A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Papal Funeral, Continued

ROME, 19 APRIL 2005 (ZENIT)

ZENIT’s liturgical columnist, Father Edward McNamara, continued to receive questions regarding the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II.

* * *

We have continued to be deluged by questions regarding pontifical funerals and I will do my best to answer although some questions would probably merit a doctoral thesis to address them fully.

Several readers debated the origin of the use of red for papal funerals and asked about the general significance of liturgical colors.

A Greek Catholic correspondent wrote from Australia: “I have noted with some interest the comments concerning red as the liturgical color for papal mourning and papal funerals. I had a professor in my seminary days who used to say that the capacity for the human mind to invent liturgical symbol or to spiritualize otherwise practical liturgical requirements was almost infinite! I suspect that this is the case with some of the suggestions offered by certain of your correspondents.

“It is not necessary to explain the use of red in these circumstances by invoking the apostles, or apostolic martyrdom or Peter martyred. The more historical and pragmatic reason is surely that violet and black made a comparatively late appearance on the liturgical scene, and that, by then, red had already been customarily used at requiems. Conservative papal usage simply preserved this practice at least within papal Rome.

“It is interesting that among many of the Slavs, e.g. the Ukrainians, red (more a burgundy) is most often worn for funerals and memorials. It is also interesting to note that in many Slavic icons of the resurrection, Christ is often shown draped in a red garment—red being the color for shrouds in many Slavic communities.

“In the Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand to which I belong, red/burgundy is the preferred color for funerals.”

Our correspondent hits on some important points. He is quite correct that symbolic interpretations for liturgical practices often have little to do with their historical origins, and the field of liturgical colors is no exception.

His suggestion that the origin of the use of red for papal obsequies stems from Eastern funeral practice is highly probable and is sustained by several liturgical historians.

It is not correct, however, to say that black made a comparatively late entrance into the liturgy for it is more or less contemporary with the introduction of other colors. Dark or black vestments are attested as being used by the pope as early as the eighth century (for the feast of the Purification).

Even before this period there is evidence of vestments of various colors although white was prevalent.

It appears that at this stage the sumptuousness and splendor of the liturgical attire mattered more than the color or colors of which it was composed.

The tendency to attribute allegorical meanings to different colors is a product of the Middle Ages yet, given the different sensibilities of distinct regions, the attribution of their significance and liturgical use varied widely.

Thus, we find that in 12th-century Jerusalem, the Crusaders used black for advent, blue and gold for Epiphany and Ascension, red for Christmas (along with white and gold), St. Stephen, Sts. Peter and Paul, and Pentecost. By contrast, at Marseilles a few years later, red is used for St. Michael and for All Saints as well as Palm Sunday, Good Friday, while green was used for feasts of the Cross.

Red was also widely used in Europe for the feast of Corpus Christi during several centuries, a practice conserved in the Ambrosian rite of Milan.

As an aside, we note that while the use of red is varied, it is frequently associated with the themes of martyrdom, sacrifice and fire, probably because the color is naturally associated with blood and fire.

The standard five colors for use in Rome — white, red, green, black and violet (this last color usually considered as equivalent to black by the authors of the time) were first regulated by Pope Innocent III (died 1216).

These were recognized as being the only legitimate colors for liturgical use in St. Pius V’s Missal after the Council of Trent, although later, the use of rose was admitted for the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete) and fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare).

A Canadian reader, who described himself as a former seminarian at St.  Peter’s Cathedral in London, Ontario, inquired why the celebrant did not bow toward the casket while incensing the altar.

He recalled his days at his cathedral: “Most often during funerals ... the priest, the bishop or the cardinal would always bow to the casket as we passed and then continued incensing. ... I’m now assuming this is an optional thing, or does it not particularly matter either way?”

There is certainly no indication of this practice in the liturgical books.

Sometimes local customs such as these bows and inclinations develop naturally over time due to the particular disposition of the sanctuary or legitimate local customs. Not all in liturgy is meticulously described. And total uniformity down to minor details is probably impossible and, in all probability, not even desirable.

