Pope Francis returns to the Sistine Chapel for The Baptism of Our Lord

Another first for Pope Francis last Sunday. On the Baptism of the Lord, a versus populum altar was wheeled out for the Pope's Mass in the Sistine Chapel. Apart from its use at the end of conclaves, Holy Mass has always been celebrated at the main altar of the Sistine. 

Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the new papal MC has a doctorate in liturgical studies from Sant'Anselmo?

The change in orientation necessitated covering over a good chunk of the beautiful mosaic floor in a bland concrete grey coloured frame and, as Messa in Latino remarked, not even a crucifix on the altar. I can't help but find some poignant symbolism in what appears to be a forced modernism in one of the best known chapels in the world. A turning away from what is there and a covering of it, to what end? What do we gain?

Pope Francis baptised a 16 babies, the first time he has done so since the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a brief, off-the-cuff homily beneath Michelangelo’s depiction of the Last Judgment, the pope said that in baptism children received their Christian identity.

“And you, parents and godparents, must guard this identity,” he said. “This is your task throughout your lives: to guard the Christian identity of your children. It is a daily commitment: to make them grow with the light that they will receive today.”

Throughout the Mass, the singing of the Sistine Chapel choir vied with the babies’ cries.

As in previous years, the pope told parents not to worry if their babies made loud noises during the ceremony.

He said: “This ceremony is a bit long, the children then feel strange here in an environment they do not know. Please, they are the protagonists: make sure that they are not too hot, that they feel comfortable...”

“And if they are hungry, feed them quietly here, in front of the Lord, no problem. And if they cry out, let them cry out, because they have a community spirit, let’s say a ‘band spirit,’ a spirit of ensemble, and all it takes is for one to start — because everyone is musical — and immediately the orchestra comes!”

“Let them cry quietly, let them feel free. But let them not feel too hot, and if they are hungry, don’t let them remain hungry.”

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes baptism as the “basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit ... and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.”

St. John Paul II began the papal tradition of baptizing children in the Sistine Chapel on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 11, 1981.


  1. It was Pope Benedict XVI who *removed* a (ugly modern, IIRC) portable altar that had been used for Mass in the Sistine Chapel for decades; he did this for the Baptism of The Lord in 2008.

    1. an altar installed by Monsignor (later Cardinal) Virgilio Noe, then the Papal Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, who, as the Archpriest of Saint Peter's, also approved the removal of the altar at the Altar of the Chair and replacing it with a rather ugly looking one which resembled a ironing board (thankfully now replaced

  2. What do we gain? We gain nothing, but for him a finger in our eye.
    That is sufficient.

  3. What do we gain? We gain nothing, but for him a finger in our eye.
    That is sufficient.

  4. “This is your task throughout your lives: to guard the Christian identity of your children.”

    Wow. Nothing about the parents teaching the Catholic Faith; nothing about holiness; nothing about the way to heaven…

    Being catholic is about guarding “the Christian identity of your children”. I wonder how parents should keep that identity. Perhaps with a QR code? Some sort of Catholic ID pass?

    We are moving dangerously towards the ideals of the German Church.

    In regards of the altar-ation, I could not expect less from Francis. We should be thankful he did not install some Pachamama, a figure of Buddha or a crescent over the altar to reaffirm the ‘new Christian Identity’ in line with the allegedly teachings of the II Vatican Council.


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