© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to attend the beatification of former Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on October 19, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – When Pope Gregory XII, the last pope to abdicate before Benedict, died in 1417, the world barely noticed.
Gregory abdicated two years earlier in 1415 and spent the rest of his days in virtual obscurity hundreds of miles from Rome. He was quietly buried in Reganati, a town near the northern Adriatic coast.
That will be very different after the death of the ailing Benedict, 95, who the Vatican said was in critical but stable condition after a sudden deterioration after Christmas.
The Vatican has painstakingly detailed rituals for what happens after a reigning pope dies, but none are publicly known for a former pope.
After Benedict’s death, the Vatican would partially script the new canon. They could be a template for other popes who choose to resign rather than rule for life, including Pope Francis himself one day, Vatican sources say.
A 30-page constitution for the ruling pontiff called the “Universiti Dominici Gregis,” Latin for “Shepherd of the Whole Flock of God,” and the “Ordo Exequarum Romani Pontificis” (Funeral Rites for the Roman Pontiff). Over 400 pages of liturgy, music and prayers.
Those rules state that a pope’s burial must take place within four to six days of his death as part of the nine-day mourning period known as the Novendial.
Vatican officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss such matters, said the script for Benedict’s demise would depend on two key elements: any instructions from Benedict himself and any decisions made by Pope Francis.
A solemn farewell
Francis has often hailed his predecessor as a great pope who had the courage to resign, so he wants to give Benedict as solemn a ceremonial farewell as possible, perhaps even a full job, a Vatican official said.
The last pope to die was John Paul II, who was buried on April 8, 2005, six days after his death. His body was first placed in the frescoed Clementine Hall for Vatican staff, then moved to St. Peter’s Basilica for public viewing.
Millions of people lined up for hours to see him, perhaps the largest event in Vatican history, and his funeral was attended by kings and presidents.
He was first buried in the crypts under St. Peter’s Basilica and was moved in 2011 to the chapel on the main level of Christendom’s largest church.
Those sources said many would prefer to pay homage to Benedict, who took over from John Paul in 2005 and resigned in 2013, so there will be a period of lying in state.
In 2020, Benedict’s authorized biographer, Peter Seewald, was quoted by the Bavarian newspaper Passauer Neue Presse as saying that the pope emeritus had prepared a spiritual arrangement that he would like to be buried in the same vault where John Paul II was originally buried.
Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, presided at John Paul’s funeral in St. Peter’s Square in 2005, and Francis is expected to preside at the Benedicts.
After the death of the reigning pope, the camerlengo or chamberlain is responsible for ordinary affairs in the Vatican until a new pope is elected.
The post is currently held by Irish-American Cardinal Kevin Farrell, but since the church has only one pope, there will be no conclave to elect another, and Farrell will have no role.
Much of the work, including scripting the unprecedented event in Vatican history, will fall to the papal master of ceremonies, Monsignor Diego Ravelli.