Five things to know about Pope Benedict’s funeral

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Funeral Mass
German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, sprinkles holy water on the casket of Pope John Paul II during his funeral Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this April 8, 2005, file photo. (OSV News photo/Catholic Press Photo)

1. A pope buried by a pope

Pope Benedict is being buried by his successor, while his successor holds the office of the supreme pontiff. While Benedict XVI himself officiated at the funeral Mass of Pope St. John Paul II while a cardinal, Pope Francis will be the first pope to bury his predecessor in centuries. It is worth noting that since Pope Benedict is not the reigning pontiff, prayers that are particular to the Diocese of Rome and the various Eastern Churches that are otherwise used during a papal funeral will be excluded.

2. Heads of state

Since Pope Benedict is not the head of the Vatican State, only Germany, his home country, and Italy will be sending official diplomatic delegations. Other politicians and Catholic royalty will attend instead in a private capacity. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, for example, was among those who has come to pay his respects.

3. The liturgical color

The liturgical color of the funeral of a pope is red. Traditionally, the liturgical color of a Catholic funeral is black. Many of the faithful keep this custom and continue to show signs of mourning by wearing black clothing to funerals. Currently, the liturgy allows for a presider to wear black (as a sign of mourning), violet (as a sign of penance, since it’s proper to pray for the dead), and white (recalling baptism and eternal life).

In a pope’s funeral, however, red is worn because every pope is a successor to St. Peter, a martyr. The vibrant red symbolizes the totality of the Petrine Office; a kind of martyr, a pope offers his entire life over to Christ without counting the cost. In fact, many scholars believe that the red used at a papal funeral Mass derives from an ancient Byzantine custom. Pope Benedict will be buried wearing the vestments of his priestly office, including a red chasuble.

4. Other items in his casket

The director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni, has indicated that a one-page account of Pope Benedict’s papacy will be included in the casket. Additionally, Vatican coins, minted during his papacy, will also be placed inside as well as a pallium. His cypress casket will be closed following the form of a special rite at the conclusion of the viewing, 7 p.m. Rome time, Wednesday, Jan. 4.

5. The Rosary will be recited

Before the funeral Mass begins, the casket of the Pope Emeritus will be brought out into St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican estimates that during the viewing on Monday and Tuesday some 135,000 people have already visited the bier, to offer a prayer and pay their last respects to the pope emeritus. Once the casket arrives in the square, about 40 minutes before the funeral Mass, the faithful will be led in the recitation of the Rosary for the repose of his soul.

Our Sunday Visitor Staff

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