ROME, Italy — Pope Francis opened the solemn final days of Holy Week with a morning Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica but planned to skip the traditional Thursday afternoon service that commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with his apostles.
The Vatican didn’t explain why the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, would preside instead over the Vatican's main Holy Thursday afternoon service.
Francis, who is 84 and suffers frequent bouts of sciatica nerve pain, may have opted to delegate the service given his busy liturgical schedule over the coming days that culminates with Easter Sunday Mass. In other years, Francis traveled to a prison or refugee center for the Holy Thursday service, which usually involves a foot-washing ritual that is meant to symbolize Jesus' willingness to serve.
For the second year in a row, the foot-washing ceremony was canceled due to coronavirus health restrictions. And all the Vatican’s Holy Week events were being celebrated before limited numbers of masked faithful to respect COVID-19 health and social distancing norms.
Francis did celebrate a morning Mass on Thursday to bless the oils that will be used over the coming year in various church sacraments. In his homily, Francis offered a personal memory of hearing a confession from a nun and having asked her, as her penance, to pray for him.
“She paused for a moment and seemed to be praying, then told me, ‘The Lord will certainly give you that grace, but make no mistake about it: He will give it to you in his own divine way,'" Francis recalled. “This did me much good, hearing that the Lord always gives us what we ask for, but that he does so in his divine way.”
Francis concludes every Sunday blessing with a request that the faithful pray for him. He did so again Thursday during the oil-blessing Mass, saying “I need it.”