6-April-2005 -- Catholic World News Brief


Vatican, Apr. 06 (CWNews.com) - The funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II will be held in St. Peter's Basilica on Friday morning, April 8, at 10. The details of the unique ceremony-- which is expected to last 3 hours-- are laid out in the apostolic constitution, Universi Dominici Gregis , promulgated by Pope John Paul in 1996.

That document, setting the procedures for the burial of one Pontiff and the election of a successor, stipulates that a Pope's funeral, should be held between 4 and 6 days after his death.

Pope John Paul died in the evening of April 2, so his funeral will occur on the last day of that period. The Catholic Church has a special rite for the burial of a Roman Pontiff. As dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will preside at the funeral Mass. A massive congregation is expected. More than 200 world leaders have already announced their plans to attend, and the city of Rome is bracing for a crowd that could number up to 5 million people. Giant video screens have been set up on the roads around the Vatican, so that the ceremony can be seen by the vast majority, who will not be able to enter the Vatican basilica.

The funeral Mass is preceded by a short ceremony in which the Pope's coffin is seal. First the body of the deceased Pope, which has been lying on public view in the basilica, will be placed in a cypress coffin. After a short period of prayer, the master of liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, and the late Pope's private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, will draw a white silk cloth over the Pope's face. Then the camerlengo, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, will bless the body with holy water.

Next Archbishop Marini will observe an old Vatican tradition, putting a small purse into the coffin at the Pope's feet, containing specimens of the coins that were struck by the Vatican during his pontificate. Then the coffin will be sealed, in the presence of several official witnesses: among them will be the camerlengo, Cardinal Martinez Somalo; the archpriest of the Vatican basilica, Cardinal Francesco Marchisano; the vicar of the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini; the former Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; his sostituto or deputy, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri; the prefect of the papal household, Bishop James Michael Harvey.

The funeral itself will then begin with a solemn procession, including the lectors, clerics, and deacons who will participate in the ceremony, as well as the cardinals and patriarchs who will concelebrate-- virtually all of the cardinals who are present in Rome. The procession will enter the Vatican basilica slowly, accompanied by Gregorian chant. The coffin will be placed on the floor in front of the main altar. The Paschal candle will burn beside it, a symbol of the Resurrection. There will also be a large crucifix, and an open Bible.

The concelebrating prelates, vested in red, will assemble behind the altar, facing the congregation. To one side, near the altar, will assembled the secular dignitaries attending the service, seated according to diplomatic protocol: the heads of state and heads of government, members of the diplomatic corps, and representatives of international organization. Opposite them, on the other side of the altar, will be the representatives of other religious groups, as well as the priests and religious of the Vatican basilica.

After the Mass, in which Cardinal Ratzinger will deliver the homily, the German cardinal will lead the final prayers for John Paul II. After circling the coffin with holy water and incense, he will read the prescribed prayers of the ritual: the commendation of the soul of the deceased Pontiff. This prayer is followed by the Litany of the Saints. Then the members of the hierarchy-- patriarchs, cardinals, archbishops, metropolitans, and bishops-- file past the coffin to pay their final respects.

The coffin is then carried to the place of burial, in the Vatican grottos, in another procession, accompanied by the singing of the Magnificat. This is a much smaller procession-- due in part to the limitations of space in the grottos. The participants will roughly the same people who witnessed the closing of the coffin: the top-ranking prelates of the Holy See, officials of the Vatican basilica, and members of the Pope's household.

The camerlengo leads the burial service, another rite surrounded with Vatican tradition. First the Pope's cypress coffin is wrapped in red ribbons, which are imprinted with the seals of the pontifical household. Then the coffin is placed within another metal coffin, which is immediately sealed. This metal coffin, engraved with a cross and the late Pope's coat of arms, is then deposited into a third, oak coffin.

The notary of the Vatican basilica then reads the formal notice of the burial, in the presence of the witnesses. The camerlengo and the prefect of the pontifical household sing the document, formally certifying the burial.

John Paul II will be buried in the ground, in the oratory of St. Longinus, near the spot where St. Peter's tomb is located. His grave will be marked by a simple, inclined, marble marker bearing his name.

The ritual for the burial of a Pope includes three "stations." The first, to be held "in the house of the deceased Pontiff," includes the certification of death, the exposition of the body for veneration by prelates (which has already taken place in the Clementine Hall of the apostolic palace), and a first series of prescribed prayers. The second "station," in the Vatican basilica, includes the procession to St. Peter's and the funeral Mass. The burial service is the third and final "station."