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Holy Week in Rome 2016

Holy Week in Rome: There are so many opportunities in Rome during Holy Week, I have highlighted just a few in Italian and English, including the normal Roman Rite, and a few exemplars from the “Extraordinary Form”, Byzantine Rite, and Anglican rites. All of the Station Churches and Papal Liturgies are noted.  

I would welcome input from anyone who is aware of others of particular interest, especially where good liturgy can be found – including good music, good preaching, good aesthetic, etc.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

  • Station Church: San Giovanni in Laterano – 0700 (English); 1730 (Italian)
  • Papal Liturgy: Piazza San Pietro – 0930


  • Station Church: Santa Prassede all’Esquilino – 0700 (English); 1800 (Italian)
  • Byzantine Vespers of the Presanctified Gifts – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – 1800


  • Station Church: Santa Prisca all Aventino – 0700 (English); 1800 (Italian)
  • Anglican Centre 50th Anniversary Eucharist/Chrism Mass – 1245 (English)
  • Byzantine Vespers of the Presanctified Gifts – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – 1800
  • Evening Prayer with Sant’Egidio Community – Santa Maria in Trastevere 20:30


  • Station Church: Santa Maria Maggiore – 0700 (English); 1730 (Italian)
  • Seven Churches Pilgrimage of St. Filippo Neri (a devotional tradition since 1559)
    • Join the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College in a tour of the Seven Churches, starting with the morning station mass at Santa Maria Maggiore. It is about 22km walking total and will take all day. Pack a lunch or plan to stop along the route:
      • Santa Maria Maggiore
      • San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura
      • Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
      • San Giovanni in Laterano
      • San Sebastiano
      • San Paolo fuori le Mura
      • San Pietro al Vaticano
  • Byzantine Vespers of the Presanctified Gifts – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – 1800
  • Office of Tenebrae
    • Paul’s Within the Walls (Episcopalian) – 1830 (English)
    • Santissima Trinita’ dei Pellegrini (extraordinary form) – 2030 (Latin)

 Holy Thursday

  • Papal Liturgy: Chrism Mass – Basilica San Pietro – 0930
  • Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Beginning of the Paschal Triduum Liturgy)
    • San Giovanni in Laterano – 1730 (Italian) – Station Church
    • Santa Maria in Trastevere – 1730 (Italian)
    • Oratory of San Francesco Saverio al Caravita – 1800 (English)
  • Altars of Repose pilgrimage – Roman devotional tradition is to walk around the city after the liturgy ends for the evening, visiting the beautifully decorated altars of repose in (at least seven) different churches.

Good Friday

Solemn Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion with Veneration of the Cross:

  • Station Church: Basilica Santa Croce in Gerusaleme – 1500 (Italian)
  • Oratory of San Francesco Saverio al Caravita – 1500 (English)
  • Papal Liturgy: Basilica San Pietro – 1700 (Italian)
  • Santissima Trinita’ dei Monti – 1800 (French)

Stations of the Cross devotion, with Pope Francis at the Colosseum, 2115

Holy Saturday

The Great Vigil of Easter

  • Oratory of San Francesco Saverio del Caravita – 2000 (English)
  • Papal Liturgy: Basilica San Pietro – 2030 (Italian)
  • Station Church: San Giovanni in Laterano – 2100 (Italian)
  • Venerable English College – 2130 (English)

Easter Sunday

Mass of the Lord’s Resurrection

  • Byzantine Divine Liturgy – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – Midnight
  • Papal Liturgy: Piazza San Pietro – 1000 (Italian)
  • Oratory of San Francesco Saverio del Caravita – 1100 (English)
  • Station Church: Santa Maria Maggiore – 1800 (Italian)

Pope Francis Urbi et Orbi Blessing – Piazza San Pietro – 1200 (Multilingual)

Solemn Vespers (concluding the Paschal Triduum)

  • Chiesa di Sant’Anselmo al Aventino – 1700 (Italian)
  • Byzantine – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – 1800

Easter Week Station Churches (Italian):

  • Monday – San Pietro – 1700
  • Tuesday – San Paolo fuori le Mura – 1730
  • Wednesday – San Lorenzo fuori le Mura – 1800
  • Thursday – XII Apostoli al Foro Traiano – 1830
  • Friday – Santa Maria ad Martyres (Pantheon) – 1700
  • Saturday – San Giovanni in Laterano – 1630
  • Divine Mercy Sunday – San Pancrazio – 1600
    • Conclusion of the Station Churches pilgrimage

A Common Date for Easter?

