The Holy Father is returning to the prison where, just two weeks after his election, he celebrated his first Mass of the Lord's Supper as pope.
Just one verse each day.
The first Mass of the Lord’s Supper celebrated by Pope Francis after his election as pope was at Rome’s juvenile prison of Casal del Marmo. This year, he will return there for Holy Thursday.
The celebration will not be open to the general public, but live streaming is planned.
In an interview in 2017, Pope Francis explained why he broke with the tradition of celebrating Holy Thursday at St. John Lateran, and has often chosen to spend the Lord’s Supper with inmates instead.
“As priests and bishops, we should always be serving,” the Pope told La Repubblica. “As I said in the visit to a prison that I made the first Holy Thursday after my election, this is a duty that I carry in my heart.”
His focus on prison ministry, the Pope revealed, has been reinforced by the example of Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, who died in 1998.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II appointed the cardinal as Secretary of State, following his many years working in the Vatican and in Vatican diplomacy.
“The example of Agostino Casaroli taught me a lot,” Francis explained in the interview. “He died in 1998, after having been a cardinal and Secretary of State. As a priest, he carried out his ministry for years in the juvenile prison of Casal del Marmo.
Francis continued: “Every Saturday night, he would disappear. ‘He’s resting,’ people would say. He arrived [to the prison] by bus, with his briefcase, and he stayed there to hear the young people’s confessions and to play with them. They called him Don Agostino — nobody knew who he was.
“When John XXIII received him in audience after his first visit to the countries of Eastern Europe on a diplomatic mission in the midst of the Cold War, after the meeting, the pope asked him, ‘Tell me something. Do you still visit those kids?’
“‘Yes, Your Holiness,’
“‘I ask you a favor: Never abandon them.’ This was the counsel left to Casaroli by the Good Pope, who died a few months later.”
Mass of the Lord’s Supper as Pope
The Casal del Marmo houses many young prisoners also of the Muslim faith. It was also visited by John Paul II in 1980 and by Benedict XVI in 2005.
Francis has visited six prisons in for Holy Week: in addition to the facility of Casal del Marmo,’ the list also includes the prisons of Rebibbia (2015), Paliano (2017), ‘Regina Cœli’ in central Rome (2018), Velletri (2019) and Civitavecchia (2022).
In 2014, he visited a facility of the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation, the Santa Maria della Provvidenza center in Rome, which houses people with disabilities and mental illnesses.
In 2016, he visited a center for asylum seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, washing the feet of 12 of the 890 migrants who were then housed there. This visit was part of the Jubilee of Mercy.
Finally, 2020 and 2021 were two special years because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was in St. Peter’s Basilica, but before a reduced audience, that he celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on April 9, 2020. At that time, he paid a heartfelt tribute to the many priests who died during the first weeks of the pandemic. He did not perform the rite of foot washing, due to the health protocol in force.
A year later, on April 1, 2021, the Pope let Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the Sacred College, celebrate this public liturgy in his place, still in a reduced format. The pontiff, to the surprise and disbelief of many, went to the home of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, in the Palace of the Holy Office. He celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a small group with the Sardinian cardinal and some of his entourage, a few months after having withdrawn the cardinal’s prerogatives because of the investigation into misappropriation of funds within the Secretariat of State, which opened the way to the trial known as the “London building affair.”