Concelebrating the funeral Mass of Pope Benedict

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Pope Benedict funeral
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Father Patrick BriscoeThe towering dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was shrouded in mist as pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the requiem Mass for Pope Benedict XVI. The clouds and cool weather set the somber quiet tone for the Mass.

From the top of the colonnade, I watched as priest concelebrants, reportedly numbering more than 4,500, took their places. The square welcomed thousands, but an orderly, sober demeanor prevailed, especially when compared to the joyful atmosphere of the many papal events typically held in the square.

Gradually, the sun rose and the mist waned. I descended to the square, where I met with a group of Bavarian pilgrims who belong to Gebirgsschützenkompanie. With a historic past, today the company is a Christian society that accompanies processions and feasts. Andreas Hilgers, who traveled by bus with 50 members of the company from Tegernsee, Germany, said the company had come to the Vatican to participate in the funeral. “Pope Benedict has been an honorary member of our company for more than 20 years,” Hilgers said. “Today is a sad day for us, but it is a great honor to be here to give him a good farewell.”

Father Louis Cona, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, said, “It’s incredible to be here as a newly ordained priest.” Pope Benedict XVI was a great inspiration for Father Cona, who shared, “Pope Benedict’s example of 70 years of priesthood inspired me to ask how I could belong more deeply to Jesus. … A theme I discovered in Benedict’s writings is that when we give to Christ, we lose nothing and gain everything,” he added.

Pope Benedict’s mortal remains were carried into the square about 40 minutes before Mass began. As crowds caught sight of the casket, gentle applause broke out in the square. Then the assembled bishops, priests and pilgrims were led in the recitation of the Rosary. From where I sat as a concelebrating priest, I could see clearly Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Pope Benedict’s longtime secretary, kneeling a few yards away from the casket.

Benedict Funeral
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Pope Francis presided over the funeral, marked by simplicity, per the wishes of the late pope emeritus, the Vatican said. That included, for example, the use of Eucharistic Prayer III. Because Pope Benedict abdicated, the typical prayers for the deceased bishop of Rome and other prayers were omitted. The Mass lasted only 90 minutes.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” began Pope Francis, as he preached the homily. A relatively short text, the Holy Father led the faithful to meditate on how Christ’s life was shaped by the will of the Father. “‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ This is the invitation and the program of life that he quietly inspires in us,” Pope Francis said. At the conclusion of his text, he prayed, “Benedict, faithful friend of the Bridegroom, may your joy be complete as you hear his voice, now and forever!”

I participated as a concelebrant and distributed holy Communion to the faithful gathered in the square. Some 50,000 attended the Mass, the Vatican said, with more than 200,000 having come to pay their respects during the days that the pope was lying in state.

After holy Communion and the final commendation, cries of santo subito (“a saint right away”) were heard in the square. The crowd again applauded, a sign of affection and gratitude for the late pope emeritus. One blue and white banner — traditional Bavarian colors — caught my eye. It read, “Danke Papst Benedikt.” It seemed to sum up so much of the feeling of the crowd.

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickMaryOP.

Father Patrick Briscoe

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is a Dominican friar and the editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Along with his Dominican brothers, he is host of the podcast Godsplaining and a co-author of "Saint Dominic’s Way of Life: A Path to Knowing and Loving God." He is also the author of the OSV seasonal devotional, "My Daily Visitor."