Pope Francis and Metropolitan John

Pope Francis and Metropolitan John

Re-posted from Rev. Ron Roberson, CSP at the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs:

Last month, in his address to a group of priests in Rome from around the world, Pope Francis again raised the question of the date of Easter, which Orthodox and western Christians have usually celebrated on different dates for centuries. In fact, he said that the Catholic Church was “ready to renounce” its method of calculation of the date of Easter in order to reach an agreement with the Orthodox Church, so that all Christian churches can celebrate Easter on the same day. What’s going on here?

In the early church there was considerable confusion regarding the date of Easter and different areas were observing it on different days. Eventually a consensus developed that harkened back to discussions at the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325, that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. This is the classical formulation that has remained in place until the present day.

But as the centuries went by, things grew more complicated. Most importantly, the calculation of the date of Easter on the traditional “Julian” calendar became more and more inaccurate. Eventually there was a reform of the calendar in the West that was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The reform included skipping ten days in October (October 4 was followed by October 15 that year) and the introduction of leap years. In the West this new and much more accurate “Gregorian” calendar was subsequently used to calculate the date of Easter, but the Eastern Churches continued to use the Julian calendar. Another difference in calculation is that in the East, Easter may never coincide with Jewish Passover but must come after it; in the West the two can coincide.

As a result, for several centuries now the western and eastern churches have had different ways of calculating the date of Easter. Sometimes they still coincide, as they did in 2010, 2011, and 2014, and will again in 2017, but not after that until 2025. Often the two are just a week apart but can be much farther apart, as they were in 2013 (March 31 and May 5), and will be in 2016 (March 27 and May 1), and 2024 (March 31 and May 5). It should be noted, however, that the eastern and western calculations of the date of Easter are not absolutely identified with the western and eastern churches. Catholics in Greece, for example, celebrate Easter on the Orthodox calendar, and the Orthodox in Finland celebrate on the western calendar used by the majority of Christians in that country. Some Eastern Catholics also celebrate Easter on the Julian calendar.

It has often been observed that the inability of Christians to celebrate together the central mystery of their faith is nothing short of a scandal, and it diminishes the credibility of Christian witness to the Gospel in today’s world. With this in mind, the Vatican and the World Council of Churches sponsored a conference in Aleppo, Syria, in March 1997 to examine this question. At the end of the meeting, the conference issued an agreed statement entitled, “Towards a Common Date for Easter.”

The Aleppo document recommended that all the churches reaffirm their acceptance of the formula of the Council of Nicaea, but that the astronomical data (the vernal equinox and the full moon) be re-calculated by the most accurate possible scientific means, using the meridian of Jerusalem, the place of Christ’s death and resurrection, as the basis for reckoning. The result of this re-calculation would produce a calendar different from both the eastern and western calendars as they exist today, although it would be closer to the western one. It would allow all Christians to celebrate the Resurrection together, while also being more faithful to the Council of Nicaea than any of the churches are today. The obvious advantages of this solution were spelled out in an agreed statement of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation in October 1998.

Nevertheless, it has become clear that the Orthodox are not able to support the proposals in the Aleppo document. The reasons for this are not primarily theological but pastoral. After World War I most of the Orthodox Churches (except Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, and Mount Athos) adopted the Gregorian calendar for fixed feasts, but not for Easter and the movable feasts dependent on it. There was a strong reaction to this among the faithful with a more traditionalist outlook, which led to schisms and the foundation of several “Old Calendar” churches in Greece, Romania and Bulgaria that still exist today. Also, in Russia in the early years of communism the Soviet government supported a “Living Church” movement within the Orthodox Church that advocated the use of the Gregorian calendar. That group was eventually suppressed in 1946, but in the minds of many faithful there was now a connection between the Gregorian calendar and communism. These fairly recent schisms within Orthodoxy explain why the Orthodox are extremely reluctant to tamper with their traditional reckoning of the date of Easter.

