Holy Week at Rome

Whether you are a religious person or not, Holy Week in Rome is an excellent opportunity to get to know its spiritual side. Find out how to make the most of this experience.

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

7 min read

Holy Week at Rome

Vatican City, Rome | ©Juan Carlos Benito

Travelling to Rome during Holy Week is one of the best times to visit the Italian capital. The spring weather is more pleasant for spending time outdoors, the holidays are longer and the city is transformed to bring out its more spiritual side.

Seeing Rome' s Holy Week in person is, without a doubt, one of the experiences you must have during your trip to Rome. Do you like the idea? In this post I'll tell you what these festivities are like in the capital of Italy and how you can enjoy this special event in the city. Let's get started!

How to get tickets to enjoy Holy Week in Rome?

Participating in Holy Week in Rome| ©Hogar de la Madre
Participating in Holy Week in Rome| ©Hogar de la Madre

Rome's Holy Week religious events are free****to attend, but you'll need to get a ticket well in advance, as demand is very high and the number of places is limited.

To obtain a ticket, you will need to contact the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household by fax expressing your interest in attending one of the religious events of Holy Week in Rome and indicating the following details:

  • Date of the General Audience or Liturgical Celebration
  • Number of tickets requested
  • Name / Group
  • E-mail address
  • Postal address
  • Telephone and Fax

Once they receive your request, the Vatican will inform you by mail to your home address and will send you a notification with information on where you can go when you arrive in Rome to find out if you have finally been granted tickets or unfortunately there is no availability due to the large number of requests to attend the religious celebrations.

My advice is to try to make this request as far in advance as possible (6 to 3 months before your trip to Rome) and ask for few tickets, as a combination of these two factors will give you a better chance of achieving your goal.

Book an early morning visit to the Vatican

What if I don't get tickets for Holy Week in Rome, what can I do?

Façade of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Mike McBey
Façade of St. Peter's Basilica| ©Mike McBey

Don't worry! In case you don't get tickets for the Vatican's religious events, you can always experience the spirituality of Holy Week in Rome by making other interesting religious-themed plans in the city. Check out these ideas!

  • Semi-private Holy Week Tour in Rome: This is a guided historical-religious tour focusing on the Passion of Christ where you will also see some of Rome's most beautiful churches, basilicas and cathedrals as well as some holy relics related to Holy Week.
  • Rome's ChurchesTour: This is a short walking tour of some of Rome's most beautiful churches. An excellent opportunity to get to know the sacred art of the Eternal City including a stop for a coffee in a typical place of Rome.
  • Private tour of Catholic Rome: This is a private chauffeured tour of the churches and basilicas of Rome that you can tailor according to your tastes and preferences.

Book a tour of Christian Basilicas

How can I see the Pope up close during Holy Week?

Pope Francis at the Papal Audiences| ©RDMBP
Pope Francis at the Papal Audiences| ©RDMBP

The best way is to get free tickets to attend the religious celebrations of Holy Week but if this is not possible because there are no more seats available, don't worry because you have more opportunities.

In general, most tourists and pilgrims visiting the Vatican have two options to see the Pope in person: the Wednesday Papal Audiences (for which tickets are also required) and the Sunday Angelus (for which you don't need a ticket, just go to St. Peter's Square at noon).

In the post Papal Audience in Rome I tell you all about this experience, which you cannot miss during your visit to Rome whether you are a religious person or not.

Book tickets for the Papal Audience

What is Holy Week in Rome like?

Celebrating Palm Sunday| ©Davide Meloni
Celebrating Palm Sunday| ©Davide Meloni

In countries with a Catholic culture, Easter is celebrated with great devotion, but each one does it in a different way, following their own customs and traditions. But how is Easter celebrated in Rome? We look at it in detail below.

Start with Palm Sunday

In Rome the celebrations for Holy Week begin on the last Sunday of Lent with the celebration of Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week.

