Year of Mercy, Christmas, fill pope's calendar

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis' calendar of Masses and prayer services for December and January are a combination of annual Advent and Christmas celebrations and added events for the beginning of the Year of Mercy.

In St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass and open the Holy Door, ushering in the Year of Mercy with its emphasis on repentance, forgiveness and the need to go into the world sharing God's mercy.

The same afternoon, he will make the traditional trip to the square by the Spanish Steps in central Rome to lay flowers at the base of a statue of the Immaculate Conception and offer prayers.

As he did in 2014 and as Pope Benedict XVI did in 2011, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12. The next morning, he will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran and will open the Holy Door there.

U.S. Cardinal James M. Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, will preside over the opening of the Holy Door at St. Paul's Dec. 13, the Vatican said.

The Vatican Nov. 18 released the calendar of the pope's liturgical celebrations for December and January. The other events include:

- Christmas Mass at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 24 in St. Peter's Basilica.

- Christmas blessing urbi et orbi (to the city and the world) at noon Dec. 25 from the central balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square.

- A special Mass for families Dec. 27, the feast of the Holy Family, in St. Peter's Basilica.

- Dec. 31 in St. Peter's Basilica, evening prayer and the singing of the "Te Deum" in thanksgiving for the year that is ending.

- Morning Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Jan. 1, the World Day of Prayer for Peace and the feast of Mary, Mother of God. A group of boys' choirs, participating in an international conference, will sing at the Mass.

- Evening Mass Jan. 1 at the Basilica of St. Mary Major and opening of the Holy Door there.

- Mass Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany, in St. Peter's Basilica.

- Mass in the Sistine Chapel and the baptism of infants Jan. 10, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015