In view of this history, it is not easy to imagine an agreement on the date of Easter that all Christians would find acceptable. The Aleppo document proposed an eminently reasonable solution that the Orthodox have been unable to accept. A fixed date for Easter such as the third Sunday of April would be a departure from the tradition that few would find acceptable. It has often been observed that the only way that all Christians could agree on a date for Easter would be a universal adherence to the Orthodox calendar. This solution would have obvious disadvantages, but in the real world it may be the only one possible.

Father Ronald Roberson, CSP is associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is also a consultor to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Paschal Triduum 2010

The first time I participated in the Easter Triduum was also my altar serving debut. I was in third grade, nine years old. My training was held right after school by Sr. Mary Thorne, if I recollect correctly, and a few hours later I was serving my first mass, on Holy Thursday. That was twenty-three years ago and I have never intentionally missed any part of the Triduum.

Holy Father washing feet of 12 presbyters at Holy Thursday Mass

In fact, I can only remember missing the whole thing once, because I was sick – but I had already done all the planning and training for the liturgies, and had very reliable volunteer lay liturgical ministers to rely upon in absentia. One other year, I was in the ER during the Easter vigil with a friend. Other than these two, I have worshipped during the high holy days, and usually as a server, lector, or liturgist and master of ceremonies. Even in my last interim parish ministry, where I was not the primary liturgist, I still had a contingent of catechumens to bring through the rites.

That said, it is kind of nice (but also a bit weird) to be absolutely and completely free of responsibility throughout the Triduum, and to be in Rome. There are three places where every Catholic should spend Holy Week at least once, in my opinion: Jerusalem, Rome, and Notre Dame. Though not necessarily in that order.

Latin and Greek Deacons in Gospel Procession, Holy Thursday, Archbasilica San Giovanni

Throughout my four years at Notre Dame, I was an altar server in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and sometime assistant MC there and sacristan/liturgy coordinator at the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Keough Hall. Triduum was always a great deal of work, but always masterfully done, accompanied by beautiful music, and in the words of one visiting curial cardinal (who so enjoyed Holy Week at ND he came back twice while I was there), “This is better than Saint Peter’s!”.

I am inclined to agree, but with qualification. To be clear, I am disappointed in nothing of the Triduum here in Rome, except for the mob (the Romans’ answer to the queue, or line).

Way of the Cross - my view was not this blurry

This is, after all, the first church (not in chronology, but in order). The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday was celebrated at the Pope’s Cathedral, the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, Mother-Church of Rome.  The Service of Our Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter were celebrated at the Vatican Basilica of Saint Peter. All were presided by the Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, and he was homilist at the first and last (Raniero Cantalamesa, OFM Cap., the preacher of the papal household, had the homily on Good Friday, as you may have heard.) I prayed the Way of the Cross from the edge of our property, a bluff overlooking the Coliseum with clear line-of-sight of the Holy Father about 300 meters away.

Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., Papal Preacher on Good Friday

The prayer guides are published pocket-sized booklets, illustrated with prints of 15th and 16th century frescoes from Italian churches. The liturgy was celebrated in Latin, the mass parts chanted in Gregorian style, and deacons blessed with angelic voices chanted the gospel – on Thursday it was proclaimed twice, once each in both Latin and Greek! (Presumably in honor of the fact that this year, Passover and Easter on both the Julian and Gregorian calendars all coincide). The prayers of the faithful throughout the three-day liturgy were offered in French, Spanish, English, Polish, German, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, Swahili and Arabic. Readings were in Italian, Greek, Latin, French, English, German, and Spanish.

Deacons Proclaiming the Passion

The exultet in Latin is amazing. The Passion on Good Friday in slowly chanted Latin is impressive, but also a little hard on the back. (OK, yes, the very act of complaining about listening to the passion, when it is after all, the passion, is a sin I will publicly confess here and now: Mea culpa, ego sum mereum humanum.)

