By Hannah Brockhaus
Pope Francis’ Christmas liturgies at the Vatican will be offered without public participation this year, as countries continue to react to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a letter seen by CNA which was sent by the Secretariat of State to embassies accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis will celebrate the Vatican liturgies of the Christmas season “in a private form without the presence of members of the diplomatic Corps.”
The letter, which was sent by the section for general affairs Oct. 22, said the liturgies will be streamed online. Diplomats accredited to the Holy See usually attend papal liturgies as special guests.
Due to pandemic measures, including a two month nation-wide lockdown of Italy, Pope Francis also offered the 2020 Easter liturgies without the presence of the public.
Italy has seen a dramatic increase in positive coronavirus cases, as well as increased hospitalizations and deaths, in recent weeks, leading the government to issue new containment measures, including the full closure of gyms and theaters, and a 6pm closure for bars and restaurants except for takeout. Parties and receptions are also suspended. Since earlier this month, it has been mandated to wear face masks at all times in public, including outside.
During Advent and Easter, the pope’s schedule of public liturgies and Masses is usually particularly full, with thousands participating in Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica.
In past years the pope has offered a Dec. 12 Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a Dec. 8 ceremony and prayer at Rome’s Piazza di Spagna for feast of the Immaculate Conception.
According to the 2020 schedule of public papal events published on the Vatican website, instead of a Mass Dec. 8, the pope will lead the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square to mark the day.
During the Christmas season, the pope usually says Midnight Mass for the Nativity of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 24, and on Christmas Day he gives the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing from the central loggia of the basilica.
In past years he has also prayed First Vespers on Dec. 31 followed by a Mass on Jan. 1 for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, both in St. Peter’s Basilica.
These events are not listed on Pope Francis’ public schedule for 2020, except for the Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” blessing. The pope is still slated to give all of his typical Angelus addresses and to hold the Wednesday general audience every week, except that of Christmas.
The schedule of public events does not extend past December 2020, so it is unclear whether Pope Francis will publically celebrate any of the liturgies of January 2021, including Mass for Epiphany Jan. 6.
It is also unknown if Pope Francis will next year baptize the children of Vatican employees and say a private Mass for them and their families for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, per his tradition.