It was quite a show: St. Peter's, perhaps the largest church in Christendom, packed right up to the mosaics with devoted laypeople, awestruck priests and pretty young nuns, dignitaries, a few babies, and me. A cafeteria Catholic, by my brother's description (because I pick and chose what aspects of the Catholic faith I can accept, and what I must reject.)
We were all there to join the Pope in celebrating Christmas Eve Mass, in the splendor of St. Peter's Basilica (photo above from Reuters.)
I just thanked the Lord, in all sincerity, to finally have a seat in which to place my tired old self. Almost three hours queuing in the Piazza San Pietro was more exhausting than I had expected. The line was enormous, snaking twice around the vast piazza as those of us who had been fortunate enough to get a ticket waited to actually get inside.
First, the wind came up. Then, the rain began -- not heavily, just enough to give us all a chill. My feet began to really hurt.
Fascinated, I watched as two young priests -- one Irish, one French -- moved up and down the line, trying to find a couple of spare tickets so they could get inside for the Papal Mass. A woman from Austria asked me where she could find the Vatican.
And when officials finally opened the doors of St. Peter's Basilica, it was like some midnight madness sale at an electronics warehouse. People actually sprinted through the security area and raced up the enormous steps to get inside and grab a seat. Many were still left standing at the back throughout the two-hour long Mass and many, many more were left outside.
The music was divine, the setting so very beautiful. The Pope, who entered to applause, was wheeled up to the main altar of St. Peter's while standing on the motorized platform that he now uses. According to media reports, the Vatican explains the platform helps the Pope to conserve his strength, allows more people to see him, and protects him from attacks such as one two years ago when a woman jumped at the Pope on his way in to Christmas Eve Mass, knocking him to the floor.
The Pope delivered his homily in Italian, lamenting the commercialization of Christmas. Rather than reducing the occasion to a shopping experience, people around the world should rediscover the true meaning of Christmas in the humble birth of the Christ child.
According to media reports, Christmas Eve Mass with the Pope was moved up to 10 p.m. from midnight several years ago to spare him a very late night that is followed by an important Christmas Day speech.
I had a long walk home after Mass, about an hour through the still-bustling streets of Rome. It felt so good to be there, and to still be here today, and to know that I'll be here tomorrow.