Easter and Holy Week in Rome and Vatican City

Easter season is one of the best times to visit Rome. Here's how you can visit the Vatican virtually in 2021 and how you can plan your future visit.
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Pilgrims and regular folk come from far and wide to witness Holy Week and Easter festivities in Rome and Vatican City.

The following post details Holy Week (Settimana Santa) and Easter festivities in Rome and Vatican City during a normal year. But first, let’s look at Easter 2021.

Holy Week and Easter 2021

This will be the second year in a row that Holy Week and Easter services are disrupted due to COVID-19.

An enduring image from 2020 was when Pope Francis delivered his “Moment of Prayer” and Urbi et Orbi message on 27 March. Here he is, alone, in a rain-lashed St. Peter’s Square.

Easter Mass 2021 will be more similar to Christmas Eve 2020 mass, with a limited number of attendees.

How to Watch Easter Mass at the Vatican

Most, if not all, Holy Week and Easter activities, including the Urbi et Orbi mass, will be streamed live from the official Vatican channel on YouTube.

Vatican Media Live, the Vatican’s live feed YouTube channel. Click on the video to see what’s happening right now in Vatican City.

Links to previous masses and liturgical activities are available on the YouTube channel as well as on the Vatican News website and the Vatican News Facebook page.

Easter and Holy Week Mass Schedule 2021

La Repubblica has also reported the following schedule for Holy Week and Easter 2021:

The Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday in the Basilica will be at 10 am, presided over by the Pope, followed, at 6 pm, by the Mass in Coena Domini, celebrated not by the Pope but by the cardinal dean of the College, Giovanni Battista Re. There will be no washing of the feet and there will be no kiss of the cross on Good Friday.

On Good Friday, the Passion of Christ will be celebrated in the Basilica and, at 9 pm, the Via Crucis in world vision, both presided over by Francis. The procession with the cross, like last year, will not take place around the Colosseum but will be set up in the churchyard of the Vatican Basilica.

On Saturday, April 3, Pope Francis will return to the Altar of the Chair for the vigil of the Holy Night. It will be at 7.30 pm, two hours earlier than in previous years in order to allow the few faithful present to respect the curfew rules.

At 10 am on Sunday, again in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope will preside over the Easter Mass concluded by the ‘Urbi et Orbi’ Blessing.

The following day, Easter Monday, the first performance of the Regina Coeli will be streaming from the Library of the Apostolic Palace.

Holy Week and Easter Activities at St. Peter’s Basilica

The most popular place to visit during this time is the seat of Christendom — St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square.

Saint Peter's Basilica
Saint Peter’s Basilica

The Pope presides over several services at the basilica during Holy Week — Settimana Santa, in Italian. These include

  • Holy Thursday: morning and evening masses
  • Good Friday: an evening vigil
  • Holy Saturday: an evening mass

Easter Sunday mass is celebrated in St. Peter’s Square, where thousands gather to watch the Pope bless an icon of the risen Christ and hear the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi message.

Holy Week Activities in Rome — Beyond Vatican City

In the week leading up to Easter — known as Holy Week or Settimana Santa — the Pope travels to other churches in Rome to perform holy rites.

Holy Thursday at St. John Lateran

Saint John Lateran in Rome
San GIovanni in Laterano / St. John Lateran / Photo © Melanie Renzulli

On Holy Thursday, the Pope typically delivers the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano). St. John Lateran, located in south Rome, not far from the Colosseum, is the church for the “Bishop of Rome,” which is another official title for the pontiff. After St. Peter’s, this is the second-most important basilica in Rome and worth a visit even if you aren’t in town during Easter.

Also in this area is the Scala Santa, purported to be the “holy stairs” that led to the throne of Pontius Pilate and the stairs that Jesus climbed while bearing his cross. Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, brought these stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D. and Christians have been venerating them ever since.

The Stations of the Cross Vigil in the Colosseum

Another intriguing site to visit during Easter is the Colosseum, where the Stations of the Cross are held during an evening vigil on Good Friday.

The Pope presides over this rite in the arena where many ancient Christians are said to have been “thrown to the lions.” The Colosseum was consecrated as a church in 1749 to commemorate these early persecutions of Christians and stem the pillaging of the structure’s building materials.

Other Religious Activities in Rome Related to Lent and Easter

Leading up to Holy Week, there are several other opportunities to see and/or hear a blessing from the Pope, including on Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday is also the typical day on which World Youth Day, a celebration initiated by Pope John Paul II, is held in St. Peter’s Square.

How to Get Tickets to Holy Week and Easter Masses at the Vatican

Tickets are free, but they must be reserved via the Prefecture of the Papal Household. This is the same process as securing tickets for the Pope’s general audiences each Wednesday throughout the year.

Seating for Holy Week ceremonies are very limited. Free tickets for these events must be reserved well in advance with your local diocese or through the Prefecture of the Papal Household.

Many attendees are able to come by tickets through their local churches. So, if you have one of those, start there. Otherwise, you will need to book tickets by fax. Yes, fax. Try not to grumble about it.

First, fill out this form from the Vatican with your personal details. Then fax it to +39 06 698 85863. If you don’t have access to a fax machine, you can use an online service like fax.plus.

Detailed instructions for requesting, confirming, and picking up tickets for masses and audiences at the Vatican is available from the Prefecture of the Papal Household, also known as the Prefettura.

Learn More About Holy Rome

For more ideas on visiting holy Rome, have a look at the links below. You may also visit the official website of the Vatican for information on the Pope, the Holy See, and liturgical services.

Papal Basilicas of Rome
Santa Maria Maggiore
San Giovanni in Laterano
San Paolo Fuori Le Mura

Additional links of interest
Getting Into the Vatican Museums
Italy’s Most Unusual Religious Relics

Photo © WiltshireYan

Melanie Renzulli

Melanie Renzulli

Melanie Renzulli has been writing about travel to Italy for more than 20 years.

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