A gentle fog, calls of “Santo Subito!” and a whole lot of lederhosen.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI, whose entire theological project was singular focused on the person of Christ, once described Jesus as the one “in whom God’s love descends upon human beings.”
The weather at the scholarly Pope’s funeral today provided a poetic illustration of this truth — a gentle fog enshrouded St. Peter’s Basilica as the Church universal commended Benedict to the love and mercy of God.
“The holy cloud, the shekinah, is the sign of the presence of God himself. The cloud hovering over the Tent of Meeting indicated that God was present,” the late Pope had written in Volume One of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy.
The fog, which dissipated throughout the Mass as the Roman morning sun broke through, also brought to mind the traditional use of incense in the Church’s liturgy — and with it, Benedict’s tireless devotion to restoring the great liturgical patrimony that had been obscured during the confusing aftermath of the Second Vatican Council.
Other elements of Pope Benedict’s personality and legacy found expression in the funeral rite — and among the crowd of 50,000 pilgrims who came to pray for him.
Eucharistic Prayer III, as opposed to the longer and more ancient Roman Canon, which has been used in papal liturgies since the seventh century, was employed during the liturgy, in apparent accord with Benedict’s preference.
The Bavarian Pope’s native-German language also found expression in the language of the Mass, but only in the Prayers of the Faithful, while the readings were read in Spanish and English, respectively, and the Gospel was chanted in Latin.
But the German connection was noticeable in other distinct ways. The blue-and-white Rautenflagge of Bavaria was omnipresent in the crowd, as pilgrims from the homeland of the first German pope in 1,000 years turned out in significant numbers to pray for and celebrate the life of the man born Joseph Ratzinger.
One half of the front section of seating in St. Peter’s Square was filled with Germans wearing traditional Bavarian attire and holding standards emblazoned with symbols of German culture and piety, many of them part of local Catholic fraternal societies, including the one to which the Ratzinger family belonged. As the Mass concluded, banners reading “Danke Papst Benedikt” (Thank you, Pope Benedict) were unfurled, and a band of German brass began playing a traditional song of tribute as congregants saluted the departed Pope.
The German presence in St. Peter’s Square was also distinctively young, as families with young children and a multitude of young adults were present among those praying for Pope Benedict.
One element of German Catholicism missing: many of the country’s bishops. Although the likes of Bishop Rudolf Volderhozer of Regensburg and Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau were present, figures like the German bishop’s conference’s president, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, were noticeably absent.
The presence of so many young German Catholics juxtaposed with the absence of hierarchical leaders may be an indication that while Church leadership in Germany is currently taking a different path than the one charted by Pope Benedict, the future of German Catholicism is more likely to be in his mold.
One imagines this may especially be the case if Pope Benedict is canonized or recognized, as many believe he will be, as a doctor of the Church. Many in the crowd today seemed to think that will be the case, as chants of “Santo Subito!” (Sainthood now!) emanated organically from those gathered, while others unveiled banners communicating the same message. Chants of “Benedetto” could also be heard after the Liturgy of the Eucharist had concluded.
All in all, while the funeral for Benedict XVI may have not been as grandiose as papal funerals of the past, it encapsulated the spirit of the beloved Pope profoundly: humble, intimate and focused on the saving love of Jesus Christ.