Midnight Mass at the Vatican
Sometime, way back when (I think in August) Madison asked where we would be for Christmas. Our original route had us in Croatia for Christmas which didn’t make her very excited. She suggested Rome and midnight mass at the Vatican so we began working on how we could make that happen. It was easy enough to change our route and our plans along with it. Figuring out the details of attending midnight mass, transportation in and out of the city and the time of it all was a bit of a challenge. It never occurred to me that we would need tickets until a friend of ours asked if we had them. I looked into it and saw that yes indeed, if we wanted to be in the basilica we needed tickets. They are free but you have to request them in advance and because this was for the Christmas midnight mass you needed to request them 2-4 months in advance. We downloaded the form, filled it out and sent it in. We did get a reply about a week later asking us for a letter of endorsement from our local bishop. That was not going to happen so we settled for the alternative – anyone can go to St. Peters Square and watch the mass on the big screen t.v.s. That was actually a better alternative for us anyway.
Rome is quite a big city with an ancient center and a modern “ring road” built around the outskirts. We are camping outside of the ring road so figuring out the transportation in and out of the city – and on a public holiday – was challenging. We have now mastered driving to a park and ride lot and taking the metro into the center of the city. That works fine and is quite easy. Except after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The metro stopped running about 11:00 pm that night. We took the night bus back to our park and ride but it ended up being about a 3 hour journey – first to find the right bus stop, then find a bus we could get on (they were very full), then change buses to head to the parking lot. After an unexpected bus change (someone on board vomited so the bus driver made us all get off) we finally made it safely back to our truck. It was a bit nerve racking as we had some walking to do in areas we don’t know at 2:30 in the morning.
Getting into the city was easy and worked out great. We were in the center of town by about 5 pm and wondered the streets. We found an area where they have a large Christmas market and explored it. We were pleasantly surprised that stores were still open. We finally settled on a little trattoria for dinner and had excellent lasagna, wine and cappuccino. At some point when we were researching attending midnight mass we discovered that midnight mass actually begins at 10 pm!??! Good thing I ran across that on their website. We read that it could take 2-4 hours to get into the church so plan to arrive early and plan on waiting. We didn’t have to go into the church but still wanted to arrive early – we planned to get to the square by about 8 pm and we did. We were pleasantly surprised to find they had an area in the square set up with chairs – over 1,000 at least. So we were early enough to stake out a seat for all of us. We left Noah to keep our seats and we wandered the square to look at the creche, the fountain, the Christmas tree, the people and all the statues. It is a beautiful site – everything is lit up and very festive. There were thousands of people there. We read that the church accommodates 15,000 people and the square 80,000. The square was not full but maybe half way full – so 40,000 people.
At 9 pm they started saying the rosary and by 9:20 they began the procession into the basilica. (I can’t begin to understand the timing but we were there for it and that’s what mattered.) The mass lasted until about 11 pm. We could see everything happening inside on the big screen tv’s. There were at least 4 or 5 screens set up around the square. And when it was time for communion, at least 100 priest came outside to administer communion to the crowd where we were. The crowd outside was very respectful and participated as if they were inside. Madison asked me lots and lots of questions and Noah just tired to stay warm. We exchanged the sign of the peace with the people around us, Kay shared a blanket with the woman next to her who was from Chile. It was a wonderful experience and I’m so glad we did it.
We had a fun Christmas day. The kids were not expecting much, matter of fact, they had declare that it would be a “lame” Christmas. Turns out we did pretty well. We had ordered some gifts online when we were in Albania and had them sent to my sister in Porland, OR. She then packaged them up and sent them to us in Albania. Not cheap but worth it. So after sleeping in late, opening gifts, and cake for breakfast, we settled into playing games and watching Christmas specials. We made a big Christmas dinner and had a really nice day. I think the only things missing from our traditional Christmas day was egg nog, cranberry sauce, and calling relatives to say hello. But so much more was added to it.