History of a tradition of Polish Thursday Masses at the St. Sebastian Chapel, in the Vatican Basilica, where Blessed John Paul II is buried.
“After my death, I ask for Holy Masses and prayers.” —John Paul II, March, 6, 1979, addition to his spiritual testament.
After Pope John Paul II’s death on April 2, 2005, his his Polish master of ceremonies, Msgr. Konrad Krajewski, responded immediately to his last request: he initiated the tradition of “Polish” Thursday Masses at the late Pope’s tomb. Today, each week, some 120 priests and 500 faithful gather each Thursday to celebrate this Mass. Then, on October, 31, to everyone’s complete surprise, Pope Francis appeared to celebrate the Mass. Francis was created a cardinal by John Paul II in 2001.
Archbishop Krajewski, the new Papal Almoner (the office in charge of distributing charity to the poor on behalf of the Pope) agreed to speak with us about the history of the Mass and Pope Francis’s unexpected presence:
“When I became a priest,” Krajewski began, “Thursday was always a special day for me, as it is a day for priests and the day of the institution of the Eucharist. When I worked in countryside parishes in Poland, the priests from the neighborhood gathered each week in one of our parishes for Vespers and to have a dinner together. Being far from Łódź, the diocesan seat, it was an occasion to meet together to share our joys and sorrows and to find a substitute or to invite each other for retreats or to organize something together. I continued this practice when I arrived in Rome.
“As soon as I received an apartment, I began to invite priests, sisters and students each Thursday for Vespers. I also invited them to celebrate Holy Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter, so they didn’t need to ask for a permission normally requested. It continues till now.
“When John Paul II died, his tomb was first in the Vatican Grottoes. So, I reserved a 7 o’clock morning Mass for each Thursday, in advance, for the entire year. Not having sent any invitations, I started to celebrate for those who would come. At the beginning there were just 15, 20, then 30 people. Priests could join and concelebrate without any problems. Later on, the number present was increasing, so there were logistical problems. We had to introduce tickets. This went on for several years.
“When the body of John Paul II was moved from the Grottoes to the Basilica, the problem with the space ended. Today, there are around 120 priests and 400-500 faithful as it was when the Pope came on October 31. This is the history of our Thursday Masses, which I think were born because of the desire of people’s hearts.”
But Archbishop Krajewski, said there is also another important reason: “At the first Thursday Mass after John Paul II’s death, I read his testament in which the Holy Father asked for ‘Holy Masses and prayers.’ As his master of ceremonies, I thought ‘I am the first who should take care of this.’ So, the Thursday Masses became an answer to his request. Celebrating Holy Masses at his tomb, I am doing nothing else than fulfilling his last will and testament.”
This 8-year-old tradition was appreciated on the eve of All Saints Day by Pope Francis. Although his presence was a big surprise for the people and even Vatican security, the plan was made much before. “I told the Pope about the Thursday Masses on the way to Rio de Janeiro (Note: for World Youth Day, the new Pope’s first international trip; Krajewski participated as his master of ceremonies for the last time). The flight lasted 13 hours. The Holy Father invited me to come to eat dinner with him. I already knew that he chosen me to be his new Almoner. He was asking me for many things and I told him about this tradition. That there are always many people. That it is a very spontaneous initiative not regulated by any agreement between Poles and the Holy See. Pope Francis told me that he would gladly come for such a celebration.
“After the trip and my ordination, the Pope told me when he would come, asking me not to say to anybody. He wanted to meet those who come for the Masses every Thursday and not those who would come to see only him. So, it happened. Almost nobody knew that he would be with us on October 31. Only a few people had to know for logistic reasons, like the Polish section of Vatican radio, to be ready for the translation.”
“It was,” Krajewski continued, “the Holy Father’s first ‘visit’ to Poland. Thanks to live broadcasting on 19 radio stations in Poland (Note: these broadcasts started on May 9, 2013), he was present in many Polish homes where every Thursday the radio is turned on at 7.10 (CET) in the morning to listen to the Mass at John Paul II’s tomb.”
In his short homily, Pope Francis commented on “two icons” from the Readings of the day, taken from the Letter to the Romans (8:31-39) and the Gospel of St Luke (13:31-35). “Nothing will be able to separate me from the love of Christ,” Pual writes. Repeating St. Paul’s words, Francis said the Apostle’s faith is “an icon” signifying that the love of Christ should be our touchstone and the very center of our lives. “We cannot be Christian without Christ’s love, without living in this love, without acknowledging it, without nourishing ourselves on this love,” Francis said. “And this is what love does: it creates this relationship of love.” The “second icon” was Jesus’ sadness over Jerusalem which “did not understand God’s tenderness” and where there was no fidelity.
“The question is, who do I resemble more, Paul or Jerusalem?” Francis asked. “Is my love for God strong like Paul’s or is my heart a lukewarm heart like that of Jerusalem? May the Lord, through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II, help us to respond to this question.”
Thursday Masses now are celebrated at 7.10 a.m. at the St. Sebastian Chapel in the Vatican Basilica.
Priests can join the celebrations very easily. They don’t need to ask before, they can just come to the sacristy with their own alb and stole.