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Tips For Spending Easter Week In Rome

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Pope Benedict XVI officially resigned his post on February 28, 2013. He made this announcement earlier in February, throwing the Catholic world into a bit of upheaval, and making this Easter an even busier time in Rome. The faithful will be joining the tourists.

There is nothing like attending mass in Saint Peter's Square. It's the stuff bucket lists are made of. Packed inside the little area are thousands of people from all over the world. This year, Easter mass and the events leading up to Easter will be especially busy in the Vatican.

Vatican City generally prepares for large crowds during Easter, but now it's likely there will be enormous crowds of people from now through the election of a new pope. Pope Benedict XVI's final Papal Audience was held on February 27, and on March 4 Vatican officials began to plan the process and schedule for the election of a new pope. The hope is to have a new pope in place well before Easter Week begins on March 24, but of course it all depends on how quickly the cardinals get to consensus. At the moment, the Easter Week schedule has not been altered in light of the pope's resignation.

For more details on what's open, what's closed, and what to expect, see this article on what the pope's resignation means for travelers.

Book a Vatican tour

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It is important to note, some of these events, especially those that require a seat, require tickets in advance. While these are not easy to come by, your best bet is to reach out to the American Seminary, or, if Catholic, asking your bishop. Here are the Easter Week dates for 2013.

Sunday, March 24, Palm Sunday and Passion of the Lord: Start the week of services with this special event to kick off Holy Week in Rome. This Papal Mass takes place at Saint Peter's Square at 9:30 a.m. The service includes the Blessing of the Palms, Procession and Holy Mass. Oftentimes the Pope will dedicate a portion of time to send a special message to the world's youth.

Thursday, March 28, Holy Thursday: Beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Vatican Basilica, this Chrismal Mass is a special event since morning mass is not the norm. Hours later, at 5:30 p.m., at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, there is the Mass of the Lord's Supper and the beginning of the Paschal Triduum. This mass commemorates Christ bathing the feet of the Apostles.

Friday, March 29, Good Friday: Expect the crowds to really take shape today and continuing to pick up steam the entire weekend. At 5 p.m. at the Vatican Basilica, the Papal Mass takes place, celebrating the passion of the lord. Then, at 9:15 p.m. at the Colosseum, there is the Way of the Cross, where the Pope (and onlookers) traces the Stations of the Cross from the Colosseum to Palatine Hills in a torch-lit procession. Other than Easter Sunday's Mass, this event is one of the most spectacular ones to attend.

Book tickets for an audience with the Pope

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Saturday, March 30, Holy Saturday: Get a spot early for this event, the Papal Mass and Easter Vigil, which begins at 9 p.m. During this Mass, those who have converted are accepted into the church.

Sunday, March 31, Easter: There are two morning services today. The first, the Holy Mass of the Day, is at Saint Peter's Square at 10:15 a.m. Then, at noon at Central Loggia of the Vatican Basilica, is the "Urbi et Orbi" message and blessing. This is the crowning glory of all of these services. The Pope takes center stage in front of the visitors (of all faiths) and address the crowd in St. Peter's Square. Amongst the historic structures, the Pope stands from his balcony overlooking the Vatican and speaks to those in attendance (and those watching along on television).

Sticking around after Easter? The week following the holiday is Culture Week. During this week, Rome's city and state-run museums and galleries are free to enter. In addition, there are special events, concerts and more.

- Diana Edelman for Viator

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