In America, it is possible for someone to go through all of Lent and Holy Week without realizing its true significance. The only clue are the gads of chocolate in pink and purple packages filling the aisles of the supermarket.
Not so in Rome.
Holy Week was filled with all things Catholic for the sophomores of Thomas More College. The pilgrims are pouring into Rome to spend the most important time of year with our beloved Pope Benedict XVI. Everywhere one looks seems to be a nun or a priest, a postcard with a Saint’s face or a dangling Rosary.
My peers and I enjoyed our final classes of the week on Holy Monday and our final tour of Rome on Holy Tuesday. Our audience with Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled for the following day and we waited in eager anticipation. The time came and we cried out to him from our nearby seats, “We love you, Papa!” This was just the beginning of a grace-filled Holy Week busy with Papal Masses and countless ancient traditions, such as visiting seven churches on Maundy Thursday and praying the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
Holy Thursday was particularly special. We began the day by attending the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s—thousands gathered there. I will never forget the Pope’s words in his homily, “We need, I need, not to claim my life as my own, but to place it at the disposal of another—of Christ. I should be asking not what I stand to gain, but what I can give for him and so for others.” The radical quality of Christ’s message struck me with these words. When do we not live for ourselves?
In the evening we each chose seven churches to visit. This is a long standing tradition that is safely assumed to have begun in Rome. All the altars in the city’s countless churches are decked with flowers, usually lilies, and literally hundreds of candles. The effect is unimaginable. Immediately upon entering each of the churches, the overpowering fragrance of the flowers or the soft flickering light of the little flames enrapture you in a spirit of prayer, in a sense of awe at the Passion of Christ. The whole city is waiting and praying.
The following day, Good Friday, we were able to pray the Stations of the Cross with Pope Benedict XVI at the Coliseum, and the following evening we attended the long awaited Easter Vigil in Saint Peter’s Basilica—a Mass that will forever stay in our memories.
Rome is commonly known as the Heart of the Church and during these special days of Holy Week leading into the Easter Season, the name is more fitting than ever—it is a racing, joyful, love-filled heart. The goods and graces of this Holy Triduum have overwhelmed us with joy as we celebrate the Easter Octave!