"To you I give the keys of the kingdom", Our Lord's words to Saint Peter, are a commissioning to the first of the Apostles and all his successors down to Benedict XVI in our own day, charged with "strengthening the brethren" in the holy Faith. The monumental statue of Saint Peter in the piazza which bears his name is a reminder of the wonderful gift to the Church of the office of the papacy, sign and source of unity for the Church.
Yesterday I had the blessing of offering Holy Mass at the altar of Saint Leo the Great in Saint Peter's Basilica. The greatest church in Christendom is quiet and calm in the early morning. Various priests enter the sacristy to vest for Mass and then walk out to the great church to find an available altar for the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. I celebrated in Latin at the altar of St. Leo the Great.
I attended the general audience in Saint Peter's square and heard our holy father's reflections on his recent pilgrimage to the United States. He continues to reflect upon and benefit from the blessing of his days among us as we come to understand more profoundly what this gift means to all of us. His praises the USA as a "valid example" of the lay state which allows for freedom of religious expression.
Vatican City State continues the ancient and scriptural Thursday liturgical celebration of the feast of the Acension, forty days after the Resurrection. Mass for the Feast was offered at Saint Peter's today at the altar of the chair in Latin with Gregorian chant.
The state of Italy celebrates a secular holiday on May 1. The church in this country transfers the feast of the Ascension to the following Sunday as we do in the United States.