April 28 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Serving with St Peter’s successor

Scottish seminarian RYAN BLACK gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the Easter Vigil in the Vatican

A few weeks ago, the vice-rector announced that the Pontifical Scots College community would be serving at a Papal Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. If that wasn’t exciting enough, then the fact that the Mass would be the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night certainly was. On Holy Saturday morning, almost exactly one year after we met Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace to mark the 400th anniversary of the seminary, we travelled to the Vatican once again. Everyone was excited as we passed the Swiss Guards and entered the basilica from a side entrance. When we arrived, we met Mgr Guido Marini, the master of pontifical liturgical celebrations, and his team of MCs. Those preparing to be Baptised and Confirmed by the Pope were also at the morning rehearsal.

The deacons were assigned their roles. Rev Jonathan Whitworth and Rev Bernard Mournian were to be ‘assisting deacons,’ meaning that they would flank the Holy Father all night. Rev Paul Denney would be the deacon of the Eucharist, meaning that he would assist the Pope during the liturgy of the Eucharist. Next, the seminarians were lined up in single file with the tallest man at one end and the shortest at the other. They chose four of us who speak Italian to work directly with Mgr Marini, then the MCs assigned jobs to everyone, trying to ensure that everyone would have something to do at the most solemn Mass in the Church’s year.

Four of us were assigned jobs by Mgr Marini. The ‘altar party’ was made up of the two assisting deacons and four servers. Josh Moir was told he would be carrying the ‘papal ferulam,’ or pastoral staff. Christopher Doig was to be the Pope’s mitre-bearer. Joe McGill was chosen to be the book-bearer, and I was told that I would be the microphone-bearer.

I could not believe my luck. I knew that if I was to carry the microphone, then I would be close to the Pope for a long time during the Mass. I was most excited about being able to witness the Baptisms from a great viewpoint—I would be standing at the font, next to the Pope. At the same time, I was ill at the thought of hitting him or tripping over the cable; the Vatican hasn’t really taken to the idea of cordless microphones!

After running through the entire Mass twice with Mgr Marini, the morning rehearsal was over. We were told to be back at the basilica two hours before the Mass in the evening. Everyone was hyper as we returned to the College and swapped details about our jobs at the Mass. Some were candle-bearers; others would wash the Holy Father’s hands at different times; six seminarians would assist the Pope when he vested for Mass.


In the evening, I must admit to feeling sick when the coach arrived to take us into town. Before, I could not believe my good luck at being chosen to be the microphone-bearer. Later, I could not believe my bad luck at being chosen. All afternoon, I had watched previous Easter Vigils celebrated by the Pope on YouTube to ‘study form!’

I calmed down after the third rehearsal. In the morning, everyone had been practicing their parts at the same time. Now, we rehearsed in ‘real time.’ I could finally picture where people would be throughout the Mass. I also realised with certainty that there were no chairs for the seminarians in the altar party—we would be standing at the papal altar for almost the entire Mass, with the opportunity to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Before Mass, the seminarians vested in the chapel of Michelangelo’s Pietà. I still cannot believe how close we were to what might be the world’s most famous statue. Monsignor Marini and his MCs had continually reminded us that the Mass was exactly that—a Mass, and not a show. They encouraged us to pray during the Mass and to adopt a prayerful mindset. Once we were vested, everyone took a few moments in front of the Pietà to recollect themselves before Pope Francis came in and greeted us.

He had a huge smile on his face, which certainly helped me to relax. He shook our hands and told people to ‘be calm.’ Apparently, when he came in, he mentioned the bottle of malt whisky that we brought him last year! As he moved down the line, followed as always by his photographer, the atmosphere kept building. We were now minutes away from serving the Easter Vigil for the Pope.

Then, Mass began. We processed out to the Easter fire and then, after the Holy Father had finished with the Paschal Candle, we processed into a silent and dark St Peter’s Basilica.

The only sounds I could hear were the clicking of cameras and the constant updates being given by the Vatican bodyguard who flanked me the whole way up the central aisle.

I must admit that the time between meeting the Pope and leaving the basilica to return to the College is a bit of a blur. However, I have watched the Mass twice since I returned to Scotland on Easter Sunday. I still cannot believe that I was there, celebrating the Easter Vigil, in the heart of the Church, with the Successor of St Peter.



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