On this day, in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, a mass is celebrated by the Pope to commemorate Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and in his memory the olive branches carried by the faithful are blessed.

On Palm Sunday, the religious ceremony concludes with the Angelus at 12 PM with the Pope from the window of his study in the Vatican Apostolic Palace.

Admission to this event is free but it is necessary to book in advance. It is a crowded event so there will be standing room only to listen to the mass.

Maundy Thursday, a day to commemorate the "Last Supper"

From Maundy Thursday onwards, the most important religious events of Holy Week begin.

On this day, the Pope again celebrates another mass to commemorate the "Last Supper" of Christ before his Passion and in which he established the sacrament of the "Eucharist", in order to remember his sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of souls in the centuries to come.

The mass concludes with the washing of the feet by the Pope with a group of priests, recalling the moment when Christ washed the feet of his Apostles as a symbol of humility and an example of service to others.

This religious act normally takes place in the church of St. John Lateran, the first church built in Rome by order of Emperor Constantine the Great in the 4th century AD and one of the most beautiful in the city.

From the portico of the main façade of St. John Lateran, the Pope gives his blessing every Holy Thursday and bids farewell to the faithful gathered there.

Participate in the beautiful Stations of the Cross on Good Friday

Celebration of the Via Crusis| ©HEBE COSTA
Celebration of the Via Crusis| ©HEBE COSTA

On Good Friday, the Passion of Christ is celebrated, so no masses are celebrated in Catholic temples, but on Friday evening (the time of Christ's death on the cross) the liturgy of the Passion of the Lord takes place and at nightfall the most moving religious act of Holy Week in Rome takes place: the Via Crucis that goes from inside the Colosseum to the Temple of Venus on the Palatine Hill.

The Pope leads this solemn procession accompanied by other priests and hundreds of faithful who walk through the streets of Rome in memory of the Lord's Calvary to Mount Golgotha where he was crucified. At each of the stations that make up the Stations of the Cross, different passages from the Gospel are read, inviting reflection and recollection.

The Stations of the Cross on Good Friday is one of the most moving moments of Holy Week in Rome because of its profound religious significance, but also because of the beautiful landscape of ancient monuments and ruins that are illuminated by the light of the torches carried by the faithful as they pass through.

Holy Saturday: a day of silence, meditation and recollection

On Holy Saturday during the day, the churches of Rome do not celebrate masses as they are in mourning. It is a time for recollection, meditation and commemoration of the Solitude of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ.

Everything changes after midnight, when the Vigil Mass is celebrated in St. Peter's Square. In this religious act, a fire is lit in the atrium which, after being blessed, is used to light a large paschal candle representing the Risen Christ. In turn, its flame is used to light all the candles that will illuminate the church as a symbol of hope and joy.

Big party on Easter Sunday in Rome!

Also known as Easter Sunday, this is the central feast of Christianity commemorating the resurrection of Christ.

The city is overflowing with joy on Easter Sunday! On this day, early in the morning, the Pope officiates at Holy Mass in St. Peter's Square where the Easter Eucharist is celebrated. In addition, a Paschal candle is lit, representing the light of the risen Christ, which is kept alight all day.

To conclude the event, the Pope gives the papal blessing known as Urbi et Orbi from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to Rome and the whole world. The same blessing the Pope gives on Christmas Day.

Discover the Vatican, the epicentre of Holy Week in Rome

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City| ©Paul Macdonald
St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City| ©Paul Macdonald

In addition to its religious importance as the seat of the Catholic Church, the Vatican has much to offer from a historical and artistic point of view making it one of Rome's most important and interesting tourist attractions to visit.

What can you see in the Vatican?

And much more!

So that you know everything you can do and see in the Vatican, before you travel to Rome I recommend you read this post with everything Vatican City has to offer on your visit to the "Eternal City". Then you can decide whether you want to discover it at your own pace or take a guided tour.

There are so many fascinating things to see that you'll be left speechless - you'll want to come back!

Book skip the line tickets to the Vatican