As I planned out my study abroad adventures, I made a lofty goal to get tickets for Easter mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. My friend, Jenna, was studying in Milan, and we were already making plans to visit other cities in Italy together in early April. We thought this would be the perfect addition to our plan. Here’s what the process looked like.
Disclaimer: I have no idea if this process is typical or if this is the recommended process. I only know that it worked. If you’re planning a trip to Vatican City soon and want to attend mass, perhaps my notes (along with others on the internet) can help you obtain tickets.
1. Fax the Vatican directly
When I decided that I wanted to attend Easter mass, my first instinct was to go to the Vatican’s website and see if they had instructions. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how updated these instructions were because part of their request process was to fax the Vatican directly. Who uses fax machines anymore? Evidently Vatican City.
At the end of November, my friend, Jenna, had her mom fax the Vatican with the request. We’re not sure if it ever made it because we never heard back. This lack of response prompted me to do additional research. Luckily, this time, I found an email address and got a response.
2. Email the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican
Somewhere online I found the email for the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican (quite the mouthful). If you’re here searching for such an email address, it’s VISITORSOFFICE@PNAC.ORG.
In the original email, I wrote a request with the following information:
- Your names or the names of those attending
- The dates of the audience you would like to attend
- The number of people in the party
- Additional information about your parish involvement or reasons for making a pilgrimage to Rome
- I let them know that we had faxed the Vatican but hadn’t received a response and were hoping to follow up on our request.
Miraculously, just four days later, Sister Maria (a Coordinator for the US Bishops’ Visitors’ Office) responded with the following kind message (see screenshots).
3. Pick up your tickets in person
Simply put, Jenna and I were thrilled to receive the news that we had gotten tickets to Easter mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and planned to pick them up when we arrived in Rome. Flash forward four months later, we both arrived in Rome on Saturday morning around 11 AM. I came from Naples, and she came from Milan.
I planned to wait for her to arrive from the train station, drop off our stuff at the Airbnb near Vatican City, and then head over to the office to pick up the tickets. I picked a nearby gelato spot to wait, and I scrolled back through the email to see the details I would need to know about pick up.
Suddenly, my heart sank.
I reread the following ticket pickup schedule.
I looked at the time, searched the address, and knew we were able to lose our tickets for Easter mass. The location was 23 minutes (2.17 miles/3.5 km) away from me walking, and there was no time to waste waiting for an Uber or taxi.
I gathered up all my stuff and sprinted out of the gelato shop. If you know me, you know I don’t run, but there I was hauling ass through the streets of Rome with my travel backpack on my back.
Jenna was already in a cab on her way to meet me near Vatican City, and I tried to text a coherent message as I sprinted across the city. Initially, she was confused, and then, she stopped responding.
I was running and sweating and struggling. I even fell once in the middle of a crowded street. Needless to say, I was attracting quite a bit of attention, and I still wasn’t going to make it for these tickets.
The state of my pants after falling and sliding through the streets of Rome
When I made it to the area where the Bishops’ Office was, I couldn’t even find the exact address. At noon, I had all but given up. I hadn’t heard from Jenna, I was out of breath, and I couldn’t find the office to even plead my case.
And then, a text popped up on my phone, “I got them.”
My heart leaped. Jenna had arrived in time, and she had gotten tied up in conversation with the people at the Bishops’ Office. Given that I couldn’t find the office, I planned to wait where I was, but she told me that I need to come to give my information as well as a confession. That was news to me!
Looking around for someone who wasn’t a tourist, I asked a local if they knew where the address was. They said it was confusing but showed me the street that I had been missing to get to the office.
Once there, I was immediately brought to a priest who would do my confession. I was still sweaty and out of breath. It had been a couple of years since I went to confession, but I guess this was the best way not to overthink it.
At the end of the confession, the priest shared with me that Pope Francis would give a special blessing during the mass. I can’t quite remember what he called it, but after doing some research, I believe it’s called the Urbi et Orbi address. It’s the most solemn form of blessing in the Catholic Church, and it’s reserved for the most solemn occasions like Easter Mass.
This blessing grants a plenary indulgence, which frees a person from the punishment their sinfulness warrants as it is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven.
To receive this blessing, I needed to have gone to sacramental confession within 20 days (before or after) received Eucharistic communion within 20 days (before or after), and pray for the intentions of the Pope.
One of the most interesting parts of the blessing to me was that I didn’t necessarily need to keep it for myself. I could offer it up for a loved one who had recently passed who may be in purgatory. In December 2017, my maternal grandmother, Constance Daley (my Meme) had passed away, and I decided to offer up the blessing for her.
4. Dress appropriately
After the debacle that was picking up the tickets, I couldn’t wait to attend mass in person! I had searched for weeks to find a nice dress that fit all the requirements of the Vatican City dress code. The basic dress code for both men and women is to cover both their knees and their upper arms. This doesn’t sound like a challenging metric to meet until you start searching for “Easter” dresses.
When I lined up for mass, it seemed that no one had the same stress I did. Unlike all the other Easter church services I had attended, no one seemed to dress their “Sunday” best. They were much more focused on wearing something warm and comfortable. This was a practical yet unexpected approach. If ever there was a place I thought would have one of the best-dressed masses, it would have been Vatican City!
Standing in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in my carefully selected Easter dress
5. Hope for good weather
One of the more memorable aspects of the days was the weather. For days, Easter morning was forecasting thunderstorms. I worried that mass would be miserable, my hair would be soaked, and my dress would be ruined. And guess what? We woke up to cloudless skies. For an outdoor event with 300,000 attendees, that’s a best-case scenario!
6. Enjoy mass
On Easter morning, we went to line up early. Easter mass at St. Peter’s Basilica starts at 10:15 AM, and I want to say we lined up in the 7 AM ballpark. At that time, there were already so many people ahead of us, and we were sure that we would be in the standing section. The first few hundred people get chairs, and while everyone wants those chairs, there’s just no way of knowing who gets them.
When they opened the doors (unfortunately, I can’t remember what time this was but in between 7-8 AM), there was a rush to get in. We went through security lines, took quick pictures in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, and then went to see where we would stand. To our delight, we found that there were still chairs available and happily grabbed two seats. In all honesty, I’m not sure I would consider going again without the chairs. Being able to sit for a couple of hours we waited on the front end and then during the different portions of mass itself was a game-changer.
While we were waiting, we were able to eat snacks, use our phones, and read the pamphlets that were given out as we walked in. We were able to bring bags into the Vatican and just had to put them through the security scanners. This was great because it allowed us to stay hydrated and fed well before mass began.
The mass itself was interesting. A lot of it was in Latin or Italian with only a few short snippets in English. I won’t lie and say it was the best mass of my life, but it was certainly a great life experience to have. After mass, Pope Francis came around in his popemobile. We had a relatively good view of this parade as well. I feel like I should have discussed him in more parts of this blog, but in reality, it was hard to see him while he was saying mass, and he zipped by in his popemobile. I guess that’s just how these things go!
My picture of Pope Francis while in his popemobile
My pilgrimage to the Vatican for Easter mass at St. Peter’s Basilica wasn’t an easy one, but I’m glad I did it. It gave me a new perspective in which to enjoy Vatican City in addition to the tour we did Saturday afternoon. Just make sure you pray for an easy ticket pickup, good weather, and available seats!