For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, a sitting pope presided over the funeral of a pope who had renounced the supreme office.
The funeral of Pope Benedict XVI—who is no longer emeritus, but simply pope—was held on Thursday, January 5th, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The coffin was brought in at 8:50 a.m., and the actual Mass began at 9:30 a.m. In Paris, at the construction site of the martyred cathedral of Notre Dame, the Emmanuel bourdon, by campanologists considered one of Europe’s finest bells, was symbolically rung at 9:30 a.m.
A large number of faithful was expected to attend this final farewell to the pontiff. In the days leading up to the funeral, crowds of 60,000-70,000 people flocked to see Benedict XVI’s body—three times more than the Italian authorities had initially expected.
The Vatican had warned that it would be a “simple” ceremony. Only two national delegations were officially invited—Germany and Italy—but this did not prevent many states from sending representatives.
Giorgia Meloni was naturally present, as she has always shown her deep respect for, and attachment to, Pope Benedict XVI.
U.S. President Joe Biden, although absent, paid tribute to the pope on Twitter:
Other non-Catholic religious leaders expected in Rome included the Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Antonij of Volokolamsk and his assistant, as well as representatives of Eastern European patriarchates. The representative of the Anglican Communion to the Holy See, Archbishop Ian Ernest, and Protestant leaders were also present.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, under close surveillance by the Chinese authorities, was allowed to travel to Rome to attend the funeral. Many Germans were also present at the funeral Mass to pay their last respects to a man who was passionately in love with the Bavarian land where he was born. A Bavarian band accompanied the arrival of the coffin, and the Bavarian anthem was played at the end of the ceremony. A delegation of seventeen German bishops was also present.
In his homily, Pope Francis paid tribute to his predecessor for the last time:
Let us hand over the spirit of Benedict with gratitude, with the same confidence as that of Jesus saying on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Benedict … may your joy be perfect in hearing the voice of God, definitively and forever!
The Eucharistic rite was entrusted to the dean of cardinals, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who has held the title since January 2020.
At 11:15 a.m., the coffin was carried into St. Peter’s Basilica for burial. Traditionally, the papal remains are placed in a cypress coffin, which is itself encased in a lead coffin, inside an oak coffin. Inside the first coffin, personal effects have been placed: coins from his pontificate and his pallium, but also the Rogitum or spiritual testament of the deceased pope, sealed in a zinc tube.
Just as during the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II, the exclamation “Santo Subito” (may he be made a saint at once) rang out many times in St. Peter’s Square. The hearts of the many faithful present were heavy after the death of the holy man who, in his silence and retirement, had remained a reference point of faith and wisdom for many believers.