For a Catholic like myself, from Plumtree, attending a Papal missal a.k.a mass with the Pope is wishful thinking, a far fetched dream! But that dream came true for me on that beautiful Sunday in May last year.
St. Peter’s Basilica was swarming with nuns, priests, Catholics and non Catholics alike, locals and TOURISTS, easily identified with their go pros, backbacks and cameras flashing away at everything. I kid you not, you’ll find a tourist taking pictures of a crack on a wall, just because “oh its a crack on a wall in Rome!” Double roll my eyes.
Although there are many works of art to see within the Vatican City, from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Sistine Chapel to the Vatican gardens and museums, attending mass is an experience you won’t want to miss. Catholic or not, you can not deny that the Vatican City boasts jaw dropping architecture and art. It is magnificent, with real gold and tombs of popes and history spread across its walls. It’s just beautiful to look at.
The Vatican City
The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. For a long time, I didn’t know the Vatican City was a country, I didn’t even think it was a city. (Blame my Geography teacher, LOL). I just thought it was a place in Rome, Rome being the city. But now i know better. Thankfully, just like most of Europe, you do not need a visa to get into the Vatican. So one second you are in Rome, Italy the next you are in Vatican City, Rome.
The Papal missal
The Pope doesn’t conduct mass every Sunday, so if you want to attend the papal missal make sure you check the papal calendar. Also, to attend the mass, you need to collect a ticket the previous day (Saturday), to grant you access to St Peter’s Basilica. The mass is in Latin so I didn’t hear much, only the few words Father Damian used to chant in my days back in Sacred Heart Home. However, it’s magical, it will leave you in awe and it strengthens your faith. If you are in Rome don’t miss it and make sure you get the Pope’s blessing! You can also attend a papal audience on Wednesdays if you would like to see the Pope.
Try and get there early because the queues can be very long as you pass through airport type security scanners and the church fills up quickly. If you are late, you can still watch the mass from the big screen by the steps outside. For masses expecting larger groups of people, the mass is held outside at St Peters square. We arrived late, and the church was fully packed but I just had to get closer to the Pope so I just wiggled my way through 😀
How and where to get the tickets to attend the mass
The tickets are FREE and you can collect them from the Swiss guards at the “Bronze Doors” located just after security at St. Peter’s Basilica. You have to collect them the previous day and are subject to availability. So its first come first served
Take note: Having a ticket does not guarantee you a seat or even entry. When the church/square is full, you will be denied access even if you have a ticket. So come early to avoid disappointment
The Swiss guards
The Swiss guards are the military unit of the Vatican. (Every country needs soldiers!). Don’t let their colourful ‘carnival’ looking uniform fool you, they will rip you to shreds in a heartbeat should you threaten the Pope.
The Vatican City dress code is the same as that of other churches throughout Italy. Dress decently/respectfully, cover your shoulders and knees. Men are expected to wear long pants although they don’t seem to be always strict.
For the Catholic, you may also go for for confession. What better place to observe the 4th sacrament and be absolved of your sins?
What to expect/Not to expect
1. Expect to stand in queues and during the service as the seats quickly fill up. To get a seat make sure you arrive super early.
PS: Wear comfortable shoes
2. You’ll go through metal detectors, airport style
3. For non Catholics, be tolerant of Latin and the Catholic way of doing mass (When in Rome do as the Romans do!)
4. Don’t expect a peaceful, quiet ceremony. Expect to hear cameras and phones clicking and flashing away (I’m guilty of the picture taking!)
5. Expect chit chatting. Put thousands of people including children, in a confined space, speak to them at length in a foreign language. Expectedly, after sometime they will get fidgety and restless and want to whisper to each other.
6. Expect to be pushed around. Everyone wants a glimpse of the Pope! (I’m guilty of wiggling my way through and somewhat slightly, unintentionally pushing people. In my defense, I Really Really wanted to get as close to the Pope as possible and I did say “ngiyaxolisa” more than once.)
7. Don’t expect to see much of the Basilica. Only the ceiling perhaps. Everywhere you look there will be people. Set aside another day besides Sunday to do the touring. The Vatican museums are closed on Sundays as well.