A Nigerian reader asked: “Kindly enlighten me more on the difference between ‘Requiem Mass’ and ‘Funeral Mass.’”

I made this distinction (see April 12) in order to answer the question regarding the incensing of an empty coffin even though in some cases there is no real difference.

By “Funeral Mass” I referred to the Mass in which the remains of the deceased are present and at which the rites of aspersion, incensing and final commendation may be celebrated.

Every funeral Mass is by definition also a requiem, a term which derives from the entrance antiphon “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine”—Eternal rest grant to them, oh Lord.

Unlike a funeral, which is usually only celebrated once, a requiem Mass may be celebrated several times—for example, according to local custom, on the ninth or 30th day after death, or on the first anniversary and other such recurrences.

On such occasions the Mass for the dead may be celebrated and the deceased’s name is mentioned in the prayers.

This is a different situation from the custom of offering up the Mass intention for a deceased person. In this case the liturgy of the day is celebrated and the deceased’s name is mentioned before Mass, during the prayers of the faithful, or at some other opportune moment.

A more delicate matter was posited by a priest who wrote:

“I noticed during the Requiem Mass for John Paul II that a number of the priests who assisted with the distribution of holy Communion had not arrived at their positions during the consecration of the bread or wine. They were carrying ciboria with breads for the consecration. Even though they were not present or within a respectable distance of the altar at the consecration, they proceeded to distribute the bread during Communion.

“Would the breads that they had carried in the ciboria been consecrated, even though they were some distance from the altar? Though I am certain it was the intention for the breads to be consecrated, how ‘close’ to the altar must the breads be to effect the sacramental change?”

I was among those present to distribute Communion that day and indeed was worried at what seemed to be the excruciatingly slow progress of the procession, although I understood that the logistics of the occasion were especially difficult.

Each priest received his ciborium before the Eucharistic Prayer began and was never more than a few feet away from his eventual fixed position even though this was not visible on television.

I presumed that the intention of the celebrant was to consecrate all of the hosts duly prepared for distribution. It would have been unwise for an assisting priest to make a decision as to whether the hosts were consecrated or not, second-guessing the papal masters of ceremonies.

Regarding the question as to how close to the altar one must be; I would first observe that these large outdoor Masses are exceptions and should not be used as a guide for normal practice. The norm remains that all hosts consecrated for a Mass should be upon a corporal on the altar.

As far as I know, there is no fixed measure for these exceptional occasions.  But the practice suggests that a clear relationship to the altar must be maintained and that there should be no other people between the ministers with the ciboria and the celebrants around the altar.

On those occasions, such as World Youth Day and some canonizations, where it was physically impossible to reach all of the participants with the hosts consecrated during Mass, pre-consecrated hosts were used and placed in special chapels at strategic points until the moment of Communion. ZE05041925

* * *

Follow-up: The Funeral and the Veil [4-26-2005]

In the wake of recent questions about the papal funeral (see April 12 and 19), a reader from Burbank, California, asked: "I was wondering why Pope John Paul II had the cloth/veil placed over his face prior to the closing of the coffin and the significance of this action."

The short answer is "I don't know." This was the first time this rite was performed on a deceased Pope, and he had approved the new rite of burial for popes, so I can only surmise that the Holy Father wanted it that way.

Perhaps it is a Slav custom made as a sign of respect. It certainly evokes a strong sense of finality and of parting from this world. But there were no official explanations given as to the reasons behind the gesture. ZE05042621

* * *

Follow-up: The Pope's Veil

I knew that I could rely on our well-informed readers to relieve me of my ignorance regarding the purpose of the veil placed on the face of Pope John Paul II before his coffin was sealed (see April 26).

Many readers, above all those hailing from the venerable traditions of the Eastern Churches, have written to explain that this veil is a common custom for priestly funerals, often accompanied by an anointing with blessed oils.

One reader explains: "In the Byzantine funeral-liturgy for a priest, the large veil (the one used to cover chalice and paten) is placed on the face of the deceased. It is on the one hand a symbol of the strength and protection of God, on the other hand a symbol of the tomb of Christ." Other readers attest similar practices in other rites such as the Melkite and Ruthenian.

