We arrived at the Vatican around 7:00 and took our place in a long line.
We got inside around 8:30 (the door opened around 7:30).
We were seated behind the High Altar, so our view was less than ideal. But we were quite close and could see the Pope (from behind) very well during the liturgy of the Eucharist.
For you Church-geeks out there, here are a few things that struck me:
- Our candles were not actually lighted from the new fire, but by the butane lighters of the ushers. The kids -- and Maureen and I -- thought this was extremely cheesey. I would think that with a little planning they could have figured out a way to spread the fire even in a place as big as St. Peter's.
- When the lights came up after the third "Lumen Christi," we had just gotten our candles lighted. Suddenly it was like we're under interrogation (the lights in St. Peter's are really bright).
- The Deacon did a great job chanting the Exultet (not so great on the Gospel -- too sloooooow), and, since it was in Latin, we got the mention of the bees that are (inexplicably) omitted in the English translation:
Therefore on this sacred night, receive, O holy Father, the evening sacrifice, which thy holy Church by the hands of her ministers presents to thee in the solemn offering of this wax candle made out of the labor of bees. And now we know the excellence of this pillar, which the bright fire lights for the honor of God. Which fire, though now divided, suffers no loss from the communication of its light. Because it is fed by the melted wax, which the mother bee wrought for the substance of this precious lamp.
- There were six readings (four OT, the Epistle and the Gospel), each in a different language: German, Spanish, English, French, Italian and Latin . Three of the six readers were women, which for some reason was very striking to me -- hearing women's voices amidst all that testosterone.
- The music was OKish -- a premium seemed to be put on congregational participation, so most of it was quite simple. I noticed that congregational participation seemed to decrease once the (very loud -- at least where we were) organ kicked in at the Gloria.
- The most excruciating moment was during the lighting of the altar candles at the Gloria: it took forever -- the poor guy was still trying to light them well into the Epistle -- and we were on the edge of our seats wondering if he would get them all lit. I felt like applauding when he got the last one done.
- Since my Italian is pretty minimal, so I only caught parts of the homily, but I've since read a translation and it was impressive.
- Unfortunately, we couldn't see the baptisms, which are always my favorite part of the Vigil, but we did catch a glimpse of the neophytes was they brought the gifts of bread and wine to the altar. Apparently one of them is a prominent (non-practicing) Muslim in Rome, but nothing was made of this during the liturgy itself, which is a good thing. No reason to indulge in triumphalism (as opposed to celebrating the triumph of Christ over death).
- They didn't sprinkle us with the baptismal water, which was disappointing. As with the fire, I would think there would be a way to work this out even in a place as large as St. Peter's.
- As a deacon, I was interested to see a couple of special diaconal lines in the liturgy. Just before the Pope intoned (in a quavery but somehow moving voice) the Easter before the Gospel, the Deacon chanted (in Latin): "Most blessed Father, I announce to you a great joy, which is "Alleluia." And at the sign of peace he said, "In the Spirit of Christ, who is risen from the dead, offer each other the sign of peace." I don't know if these are peculiarly Papal things or are elements of the 2002 Missal that will appear with the new English translation, but I like them (I'm always for enhancing the Deacon's lines).
- Communion, as always seems to be the case at Papal Masses, seemed a pretty rushed affair, with a disorganized scrum of people surging forward to the army of priests who are distributing communion. Ah well, it's still Christ's body and blood.
As we left, we admired St. Peter's Square all decorated for Sunday Mass.
I can only imagine how it looks on this soggy morning.