Page 2, 15th April 2005

15th April 2005
Page 2
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Page 2, 15th April 2005 — A windswept farewell for one of the most beloved of all popes

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Locations: Rome, Jerusalem


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A windswept farewell for one of the most beloved of all popes

Local parishes should learn from this splendid Requiem Mass

Liturgical commentary


PEOPLE often speak wistfully of the old unreformed papal ceremonies. Some years ago I was given a video of the coronation of Blessed Pope John XXIII, and while the ceremony was unquestionably spectacular, the abiding impression was of barely controlled chaos. The Master of Ceremonies, the then Monsignor Dante, managed everything as best he could, but at times it would all seem to become too much, and his arms would flap excitedly as he tried to restore order to the multitudes nominally under his direction.

It is, perhaps, unfair to contrast a coronation with a funeral, but nonetheless, since the comparison struck me at the time, I think I ought to record it. The funeral rites of the late Pope John Paul must have impressed us all as a model of dignity and good order. The parishioners I have spoken to – not by any means the sorts of people normally to enjoy solemn liturgy – have all said how meaningful and beautiful the whole ceremony was. And, if the uncanny emptiness of the public car park opposite my presbytery window is anything to go by, a large number of the general public found it so, too.

The papal liturgy has long been held to be the standard for the correct performance of the Roman rite which most of us in the West use, and so naturally one tends to look closely to get ideas for performance back home. I think it was the funeral of Pope Paul VI that first saw the appearance of the single paschal candle standing at the head of the coffin; now this has become very common indeed throughout the Latin rite, replacing the four or six candles that used to stand around the hearse in former days. I noticed that Pope John Paul followed Pope Paul in this, as in the laying of the simple coffin on the ground. This has not been adopted through the world, no doubt at the request of undertakers who would not be particularly happy to have to lift a heavy coffin from the floor.

I was pleased to see that Cardinal Ratzinger presided from a chair behind the altar, where the apse would be if we were in a church. The late Holy Father was apt to prefer setting his chair in front of the altar, a custom imitated by both bishops and priests all over the world, which obscures the important symbol of the altar, and reduces the throne or chair to a moveable bit of furniture, whereas it symbolises (among other things) the teaching authority of the one who sits in it.

I was also pleased that the music was so much better than in former years. I seem to remember that at Pope Paul VI’s funeral and the subsequent ceremonies in that extraordinary couple of months of 1978, the Cappella Sistina (which provides the singers for all great papal functions) sang in the open square, reinforced, of course, with additional singers and with the public address system. Now it appears that they have realised that a much better effect can be achieved by singing in the atrium of St Peter’s with its resonant acoustic and still using the same reinforcements. The singing itself seemed much better, too; the undisciplined can belto of the past replaced with a more dignified and steady performance. Cardinal Ratzinger did a fine job; his voice, initially shaky with emotion, soon strengthened, and he presided with great dignity. Here was a man who has clearly celebrated funerals before; this experienced pastor clearly understood that what was needed in a funeral homily was neither a theological discourse nor a panegyric, but a real addressing of the life of the deceased, and the grief of the listeners, giving them hope from the Word of God (which he used abundantly), ultimately setting the whole mystery of death into the context of the resurrection. His final words, asking for a final blessing from Pope John Paul in heaven would have moved a stone.

Which brings me to my first negative observation. I followed the ceremony mostly on BBC1, where the commentary, assisted most ably by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, was truly excellent, and far better than the rather stand-offish ITV observations. But why, why, why, in these days of sophisticated technology, and when the texts must have been available in advance, could there not have been subtitles? Merely to flash the scriptural references up on the screen may well have had people fumbling for their bibles, but somehow I doubt it happened very much, and the prayers of the Mass must have gone over almost everyone’s heads. The homily was only partially translated on BBC; here ITV scored well with a very good simultaneous and full translation.

It was interesting to find a Creed being sung; most unusual at a funeral. But of course, we were burying an Apostle, and so the Apostles’ Creed was perhaps appropriate.

If I have another grumble, it concerns the unedifying practice of consecrating multiple ciboriums not on the altar, or even within sight of the chief celebrant, but in the hands of non-concelebrating priests and deacons who on Friday were still filing out of St Peter’s Basilica at the elevation of the chalice. While acknowledging that it is preferable that all present be able to receive actually when at Mass, would it not be a good idea instead for the multitude of churches in Rome to be prepared to distribute Communion to all comers after the great ceremonies? The concelebrants, I noticed, communicated by intincting a Host into the chalice themselves; whether this was to save on the wine, or the time, I don’t know. With such an abundance of clergy there were, of course, no lay ministers of Holy Communion, and I was interested to see the communion plate being used, as suggested by the recent document Redemptionis Sacramentum. Another highlight for me was the Commendation by the Eastern Rite prelates. Papal ceremonies in the past have always included the partici pation of Greek sacred ministers doubling the Epistle and Gospel, but this time the Gospel was sung in Latin alone and instead the Eastern rites got the Holy Father to themselves for several moving minutes with that exotic Greek chant and the prayers in Greek and what sounded to me like Arabic. The different vestments and crowns added a splash of extra interest to the ceremonies; the nephew of one of my parishioners thought they were all kings.

All these things aside, perhaps what was most striking about the whole ceremony was that the funeral Mass itself was, a few million participants aside, basically that which any Catholic would expect. John Paul II the Pope is now standing before God as Karol Wojtyla the Christian, and the Church prays for him as she would for any of her children, that he be forgiven his sins and be admitted to the company of the blessed. But in our parishes, perhaps we can learn from this funeral that solemnity and ceremony have an important part to play in our religion, and can speak to the hearts of people more eloquently than a thousand words.

