Pope's Midnight Mass to start early to respect COVID curfew
Rome, Dec 10: Pope Francis will celebrate Midnight Mass earlier than usual to comply with Italy's anti-coronavirus curfew and will deliver his Christmas Day blessing indoors to prevent crowds from forming in St. Peter's Square.
The Vatican on Thursday released the pope's COVID-19 Christmas liturgical schedule. It said the pope's Dec. 24 Mass — which for years hasn't been celebrated at midnight at all but at 9:30 p.m. to spare pontiffs from the late hour — would begin at 7:30 p.m. this year.
Italy has imposed a 10 p.m. nationwide curfew, as well as restaurant closures and other restrictions, to try to prevent crowds from forming following a surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths this fall.
Francis' other Christmas appointments were confirmed, but his Dec. 25 noontime speech and blessing will be delivered from inside St. Peter's Basilica rather from the loggia overlooking the piazza — an appointment that normally would draw thousands of people to the square on Christmas morning.
The Italian government has decided to maintain a hard line on anti-virus restrictions over the holidays in a bid to prevent families from gathering in big groups. Public health officials have said inter-familial transmission was one of the biggest drivers of new infections in this second wave, which has killed over 25,000 people.
Francis canceled his weekly public general audiences a few weeks ago after infections started to surge, including a cluster of a dozen cases among the Vatican's Swiss Guards. He now delivers his Wednesday catechism lessons from his library, as he also did during the height of the pandemic's first wave when the Vatican was in full lockdown. Francis will also celebrate New Year's Eve vespers and New Year's Day Mass in the basilica. None of the services is open to the public, given social-distancing norms.