Perhaps more than anything else, my recent Easter holiday in Scotland reminded how much I do not like big cities, which is, in part, why being in the Eternal City for so many months is wearing on me. In Scotland, I took long walks in places like this along the Antonine Wall:
It was magnificent! The ground was soft. And green (or getting there)! There was no one to push me into a building or into oncoming traffic. No one placed himself directly in my path, refusing to move aside or let me pass on one side or the other. I saw birds, and deer, and rabbits, and met several friendly men and women walking their dogs. Rome is not like that. But every now and then the city can surprise you.
I set out yesterday morning to offer the Holy Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter for a couple of friends visiting from near Quincy, my hometown. As I approached St. Peter's Square about 6:45 a.m., I was struck by the beauty of the facade of the basilica:
It was quiet, and peaceful, and almost still, very much unlike the ordinary noise and crowds surrounding the site of the martyrdom of Saint Peter. I had forgotten how nice it can be around the basilica before most people are awake (the basilica opens at 7:00 a.m.).
Back inside the basilica, however, a little chaos was at work, but before I get to that you should know that there seems to be no Italian word to express the notion of this thing we call "leadership" (which explains a lot about life in Italy). Once I was vested and took up a chalice, a server - and his boss - asked if I had reserved an altar beforehand. When I answered in the negative, he asked if I was ready, to which I answered in the affirmative.
The servers ordinarily consult with the master of the sacristy as to which altars are available and then lead a priest to a free altar. Yesterday, however, the server simply walking alongside me and as we made our way down the lengthy corridor from the sacristy to the basilica, I realized I would have to lead him to an altar.
Not seeing any free altars on the sacristy side of the basilica, I led him past the papal altar and into the other side of the basilica. Seeing a free altar, I asked him if I could use it. He shrugged his shoulders and said he thought so. He placed the water and wine on the altar and returned to the sacristy (which is the normal procedure).
At any rate, I offered the Mass for a dear friend in Quincy at the altar of Saint Erasmus, of whom I knew nothing (there's a brief description of the altar here):
After the Mass, I began to show my friends a few particular things inside the basilica worth noticing. As I did so, one of them asked me what was rising up toward the ceiling in the central aisle. The workers of the basilica were changing the lights; I'd often wondered how it was done and yesterday morning I was able to see it happen. Here are a few photos:
All in all, it was a great way to start the day. I even left the basilica (to do a little Latin homework) before the crowds were out in force.