VATICAN CITY (AP/WJW) — Bells tolled Thursday for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who made history by retiring, as thousands of mourners packed St. Peter’s Square for a rare requiem Mass of a dead pontiff presided over by a living one.
Pope Francis arrived in a wheelchair in St. Peter’s Square for the funeral for his predecessor.
Francis, who is 86, has been using a wheelchair or cane in public ceremonies due to a knee problem. Francis wore red vestments as he sat in a white upholstered chair just in front of the altar, where the funeral Mass Thursday morning is being celebrated by a Vatican cardinal.
Then Francis, speaking in Latin, began the ceremony by inviting the faithful to acknowledge their sins.
The faithful applauded as pallbearers carried Benedict’s cypress coffin out of the fog-shrouded St. Peter’s Basilica and rested it before the altar. With red-robed clergy looking on, Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, bent down and kissed a book of the Gospels that was left open on the coffin.
A Vatican cardinal sprinkled blessed water on the simple wooden coffin of Benedict XVI and released incense around it, near the end of the funeral in St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis sat in a chair near a canopied altar before the crowd of those who gathered.
At the funeral’s end, the coffin was carried by 12 white-gloved pallbearers back into St. Peter’s Basilica for interment in a crypt below the main floor.
Pope Benedict XVI held one of the world’s highest-profile positions but in his final years expressed a desire to be “hidden to the world.” While his body had been on display this week for three days, his funeral Thursday at least in part respected his wishes for simplicity but also features some of the pomp reserved for a leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
Some rites are taking place out of the public eye. Other forms of tradition-laden ceremony were performed in St. Peter’s Square before tens of thousands of people, including national leaders and representatives of various countries’ royal families.
Benedict died at 95 on Dec. 31 in the monastery on the Vatican grounds where he had spent nearly all of his decade in retirement, his days mainly devoted to prayer and reflection. This week, as the Catholic Church bids farewell to its 265th pontiff, it will use a mixture of rituals — some ancient, some tweaked for modern times.
Some of the details of the Vatican’s formal farewell.
HOW THE FUNERAL UNFOLDED
The coffin returned to the public’s view Thursday morning when it was carried out of the basilica. The faithful in St. Peter’s Square, numbering at least 60,000, were invited to recite the rosary aloud. Pope Francis presided over the funeral, taking his place in front of a canopied altar, and delivering the homily and key invocations.
But celebrating the Mass at the altar was Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals. For Benedict’s funeral, Francis led the final rites.
Most of the liturgy in the Mass mirrors those in funerals for reigning pontiffs. There will be one notable exception: past funerals, including John Paul’s in 2005, included special “suppliche,” or prayful implorations — featuring a long litany of the names of saints — reflecting a pontiff’s role as Bishop of Rome and also head of the Eastern rite churches.
But because Benedict had retired from the papacy before he died, no such implorations will ring out across the square.
WHERE WILL BE BENEDICT’S FINAL RESTING PLACE BE?
Benedict’s remains will go into a crypt where John Paul’s tomb had rested. John Paul’s remains were moved upstairs from the grottoes and into the main basilica for his 2011 beatification during Benedict’s papacy. Pope Francis declared the Polish pontiff a saint in 2014.