I found this interesting, though: Over the last few years in liturgical circles we have been encouraged to discourage the reading of the Passion in parts, as it is often printed in the missalletes and music books, and instead just have three deacons or readers proclaim the reading in turn. At the papal liturgy at San Pietro, with the ‘new’ Marini in charge, they had each deacon proclaim different parts (Narrator, Jesus, Peter/others) and the choir as the crowd/assembly.

Pope Benedict during the Great Vigil's Service of Light

This touches on one of the great reasons to be in Rome: The liturgical diversity. I do not just mean the fact that there are representatives of all the major rites of the Church here in the city (Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine, Chaldean, and Latin), but also that within the Latin rites, within the Roman rite specifically, you have diversity. Just between the Roman Cathedral (San Giovanni) and the Vatican Basilica (San Pietro), with the same pope presiding and the same papal MC, you find different ways of celebrating and different customs.

One small example, during the Eucharistic prayer: At San Giovanni, we do not kneel, and there is no bell during the epiclesis and the two elevations, but there is incense. At San Pietro, we kneel from the epiclesis to the mystery of faith, and there is a bell for the epiclesis and two elevations, but no incense.

Easter Vigil 2010 San Pietro

Another interesting note, if a little random. While the Mass of the Lord’s Supper traditionally commemorates the institution of the Eucharist in the form of the Last Supper, it has traditionally been called the institution of the priesthood, through the act of the washing of feet. Historically, of course, and theologically, this is not entirely accurate so back home we had long since opted away from this simplistic phrasing lest it require a great deal of explanation. However, in the pre-liturgy announcements at San Giovanni, there it was “The Institution of the Eucharist and of the ministerial priesthood”.

Twelve presbyters were the mandatum at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, whose feet the Holy Father washed, though none of this was visible to me. The diplomatic corps were invited to communion with the Holy Father as minister, which they recieveed kneeling and on the tongue, or, they recieved a blessing instead of communion, if appropriate; but everyone else recieved communion along the aisles (standing, and in tongue or hand as the communicant prefered).

After returning to the Lay Centre for dinner, a group of us spent the evening in an adoration pilgrimage of seven churches during the traditional period until midnight: Basilica San Giovanni e Paolo, Basilica Santa Maria in Domnica, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, Archbasilica San Giovanni, Basilica Sant’Antonio di Padova, Basilica Santi Quattri Coronatti, and the Chapel of the Holy Trinity.

San Tommaso in Formis, with Dr. Orsuto and Dr. Hagstrom

St. Peter’s has a capacity of over 60,000 roughly the same as Notre Dame Stadium before the 1997 expansion. That plus room for another 400,000 in the piazza makes for a somewhat larger assembly than the 2500 or so who can fill the Basilica of Sacred Heart at Notre Dame. For an experience of the Church universal in the heart of the Church, you cannot beat Rome. But for that Church universal manifest in a local church, I do not think even Rome can beat Notre Dame. To a degree, its like apples and oranges. The assembly is different, and the considerations are different. One aims for a liturgy that represents the whole church, which is probably represented pretty well by those present. The other aims for a liturgy of the local church being wholly church in its place. For Latin and the biggest of big liturgy, it is Rome. For best liturgy captured in a particular church, music that is beautiful, reverent and accessible, it is Notre Dame. I am happy to have had my four years at ND, and hope to get a few more here in Rome!

Church of San Tommaso in Formis

For Easter Sunday, between the full papal Triduum experience and the rain, I decided to go to the little church served by the Trinitarian Fathers, Chiesa San Tomasso in Formis (St. Thomas in Chains), literally just outside our front gate and around the corner. About 30 people filled the church, including two priests and two other Lay Centre folk, director Donna Orsuto and visiting scholar Dr. Aurelie Hagstrom, chair of the theology department at Providence College in Rhode Island who is here for a month of Marian research. Such a different experience after the big liturgies to be in a small community! The only space for the after-mass social was the tiny sacristy behind the altar, as long as we entered from one side and exited the other!

After a quick cappuccino and cornetto to celebrate the end of Lenten fasting, we watched the Urbi et Orbi on TV and prepared for a mid-afternoon Easter feast. Only a couple guests joined us, making us about fifteen in all – a perfect way to spend a drizzly Easter afternoon.

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