Papal rites symbolize faith, legacy

The Church

A World In Mourning

The Death of Pope John Paul II

April 09, 2005|By Janice D'Arcy | Janice D'Arcy,SUN STAFF

VATICAN CITY - It was exactly the same. The red zucchettos. The purple sashes. The white collars. The pomp. The funeral of Pope John Paul II was on the same path as funerals of the popes who preceded him.

Then an unfamiliar sound came through the loudspeakers - not Latin. It was Spanish. Then came English. Then French. Then Swahili, Tagalog, Polish, German, Portuguese and Italian. Finally, Greek. The prayers, readings, homily and blessings were as multilingual as the man for whom they were offered.

Part of the church's formalized farewell was a verbal tribute to the most-traveled pope in history, who presided over a church of global reach.

"There was great dignity and reserve," said Cardinal Avery Dulles, an American theologian who traveled to Rome for the funeral. At 86, he is too old to participate in the conclave that will elect a new pope.

Pope John Paul wanted a simple ceremony. He took the precaution before he died of asking that his coffin be lowered into bare earth and covered with a simple marble slab.

Simplicity was not his destiny yesterday, given the numbers of attendants and mourners. But the funeral service was an elaborated form of the same rite of Christian funeral Mass and burial used for all Catholics. There was the same perfume of incense and silence during prayer, sharing of Communion.

The roles had been chosen either by rote or lottery, with very little left for interpretation, participants said. The dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, presided while his fellow cardinals spoke together at key points. Hundreds of priests distributed the Eucharist.

The seating mirrored the structure of church governance: The flock massed in the square, priests at the base of the steps, the bishops in their purple zucchettos on the steps, the cardinals seated in gold-backed chairs in the front rows. The pope lay at the center.

The Gregorian entrance chant, Requiem dona eis domine, asked God for eternal rest for the deceased. The rite of commendation came with its blessing and incense. The texts had been slightly revised, but remained centered on St. Peter, befitting a papal funeral. They were the Acts of the Apostles, Philippians and the Gospel of John.

Because it was a pope's burial, there were also prayers for the church's mission and reach. Because it was the funeral for a man who reigned for 26 years, there was a lengthy homily in Italian.

The readers were chosen for their diction and nationalities. John McDonald, an American seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, was chosen to deliver a reading in English.

From Citronelle, Ala., McDonald has a distinctive Southern flair to his speech in casual conversation. But his public speaking training taught him to modulate and enunciate differently in front of crowds, he said afterward.

"When I got up to read, I was surprised by the calm that came over me," he said after he read from the Letter to the Philippians.

There was a rite of Final Commendation and Farewell, when cardinals surrounded the coffin and Ratzinger prayed, "Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust to the most gentle mercy of God, the soul of our Pope John Paul II."

Afterward, a choir intoned the Litany of the Saints, including those canonized by Pope John Paul. Near the conclusion, Eastern Rite leaders gathered in a semicircle to offer a blessing in Greek.

The verse "May the angels accompany you into heaven," concluded the 2-hour-and-40-minute service.

Afterward, the church hierarchy retreated inside St. Peter's Basilica. The pope was buried with a lead tube containing his biography and medals that represent each year of his pontificate. The items are traditional.

"We are people who deal in signs, in symbols. This is who we are," Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C. said the day before the funeral rites.

With the final toll of the St. Peter's Basilica bell, Pope John Paul's term officially ended. Nine days of mourning follow before the cardinals will gather to choose a successor. The cardinals will begin what is unofficially campaign season when they meet privately to discuss the church's direction.

Pope John Paul's personal belongings have been cleared from his papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace. The entrance has been sealed with wax. It will remain locked through the mourning period and the conclave. By tradition, the seal can only be broken by the next pope.

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