Easter is the most important event in the Catholic calendar and one of the busiest times of the year in Rome: a multitude of pilgrims arrive to see the capital come alive for the Triduum, the three day period that extends from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. On Easter time the Pope will follow a very intensive schedule.
Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar: the date of Easter varies from 22 March to 25 April inclusive. (Here a list of dates for Easter)
- Palm Sunday (Domenica delle Palme) is the Sunday before Easter and forms the beginning of Holy Week. This year will be on the 13th of April. In the morning the Pope will give a Mass within St. Peter’s Square, where large crowds gather to commemorate the triumphant return of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem. Before the Holy Mass there will be the Blessing of the Palms and a Procession. Usually devotees bring home blessed olive and palm sprigs, as symbols of peace.
- Holy Thursday (April 17) Chrism Mass (Vatican Basilica, at 9:30 AM): Blessing of the holy oils in Saint Peter’s Basilica during a special Mass presided over by the Pope. A Mass is also said in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Rome’s cathedral, usually at 5:30 PM.
- Good Friday (April 18) Celebration of the Lord’s Passion (Vatican Basilica, at 5:00 PM): The service that is held in Saint Peter is not a complete Mass, a sign of mourning over Christ’s death. The service of Good Friday is called the Mass of the Presanctified because Communion that is given to the people, had already been consecrated on Holy Thursday. Traditionally, the organ is silent from Holy Thursday until the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil, as are all bells or other instruments, the only music during this period being unaccompanied chant.
- Good Friday (April 18) Stations of the Cross (Colosseum, at 9:15 PM): In the evening the Pope leads the ritual of the Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis, a procession that commemorates the fourteen stages of Christ’s passion. The stations of the Via Crucis were placed at the Colosseum in 1744 by Pope Benedict XIV, in honor of the martyrs who were killed there in ancient times. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the stations of the cross are described in several languages. At the end, the Pope gives a blessing. This is a very moving and popular procession.
- Easter Saturday, Easter Vigil (April 19) – Resurrection of the Lord (Vatican Basilica, at 8:30 PM): The Pope usually celebrates this Mass in the late evening in Saint Peter’s. During this service adult converts to Catholicism are officially received into the Church.
- Easter Sunday (April 20) – Resurrection of the Lord: Mass is celebrated in the morning (Saint Peter’s Square, at 10:15 AM) and this will be the most followed one. At noon the Pope delivers the blessing known as the Urbi et Orbi (to the City and to the World) in the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica.
Pasquetta, the Monday following Easter Sunday, is also a holiday in Italy but much more jovial than the solemn Easter week events. For italians it’s common to have a picnic or barbeque and to head out of town into the countryside or to the seaside. At Castel Sant’Angelo, a huge fireworks display over the Tiber ends the Easter week celebrations.