Pope Francis, who encourages prelates to get closer to rank-and-file Catholics, has practiced what he preaches, taking a place among surprised faithful in the pews in St. Peter's Basilica for Mass.

A Vatican spokesman said Saturday that the pope's attending an early morning Mass a day earlier was impromptu.

The spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said the Mass was celebrated Friday at an altar, near the entrance of the basilica and dedicated to St. Pope Pius X. When it was time to receive Communion, Benedettini said, the pope lined up along with the other faithful.

Francis arrived in the basilica without an escort and unannounced to pray, then stayed for Mass.