Pope Francis urged priests to be humble like Jesus as he began three busy days leading to Easter — all scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic — with a Holy Thursday Mass.
Holy Thursday is the day Christians commemorate the day Jesus instituted the priesthood.
The pope, leader of the 1.3 billion Roman Catholic Church, said the Mass of the Chrism in a secondary part of St. Peter’s Basilica for about 200 people instead of the nearly 10,000 in the past.
It is the second consecutive Easter season under COVID-19 restrictions. The Vatican follows guidelines from Italy, which has seen a resurgence in infections and deaths.
Pope Francis, 84, blessed oils for Church sacraments and led cardinals, bishops and about 75 priests in renewing their vows.
In his homily, the pope asked priests to be humble, reminding them that Jesus went about caring for sinners and outcasts disregarding the “scorn in the self-righteous” of the critics of his times.
Pope Francis has delegated a cardinal to lead the second Holy Thursday event in the evening.
Traditionally on this occasion the celebrant washes and kisses the feet of 12 people to commemorate Jesus’ gesture of humility towards his apostles, but this year’s coronavirus restrictions have omitted that part of the ritual.
It was not clear why the pope, who in the past has held the service in prisons or homes for elderly people, had delegated the evening Mass. Some have speculated that he wants to rest ahead of three busier days. He suffers from sciatica, which causes pain when it flares up.
Pope Francis is due to preside at two services on Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate the crucifixion and two on Holy Saturday. On Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he delivers his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message.
Pope Francis meets with cardinal he fired
Meanwhile, media reports said Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Thursday with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was fired by the pontiff last September on accusations of embezzlement and nepotism.
Cardinal Becciu told Italian journalists that the Mass was said in the chapel of the cardinal’s apartment in the Vatican.
Father Angelo Sceppacerca, an aide to the cardinal, confirmed the meeting in a telephone call with Reuters.
The Vatican had no official comment but the official Vatican News website ran a brief article about it.
The Mass took place on Holy Thursday, the day Christians commemorate the founding of the priesthood by Jesus in the Last Supper with his apostles.
News of the meeting with Pope Francis was as surprising as when the pope fired Cardinal Becciu suddenly last September.
Cardinal Becciu said at the time the pope was acting on information given to the pontiff by Vatican and Italian magistrates. The cardinal is still under investigation.
The pope fired him as head of the Vatican department that decides who will become Roman Catholic saints and also stripped him of his rights as cardinal, including participation in an eventual conclave to elect a new pope.
Cardinal Becciu, who has denied allegations of wrongdoing related to contracts the Church gave to his brothers, said last September that the pope had told him at a stormy meeting “I no longer have trust in you.”
Cardinal Becciu has also been caught up in a Vatican scandal about using Church money to invest in a luxury building in London. He has denied any wrongdoing in that case too.