Fr Seán Finnegan is a liturgical expert and parish priest in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton


POPE JOHN Paul II was buried after a dignified but windswept funeral in St Peter’s Square.

More than 100,000 people attended the Requiem Mass last Friday, presided over by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his role as Dean of the College of Cardinals. Hundreds of thousands more pilgrims watched the service on 27 giant screens erected across Rome and two million people watched it worldwide.

Two hours before the Mass began, Vatican officials and the Pope’s closest aides gathered in St Peter’s Basilica to witness Pope John Paul’s body being placed in its cypress casket.

The “rogito”, a document rolled up and placed in a tube, was read out before being placed in the casket with the body. It described the life and the most important works of the deceased Pontiff. Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Holy Father’s personal secretary, countryman and close friend placed a white silk veil over the Pontiff’s face and uttered a prayer asking that he might see the eternal light and face of Jesus Christ.

Among those present were Cardinal Martinez Somalo, the chamberlain of the Catholic Church; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State; Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar for the Diocese of Rome.

Then the bronze doors of St Peter’s Basilica were opened as dignitaries from over 140 countries and 14 different religious confessions – including Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists – were seated and Cardinal Ratzinger and his concelebrants, including 164 of the 183 cardinals as well as many of the patriarchs of the Eastern Rite churches, prepared for their procession from inside the basilica to a marble apron in St Peter’s Square.

The casket, a simple wooden box inscribed with a cross and an “M” for Mary, was closed and carried into the square by 12 white-gloved and frock-coated Papal Gentlemen, officials of the Vatican household. It was placed on a red carpet in front of the altar, alongside a single candle. Following in the tradition of Paul VI an open book of the Gospels was set on the coffin lid; the breeze slowly turned its pages as the funeral progressed.

The procession of cardinals began with the introductory hymn “Eternal Rest Grant Him, O Lord”. During the singing, Cardinal Ratzinger and his concelebrants removed their mitres and bowed to kiss the altar. The cardinals and patriarchs placed their mitres back on to their heads, struggling against the wind, and took their positions on gold chairs on either side of the altar, which was then blessed and censed. After the hymns ended Cardinal Ratzinger recited a prayer for Pope John Paul II.

In his homily, Cardinal Ratzinger recalled well-known moments from the Pontiff’s youth, from his days working in a chemical plant under Nazi occupation and from his years as a clandestine seminarian in communist Poland.

He ended his homily by recalling last Easter Sunday when John Paul II made one of his final public appearances at the window of his papal apartment overlooking St Peter’s Square to give the Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) blessing. “John Paul II is now at the window of the house of the Lord; he sees us and he blesses us,” the cardinal said, as he gestured towards the window, his voice thick with emotion. “Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” After the homily, which was interrupted several times by sustained applause and cries of “santo subito” (a saint immediately), the Eucharistic prayers were said. Then came the sign of peace.

The funeral is thought to have attracted the largest gathering of statesmen in world history – four kings, five queens and dozens of presidents and prime ministers came to pay their respects. Britain was represented by the leaders of all three main political parties and by Prince Charles, who postponed his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles to attend. The American President, George W Bush, came with his wife and two former presidents: his father, George Bush, and Bill Clinton.

The seating arrangements for the statesmen – delegations were sat in alphabetical order according to the French spelling of their country – produced both remarkable and unfortunate circumstances. The presidents of Israel and Iran were placed next to each other and shook hands, though both later denied that this unprecedented event would lead to improved diplomatic relations.

More embarrassingly, Prince Charles took the proffered hand of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe; Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy had already moved seats in order to avoid him. Prince Charles subsequently justified shaking hands with the dictator – international observers have dismissed elections in Zimbabwe held at the beginning of April as neither free nor fair – on the grounds that it would have been against the spirit of the service to have refused.

Oblivious to the controversy, representatives clad in folk dress from countries ranging from Kenya to Korea edged their way toward the altar to receive Communion.

Following a prayer concluding the Latin Catholic rite, the patriarchs and metropolitans of the Oriental Church went to the casket and, facing the altar, recited the supplication from the Office of the Dead of the Byzantine liturgy. Everyone present prayed in silence and Cardinal Ratzinger sprinkled holy water on the Holy Father’s casket while the choir sang a response.

The funeral ended with the congregation singing, “May the angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival may the martyrs welcome you and lead you into the holy city of Jerusalem.” At the end of Mass the coffin bearers lifted the casket and walked towards the doors of St Peter’s. They stopped on the threshold, turned and tilted the coffin towards the crowd; for more than 15 minutes, the assembly applauded and young people chanted “John Paul” in Italian as the basilica’s bells tolled.

Finally, the casket was taken into the basilica’s crypt as the faithful sang the Magnificat. Those present earlier at the clos ing of the casket accompanied it as John Paul II was brought to the grotto beneath St Peter’s for burial in a rite presided over by Cardinal Martinez Sodano.

A simple cross and a bronze plaque with the Pope’s name were placed on top of the cypress coffin, which was sealed with red ribbons and placed inside a zinclined, wooden casket.

Other Christian communities were represented in the procession to the tomb by their leaders, including Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Dr Rowan Williams, the first leader of the Anglican communion to attend a papal funeral since the Henrician schism.

John Paul’s coffin was placed in the ground where Pope John XXIII was buried until 2001 when his body was transferred to the basilica after his beatification. John Paul II’s resting place has been marked with a simple stone inscribed with his name.

Nearby lie the remains of Pope John Paul I, who died in 1978, and Pope Paul VI, who died earlier in the same year, and just a few feet away are the remains of St Peter.

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