While walking around in the churches of Rome it can be all to easy to forget why they were built - not for our pleasure, but for God's. They are often crowded with tourists, and the many guides are often less soft-spoken than they should be. But if you manage to find a quiet church the purpose of the church and its decoration will be more obvious to you.
Where to find some peaceEdit
There are a few tricks, if you wish to find a place where you can peacefully contemplate over the Mysteries of Faith and praise the Lord. Try the smaller churches away from the main tourist areas (Campo Marzio and the area around Campo dei'Fiori). If the guidebooks say that they're not interesting, few tourist will go there. In line with the first point: Find a church where there are few masterpieces that attract tourist groups. Get up early in the morning - even the great basilicas will be almost empty apart from the many priests who celebrate Mass at the side altars. If the church has a Blessed Sacrament chapel, you should find that it is a quiet place set aside for prayer (although in the major basilicas even these chapels are sometimes assaulted by guides (whose voices have two levels: loud and painfully loud).
In most of the churches, Mass is celebrated daily. The schedules are posted by the entrance. On weekdays, morning and afternoon Mass is common, and on Sundays Mass is often celebrated several times with High Mass usually at 10:00 or 11:00. In the patriarchal basilicas, Mass is celebrated at the side altars during regular days, usually early in the morning. Information is posted in the church. You can find the Order of Mass in Italian and English on this site.
The language issueEdit
Of course, in most churches Mass is celebrated in Italian. Exceptions are found in the national churches, so it is possible to attend Mass celebrated in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and other languages.
If you wish to attend Mass in a particular church - for instance one dedicated to your patron saint - it is quite easy to take part even if it is in Italian. First of all, the rite should be familiar, so you will know what is going on. If you've attended Mass celebrated in Latin or one of the other Romance languages, it will be even more familiar to you. Secondly, it's not so difficult to learn to pronounce Italian, so with a little practice, you should be able to take part. To aid you, I have put the Order of Mass in Italian and English on the site.
Churches of Oriental ritesEdit
The Catholic Churches of Oriental rites are in full communion with the Holy Father. Any Catholic is welcome to receive the Sacraments there, although the rite may be unfamiliar and somewhat confusing. By paying attention to what the others are doing you should be able to get through it even if the rite is foreign to you.
Non-Catholic Christians Edit
Non-Catholics are of course welcome to use Catholic Churches for prayer and contemplation, and to attend Mass. But there are some restrictions that must be observed.
Eastern Orthodox ChurchesEdit
The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches disagree on some matters. Many of the problems have been solved, but some issues still remain. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, members of the Eastern Orthodox Churches may legally receive Communion in Catholic Churches. However, this question has not been settled universally among the Orthodox Churches, so if you belong to one of these churches, check with your clergy first. Some of the Orthodox Churches are represented in Rome, and it would be more appropriate to celebrate the Eucharist there.
Members of churches belonging to the Anglican Communion are welcome to attend Mass, but may not receive Communion. In individual cases permission has been given to receive Communion in Catholic churches if there is no church of the Anglican Communion present in the area. In Rome, there are two churches belonging to the Anglican Communion.
Protestants, including Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists etc. are welcome to attend Mass, but may not receive Communion in Catholic churches.
Papal Audiences and MassesEdit
The Holy Father has a weekly audience at the Piazza San Pietro. Tickets must be obtained in advance, and it is a good idea to get them several days before the audience. Opening hours and practical information can be found on a separate page.
On special occasions, it is possible to attend a Pontifical Mass. They are held on important feasts, and at beatifications and canonisations. Such masses are celebrated either in one of the patriarchal basilicas (in which case it is very difficult to obtain tickets) or at the Piazza San Pietro (tickets are more easily obtained from the ticket office mentioned above).