues through Holy Week, and finishes on the Pentecost, the 50th day of Easter.
Celebrating Holy Week in the Vatican:
I. Palm Sunday
Holy week starts on Palm Sunday when Jesus humbly enters Jerusalem on a donkey to celebrate Passover. During this time, the Pope holds a special mass in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, starting at 9:30 am. During this mass, a Blessing of the Palms and a Holy Mass will be conducted by Pope Francis.
While attending the mass is free, visitors require a ticket, so make sure to get there early and stand for a long time. Dress conservatively and appropriately for the weather, and be prepared to stand for long periods. It also helps to expect crowds, so remember to keep yourself hydrated.
II. Holy Thursday
Holy Thursday is when the Last Supper occurs with Jesus and his disciples. This year’s Holy Thursday is in April, where the Pope will perform a morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at 9:30 am. Believers can check out the booklet for the mass on the official Vatican’s website here.
However, visitors who can’t make it for the morning mass can go for the second papal mass at 5:30 pm at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
III. Good Friday
Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion and his death. Traditionally, it is a day of fasting and solemnity across Italy, where you’ll see processions from many people representing Christ’s Passion.
If you’re in the Vatican, there will be a Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at 5:00 pm. At 9:15 pm, the Pope will lead the stations of the cross near the Colosseum. At each station, the Pope will read a meditation in various languages. A giant cross with burning lights will be in front of the Colosseum, making it a truly remarkable and unforgettable experience.
IV. Holy Saturday
Holy Saturday is the final day of Holy Week. It is the day Jesus’ body was left in his tomb, so expect limited services in places. However, the Pope will lead an Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at 8:30 pm.
V. Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday is when Jesus was resurrected. It is a day of rebirth which marks the end of Lent. It is also a public holiday in Italy, so some places may be closed.
The Pope will lead Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, starting at 10:15 am. Visitors are expected to have a ticket and arrive much earlier than expected.
After the mass, the Pope will deliver the Urbi et Orb i, a blessing to the City and the World. He does this blessing twice yearly, once at Easter and another at Christmas.
VI. Easter Monday
Many people expect Easter to only fall on Sunday. However, Easter Monday, or “Lunedì dell’angelo,” which means “Monday of the Angel” in Italy, is a public holiday. Expect banks, shops, and certain restaurants to be closed, although a few of the latter may be open around the country. Many locals view Easter Monday as a fun day for a picnic or lunch with friends.
The Pope will deliver the Easter Monday address in St. Peter’s Square at noon in the Vatican. This event is free and does not require tickets, although it’s a popular event to be prepared for crowds.
Travel Tips When Visiting the Vatican:
1. There are no hotels or restaurants in the Vatican. Visitors should book online for accommodations and ensure they have tickets for the masses. You can check tickets for the latter here.
Note: Mass tickets for Holy Week are very popular and may require a year-long reservation. If you can’t make it this year, you may reserve tickets for next year.
2. Make sure to go there early. Crowds of believers will want to visit the Holy See and participate in the Holy Week celebrations. If you plan to go, eat ahead, and stay hydrated.
3. Wear conservative clothing. Avoid wearing revealing or offensive clothes (ripped clothes with offensive logos and swear words). Ideally, men and women need to cover their knees and upper arms. Men may take their hats off before entering any establishment in the Holy See.
Takeaway: Holy week is a sacred time in the Vatican. The Holy See has its special preparations for the events. Visitors who are hoping to be a part of the celebrations must arrive early and dress appropriately. Additionally, it helps to book your accommodations ahead so you can plan your route to visit the Holy See.