Francis will preside over the late German pope’s funeral on Thursday, an event that is drawing heads of state and royals despite Benedict’s calls for simplicity and Vatican efforts to keep the first Vatican funeral low-key to a pope emeritus in modern times.
Francis received applause as he opened his remarks by pointing to everyone outside paying homage to Benedict, whom he called a «great teacher of catechesis.»
«His sharp and tender thought was not self-referential, but ecclesial, because he always wanted to accompany us in the encounter with Jesus,» Francis said.
Later Wednesday, Vatican officials were to place Benedict’s body in a cypress coffin, the first of three coffins, along with a brief written summary of his historical papacy, the coins minted during his pontificate and his canopy stoles.
After the funeral, the remains of the retired pontiff will be taken back to the basilica, where the coffin will be placed inside a zinc coffin, and finally an oak coffin.
In accordance with Benedict’s wishes, his remains will be placed in the crypt that once occupied the tomb of Saint John Paul II in the grottoes below the basilica.
Benedict, who was elected pope in 2005 after the death of John Paul II, became the first pope in six centuries to resign when he announced in 2013 that he no longer had the strength to lead the Catholic Church. After Francis was elected pope, Benedict spent his nearly decade-long retirement in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens.
«We cannot forget the example he gave in his resignation, which more or less said: ‘Look, I’m not in this for the prestige, the power of the position, I’m in this for the service, as Jesus taught,'» the cardinal recalled. Timothy Dolan, whom Benedict XVI named archbishop of New York in 2009 and cardinal in 2012. Dolan came to Rome for the funeral.
Thursday’s rite takes into account the unusual situation in which a reigning pope will preside over a funeral for a retired one, making major changes to a highly codified funeral ritual for popes.
Two key prayers, from the Diocese of Rome and the Eastern Rite Churches, recited at John Paul’s funeral, for example, will be omitted because Benedict was not Pope when he died and because both branches of the Catholic Church still have a pope as its leader: Francisco.
While the funeral will be novel, it does have some precedent: In 1802, Pope Pius VII held the funeral in St. Peter’s of his predecessor, Pius VI, who had died in exile in France in 1799 as a prisoner of Napoleon, the Vatican. he pointed to Wednesday.