Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Holy Thursday, Pope To Prison

In a sudden announcement this morning from the Holy See, Pope Francis has yet again turned Vatican protocol on its head – shredding the earlier plan to begin the Easter Triduum in St Peter's Basilica, the new pontiff has instead opted to go to a juvenile prison in Rome to celebrate Holy Thursday's Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, at which he'll wash the feet of 12 inmates.

The opening chapter of the church's most sacred moment of the year, while the rite normally takes place in at St John Lateran, this year's Evening Mass was previously slated to happen in the Vatican Basilica as the new pontiff has yet to take possession of the Lateran – the "Mother and Head" of all churches, which has served for a millennium as the cathedral of the bishop of Rome. 

While the Popes have predominantly washed the feet of 12 retired priests of their diocese at the liturgy over recent decades, laymen and even special-needs youth have occasionally been chosen as the group for the foot-washing. However, the Mass has always taken place in a papal basilica.

On another charged front, meanwhile, as the facility Papa Bergoglio has chosen for the Mass comprises both male and female inmates, given his prior practice, a long-standing flashpoint for the church in the "developed" world – namely, the inclusion of women in the Mandatum rite – could just see its most authoritative thumbs-up to date in Francis' action next week.

In its release, the Vatican noted that the second Holy Thursday Mass "is characterized by the announcement of the Commandment of love and the act of the washing of the feet.

Along those lines, "in his ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires, [then-]Cardinal Bergoglio would celebrate this Mass in a jail, a hospital or a home for the poor or marginalized people," the release said (prior instances above).

Over years past, the groups among which the now-Pope led the Lord's Supper liturgy included drug addicts and HIV/AIDS patients as a way of highlighting Christ's preference for the "least" in the eyes of the world at his table.

"With the celebration at the Casal del Marmo [facility]," the Holy See said, "Pope Francis continues this practice, one that can only be characterized in a context of simplicity."

Given the significant presence of pilgrims to Rome for Holy Week, several thousand tickets to the Evening Mass had already been distributed. As previously scheduled, however, the Pope will still celebrate the mid-morning Chrism Mass – dedicated to the institution of the priesthood and the consecration of his diocese's oils for the year – in its usual venue at St Peter's.