An appearance Monday — a national holiday in Italy — had not been confirmed because of John Paul's convalescence from throat surgery to ease a breathing crisis, although he had kept the appointment to bless pilgrims throughout his 26-year papacy.
Thousands gathered in the square, and Vatican cameras aimed at the apartment raised hopes he would appear, reports CBS News Correspondent Charlie D'Agata.
Many people are calling this the saddest Easter the Catholic Church has ever known, reports CBS News Correspondent Allen Pizzey: An entire week where the pope known as the great communicator not only wasn't part of the ceremony, he didn't utter a word.
On Easter Sunday, John Paul managed only a few sounds before he gave up and delivered his Easter blessing with a sign of the cross.
Many applauded the pontiff's efforts. His poor health prevented him from speaking to the public on the holiest day of the church calendar in a dramatic appearance Sunday at his window overlooking St. Peter's Square.
"Look, it's Easter and everybody is so sad, and so many have tears in their eyes," said Hubert Wichert, from the German town of Essen, who was in the square.
For the first time since his papacy began in 1978, Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican was celebrated without the pope as he continued his recovery following two recent hospitalizations. On Feb. 24, the pope had surgery to insert a tube in his throat to help him breathe. John Paul also suffers from Parkinson's disease, which makes it difficult for him to speak.
John Paul last spoke to the public March 13, shortly before he was discharged from the hospital for the second time.
Vatican officials say the Pope can speak and often does, in private, reports D'Agata, which is why it was hoped he would be able to manage a few words after the Easter service.
The Turin daily La Stampa quoted one of the pope's doctors on Sunday as saying that public discourse is much more difficult for him.
"You must consider that the physical and psychological effort of a public speech, even a brief one, is radically different and something that requires much more effort for a recovering patient," the doctor was quoted as saying.
On Sunday, the Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, celebrated Easter Mass in the flower-decked square, which was jammed with more than 50,000 people. It was seen by millions more in TV hookups in 74 countries.
The doctor, who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity, stressed that the pope was recovering well, but that he should continue to curtail his duties for "some weeks." Vatican officials have previously acknowledged the pope may be recovering more slowly than hoped.
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.
In his Easter message read by Sodano, John Paul said people around the world were hungering for "truth, freedom, justice and peace."
American Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick said Sunday that John Paul must see his own ailments "as joining the sufferings of the Lord in a very special way."
But in an interview with the American television network ABC, he didn't discount a full recovery for the pope. "I think you know how many times we've crossed the Holy Father off, how many times we've counted him out and he's come back. He's come back strong, he's come back powerfully."
There are no major events on the pope's calendar until August, reports Pizzey, when he's scheduled to attend World Youth Day in Germany, an appearance that at this point looks ever more doubtful.