Some hypothesize that this custom may have originated in Jewish burial customs.

One reader wrote: "In the Jewish burial custom, the Jews would anoint the faces of their dead priests with oil and then wrap them in a white cloth. This same action was apparently performed on Jesus.

"In the early Eastern churches at every Divine Liturgy, the priest would fan his chalice veil over the gifts during the Creed (a practice that endures to this day). During this fanning of the gifts, the priest is not to look over the top of the veil to the other side, a symbolic sign that, here on earth, he has the faith to believe what, after he dies, he will come to see.

"After the death of the priest, the veil would be placed over the face of the priest, with the front side of the veil, which faced away from him during the Creed, touching his face. This veiling of the priest's face was symbolic of the fact that, now that the priest was dead, he now saw what before he only believed."

Another reader referred to the TV commentary on the funeral in which a bishop commented that "the veil was requested by the Holy Father and points to the Scripture by St. Paul: 'We do not see clearly, as through a veil, but then (at the end of time) clearly.' At the resurrection, the commentators added, when the Pope's body is resurrected, he will remove the veil to see God face to face as a soul reunited with his body. I thought it was a beautiful comment."

It is certainly an appropriate comment, although perhaps not the liturgical reason for the inclusion of this rite as I am inclined to accept the Eastern origin suggested by our correspondents.

Mind you, I am convinced that the veil will be removed well before the resurrection, when, following John Paul II's likely beatification, his relics will leave the crypt to join other saintly pontiffs in St. Peter's Basilica itself.

A Hong Kong reader asked some questions regarding liturgical norms.

"According to the Ordo, ritual Masses are not permitted on the Sundays of the Advent, Lent and Easter seasons," the reader noted. "Then, why was a papal inauguration Mass held on fifth Sunday of the Easter? ... We give a lot of theological and liturgical reasons to explain the importance of the liturgical season; however, we break it when we like. ... Also will the "new" (or ancient) style of pallium used for other metropolitans?"

As regards the pallium we will have to wait until the next feast of Sts. Peter and Paul to find out, unless in his next public Mass the Holy Father Benedict XVI reverts to the former style.

With respect to the change-of-Mass formula, our correspondent is correct that, strictly speaking, a ritual Mass is not normally allowed on a Sunday in the Easter season.

However, the Pope is the supreme legislator and is able to dispense from a liturgical law for a justifiable reason.

Such dispensations have already been granted for other just causes such as the celebration of the Immaculate Conception in Spain and Italy and that of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. These feasts are celebrated even if they coincide with a Sunday of Advent, as the dates are intimately tied up to the religious practice of the people in these countries and are also celebrated as civil holidays.

Our correspondent might want to place his objection in perspective. A Mass of papal inauguration probably occurs about six or seven times a century; a funeral could happen every week. The danger of a papal inauguration undermining the theology of the liturgical year is scant and I believe the occasion more that justifies an exception to a liturgical norm.

Finally, a Michigan reader asked about the significance of the triple coffin, the coins and the biography placed alongside the body, and the nine days of mourning.

The nine days is a fairly traditional period of mourning in many countries although not universal as some traditions have 30 days or another period.

The use of some means of identification of the deceased were customary practices that arose in earlier times, above all, for the burial of nobility and monarchs. Such identification has resulted necessary at times. Tombs can be moved, over time, and nothing is permanent. It is enough to think that the first St. Peter's basilica, finished about the year 330, was almost completely demolished to make way for the present structure over a thousand years later.

The triple coffin probably originated from practical concerns to protect the body, especially as most popes were interred in an above-ground sarcophagus. ZE05050323

* * *

Follow-up: The Pope's Veil [05-03-2005]

I knew that I could rely on our well-informed readers to relieve me of my ignorance regarding the purpose of the veil placed on the face of Pope John Paul II before his coffin was sealed (see April 26).

Many readers, above all those hailing from the venerable traditions of the Eastern Churches, have written to explain that this veil is a common custom for priestly funerals, often accompanied by an anointing with blessed oils.

