The pope, from his apartment, watched Holy Thursday services in St. Peter's Basilica on television as a cardinal read a message to the faithful on his behalf in an early evening service recalling the Last Supper of Christ.
"With mind and heart I am close to you," the pontiff said in the Holy Thursday message.
Meanwhile, the obviously failing health of Pope John Paul II has given new impetus to the Vatican press corps' favorite preoccupation, compiling lists of possible successors, reports.
On Good Friday, when the Roman Catholic Church marks Jesus' Crucifixion and death, John Paul was expected to use a video connection to participate in the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum.
The Vatican also said the pope would not hear confessions in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday — a change from previous years.
Holy Week services had taken on a special significance because of the pontiff's suffering, a top Vatican official, U.S. Archbishop John Foley, said.
"It's very obvious that the pope is carrying a very heavy cross indeed, and he is giving a marvelous example of patience in the face of suffering, and of long suffering which in itself is a virtue," Foley said on Vatican Radio Friday.
"So there's added significance in which the Holy Father is associated with Jesus in the carrying of the cross," said Foley, who heads the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
On Thursday, the faithful in the basilica broke into applause when the pope's message being read aloud concluded this way: "Spiritually present, I pray with you, while with affection I bless all of you."