In many ways, this is THE weekend for this Jubilee Year of Mercy - and today is THE celebration: Divine Mercy Sunday. There have been a lot of events going on here in Rome during this special weekend. BTW - many have noted that it coincides with the 11th anniversary of the Death of Pope John Paul II - and the dates are the same as they were the year of his death.
The BBC story at the time of John Paul's death...
But now, the great celebration of Divine Mercy, so loved by Pope Saint John Paul II, is firmly enshrined in the hearts of many, many people... I believe including the heart of Pope Francis, who proclaimed this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Here in Rome the celebrations began on Friday evening with an Evening of Mercy - most particularly at the Church of Spiritu Santo in Sassia - not far from our offices for the Holy Sepulcher. So, I headed over there to see what was going on. The place was PACKED! Priests were in every corner of the church hearing confessions in many different languages (the signs on the confessionals let people know who spoke what language), and high above the main altar was the Blessed Sacrament exposed for adoration. As we walked in we were each handed a small prayer book "Lectio Divina" - offering several different Scripture passages for personal and private reflection and meditation in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Not wanting to miss out on this weekend of mercy, I took the opportunity to go to confession myself. In fact, it was a good exercise for me - to be the one waiting in line with everyone else (I was not dressed as a priest or I would certainly have been called upon to assist with Confessions - which I would have been happy to do - but... I wasn't prepared).
Saturday was a great Vigil celebration all day long. The several "Jubilee Churches" here in Rome had a full day of catechesis and prayer leading up to a vigil prayer service in St. Peter's Square beginning at 4:30pm. People gave testimonies, there was music and song and prayer. Then, at 6pm, the Holy Father came out and joined the prayer vigil - and we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
And here is a video of at least part of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as we sang it... sorry, you can hear me singing as well... forgot to stop while I was filming.
Then today was the Divine Mercy Mass for the 2nd Sunday of Easter - celebrated by the Pope. I've come to understand why it is so infrequent that ALL priest cannot concelebrate with the Pope (I know I mentioned this yesterday) - it's a logistical nightmare. Imagine that many priests, that many people, all the priests needing to receive the Precious Blood as well as the Sacred Host (which a priest must do in order to validly celebrate Mass). It's just a mess. But today, being such a special day, was an exception. Cardinal O'Brien decided the other day that he wanted to be part of this special day - really what I think is THE day of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. So, we got me a ticket to concelebrate Mass this morning.
I had to report, once again, to the Bracchio Constantino (behind the Bronze Door) at 9am - after AGAIN going through the security screenings. Again, I have NO PROBLEM with all this security. The Swiss Guard and Italian and Vatican police are doing an EXCELLENT job keeping people safe - in light of all the terrorist activity going on - and knowing that the Holy Father and large religious gatherings are certainly targets. I'm happy they are being so cautious with security for everyone.
As we were waiting to be escorted to our seats near the Papal Altar on the steps of St. Peter's Square, I was taking the chance to observe all the beautiful art and sculptures within this ancient hallway of the Vatican. The sculptures of saints and angels, the beautiful plaster (I assume) florets on the ceiling, the marble floor - it's all so beautiful. And why? All for the glory of God - not of a man (even if he is the Pope) - it's all about God - about raising our minds and hearts to Him as one moved through this hallway either toward a meeting with the Pope or toward the Basilica (or Square) for Mass.
Then we were escorted to our places - and I ended up in just about the same seat I had for Palm Sunday - 3 rows behind the Cardinals & Bishops - just slightly to the side of the Papal Altar. We were instructed NO PHOTOS during the Mass - so I only took a few (as discretely as possible - but every other priest around me was snapping photos - so I joined in).
Mass went as usual. I've quickly grown accustomed to the Roman practice for these Masses. Lots of Latin (which, despite the use of the vernacular, continues to unite us - and is why Vatican II wanted every Catholic to know certain parts of the Mass in Latin). We sang the official song for the Jubilee (Misericordes Sicut Pater) and then the chanted entrance antiphon. I believe it is such a good use of the traditional Latin chants and antiphons - united with a song as part of the entrance procession.
During the Universal Prayers, I was distracted as the ushers and Masters of Ceremonies began passing out patens to all the priests - as it turns out - we would all be holding a paten with hosts to be consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer and, I assume, distributing Holy Communion to the faithful. That is, in fact, what happened. We held the sacred vessel and, during the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) we were led down into the assembly in the Square to distribute the Body and Blood of the Lord to the faithful - the Eucharist - an expression of God's Divine Mercy toward us in giving us His Body and Blood as food and drink. In fact, I love the collect for today: that we may know in what font we have been baptized, by whose spirit we have been renewed, by whose body and blood we have been fed.
I learned from yesterday - "only on the tongue." I descended into the midst of one of the sections of St. Peter's Square to distribute Holy Communion - and people come at you from every direction. It immediately reminded me of when I assisted in distributing Holy Communion in Kibeho last November - hungry people coming to the Lord to be fed and nourished and strengthened to be faithful to Him in this life - so as to be united with Him in the next.
When Communion was completed, we were led back through the Bronze Door - into St. Peter's Basilica - where the remaining consecrated hosts were gathered into large bowls (remember the ones from Good Friday?) to be reserved in the Tabernacle. The priests were then led to a station where a priest and deacon stood holding a paten with consecrated hosts and a chalice of the Precious Blood - so that we could ourselves communicate. We each did, then returned to our places (or as close to our original spot as we could manage).
Mass concluded and the Holy Father made a few remarks - then the Regina Caeli. Again, I observed the tenderness and love of the Holy Father as he stood before the image of our Blessed Mother and lovingly reached out to touch it - and make the sign of the Cross. I've seen these tender gestures several times from our Holy Father. One of them is at the beginning of each Mass as he approaches the altar and kisses it - it's no quick 'peck" - but a prolonged and loving kiss - which to me speaks of the love and devotion of Pope Francis for the Sacrifice of the Eucharist which takes place on that altar - the place where the True Presence of Christ (and His Sacrifice) are revealed and made present to us. I took these photos after the Mass was over...
As Mass concluded and the Holy Father removed his chasuble and prepared to get into the Popemobile to go down amongst the people, he did as he usually does - and first came to greet the Cardinals concelebrating. I didn't get any good photos of the Pope with Cardinal O'Brien - but did get some others...
The Holy Father greeting Cardinal O'Brien
Then the Holy Father did something unusual - he looked at all of us priests there, waved, and then came forward to greet the priests - who become just like everyone else when the Pope is near - they lose all decorum and politeness and push and shove to get close. Well, if you know me, you know that I am not as pushy as some others might be - so while I got close, and extended my hand - I didn't get close enough to greet him, kiss his ring, or shake his hand. Perhaps another time...
Following Mass, as we returned to the Bracchio Constantino to return our vestments, the Swiss Guard came past. They are much more than just for show - they're serious. Here's a few photos and a quick video I took as they went past.