When in Rome, How to Pay the Pope a Christmas Visit (Updated for 2016!)

Pope Benedict XVI at the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Spanish Steps, Rome

Over the Christmas holidays, many visitors to Rome have one goal in mind: how to see the Pope. (Note: This post has been updated to reflect 2016 dates and information!)

The brass ring of the experience is, of course, midnight Mass at St. Peter’s. While that’s a very, very special (if crowded) experience, it’s also tougher to book than a scavi tour. If you want to take a shot, then fax or write the Prefecture of the Papal Household at +39 06 6988 5863 with your information; here’s where you can find out how to book midnight Mass at St. Peter’s.

Keep in mind that this is best done at least a couple of months in advaance. By December, it’s pretty safe to say there won’t be any spots left—unless, that is, you’re in with a parish that can try to work their magic for you.

Luckily, though, there are other ways to get a glimpse of the Pope over the Christmas holidays. These include:

On December 8, see the Pope at the Spanish Steps. Each Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, the Pope goes to Piazza di Spagna in an act of homage to Mary (see photo at top… previous pope, same idea!). (Get there early to get closest to the column erected in honor of the Immaculate Conception, which is where the Pope will be for his blessing). It’s at 4pm, and no tickets are required.

Even if you don’t have tickets to midnight Mass, you can still attend. You’ll just have to stand out in the piazza and watch the ceremony on Jumbotrons; not quite the same, okay, but still pretty neat with thousands of people packed into the square. Just remember that it’s actually at 9:15pm, not midnight. (Pope Benedict changed it a few years ago, apparently wanting to get to bed a bit earlier, and Pope Francis has followed in his stead).

Go to “Urbi et Orbi” on Christmas Day. This is the special blessing the Pope gives the crowd— and gives all Catholics watching or listening through T.V. or radio worldwide—that happens only twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. The Pope appears at the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica at St. Peter’s Square for the blessing at noon. Tickets aren’t required.

Pray the “Angelus” with the Pope throughout December. For 2016, in December the Pope leads the faithful in prayer from his window at noon on Dec. 1, 3, 6,  10, 17, 24 and 31. For January dates, check here as we get closer. Tickets aren’t required.

Attend a Wednesday papal audience. The general audience will occur every Wednesday in December and January, as usual. Tickets are required; send your information to the same fax number as listed above for the midnight Mass. (More info on getting tickets for a normap

Get tickets to another Pope-led mass. In December 2016 and January 2017, these include:

  • Dec. 24: Mass for the Solemnity for the Birth of Our Lord, St. Peter’s Basilica, 9:15pm
  • Dec. 31: The First Vespers and “Te Deum,” St. Peter’s Basilica, 5pm
  • Jan. 1: Holy Mass, St. Peter’s Basilica, 10am*
  • Jan. 6: Holy Mass for the Epiphany, St. Peter’s Basilica, 10am*
  • Jan. 12: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Sistine Chapel, 9:45am*

*Note: I haven’t confirmed these exact times for 2017 because they aren’t yet on the Vatican site, but they’re likely to be accurate. Keep checking back on the Pope’s official calendar to confirm.

Remember that, again, you need tickets for these Masses in advance. (For less popular ceremonies, you can turn up two or three days in advance and get them directly from the Swiss Guards, without having to fax in advance. Truly. But for special ceremonies like these, I’d recommend doing the advance booking).

And make sure to check out my 5-minute video for everything else you have to know about spending the holidays in Rome!

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4 comments

  1. The pope’s Urbi et Orbi blessing is *not* given from the window in the Apostolic Palace. It is given from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica.

    If you want to be a Rome “expert”, at the least, check your facts.

  2. That’s a good catch, Eloise – thank you! I’ve made a change to reflect it. You’re right, even we Rome experts can make mistakes. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your helpful comment.

  3. I am desperately trying to get tickets for the Papal Mass at 10 am on January 1st, but keep drawing a blank, can anyone help, I need four tickets for myself and three friends.

  4. O, the Scavi Tour. It’s like the Holy Grail of Roman things. Great when you can get it but seemingly impossible to reserve.

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