One reader explains: "In the Byzantine funeral-liturgy for a priest, the large veil (the one used to cover chalice and paten) is placed on the face of the deceased. It is on the one hand a symbol of the strength and protection of God, on the other hand a symbol of the tomb of Christ." Other readers attest similar practices in other rites such as the Melkite and Ruthenian.

Some hypothesize that this custom may have originated in Jewish burial customs.

One reader wrote: "In the Jewish burial custom, the Jews would anoint the faces of their dead priests with oil and then wrap them in a white cloth. This same action was apparently performed on Jesus.

"In the early Eastern churches at every Divine Liturgy, the priest would fan his chalice veil over the gifts during the Creed (a practice that endures to this day). During this fanning of the gifts, the priest is not to look over the top of the veil to the other side, a symbolic sign that, here on earth, he has the faith to believe what, after he dies, he will come to see.

"After the death of the priest, the veil would be placed over the face of the priest, with the front side of the veil, which faced away from him during the Creed, touching his face. This veiling of the priest's face was symbolic of the fact that, now that the priest was dead, he now saw what before he only believed."

Another reader referred to the TV commentary on the funeral in which a bishop commented that "the veil was requested by the Holy Father and points to the Scripture by St. Paul: 'We do not see clearly, as through a veil, but then (at the end of time) clearly.' At the resurrection, the commentators added, when the Pope's body is resurrected, he will remove the veil to see God face to face as a soul reunited with his body. I thought it was a beautiful comment."

It is certainly an appropriate comment, although perhaps not the liturgical reason for the inclusion of this rite as I am inclined to accept the Eastern origin suggested by our correspondents.

Mind you, I am convinced that the veil will be removed well before the resurrection, when, following John Paul II's likely beatification, his relics will leave the crypt to join other saintly pontiffs in St. Peter's Basilica itself.

A Hong Kong reader asked some questions regarding liturgical norms.

"According to the Ordo, ritual Masses are not permitted on the Sundays of the Advent, Lent and Easter seasons," the reader noted. "Then, why was a papal inauguration Mass held on fifth Sunday of the Easter? ... We give a lot of theological and liturgical reasons to explain the importance of the liturgical season; however, we break it when we like. ... Also will the 'new' (or ancient) style of pallium [be] used for other metropolitans?"

As regards the pallium we will have to wait until the next feast of Sts. Peter and Paul to find out, unless in his next public Mass the Holy Father Benedict XVI reverts to the former style.

With respect to the change-of-Mass formula, our correspondent is correct that, strictly speaking, a ritual Mass is not normally allowed on a Sunday in the Easter season.

However, the Pope is the supreme legislator and is able to dispense from a liturgical law for a justifiable reason.

Such dispensations have already been granted for other just causes such as the celebration of the Immaculate Conception in Spain and Italy and that of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. These feasts are celebrated even if they coincide with a Sunday of Advent, as the dates are intimately tied up to the religious practice of the people in these countries and are also celebrated as civil holidays.

Our correspondent might want to place his objection in perspective. A Mass of papal inauguration probably occurs about six or seven times a century; a funeral could happen every week. The danger of a papal inauguration undermining the theology of the liturgical year is scant and I believe the occasion more that justifies an exception to a liturgical norm.

Finally, a Michigan reader asked about the significance of the triple coffin, the coins and the biography placed alongside the body, and the nine days of mourning.

The nine days is a fairly traditional period of mourning in many countries although not universal as some traditions have 30 days or another period.

The use of some means of identification of the deceased were customary practices that arose in earlier times, above all, for the burial of nobility and monarchs. Such identification has resulted necessary at times. Tombs can be moved, over time, and nothing is permanent. It is enough to think that the first St. Peter's basilica, finished about the year 330, was almost completely demolished to make way for the present structure over a thousand years later.

The triple coffin probably originated from practical concerns to protect the body, especially as most popes were interred in an above-ground sarcophagus. ZE05050323
 

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy
www.zenit.org

To subscribe http://www.zenit.org/english/subscribe.html
or email: english-request@zenit.org with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field


Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210
www.ewtn.com