Papal Funerals and the Sede Vacante

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Papal Funerals and the Sede Vacante


ZENIT's liturgical columnist, Father Edward McNamara, fielded more questions regarding the passing of John Paul II.

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Many questions have still poured in regarding the liturgical specifics of papal funerals and the period of "Sede Vacante."

An Australian liturgical scholar wrote regarding the use of red vestments: "With respect to Fr McNamara's comments on the red vestments of the pope [see April 7], red is worn because the pope is the vicar of Peter who was a martyr."

I believe this comment complements rather than contradicts my earlier answer regarding the pope's use of red in celebrating funerals.

I specifically stated that red was the color of the apostles and this is so because all, except St. John, died as martyrs and their feasts are celebrated in red.

It is specifically true of St. Peter and this would explain the traditional use of red for papal funerals and, except when the liturgy requires another color, for the nine days of celebrations in suffrage held at St. Peter's beginning with his funeral Mass.

I would point out that the pope is successor to Peter, not his vicar. The pope is the vicar of Christ.

Some questioners harbored doubts regarding the correctness of some procedures carried out during these days in various countries.

A Hungarian reader asked if it was correct for a priest to celebrate in black vestments on Sunday, April 3.

Since this day was within the octave of Easter it was incorrect, as the liturgy of the day has precedence over the requiem Mass.

Indeed, the Mass celebrated for the Pope this same day by Cardinal Angelo Sodano in St. Peter's Square followed the Sunday liturgy in white vestments. The following day was the Annunciation and so the first day at which a requiem Mass, or a votive divine office of the dead, was possible, was Tuesday, April 5.

Another correspondent remained puzzled by a ceremony during a requiem Mass for the Holy Father in which an empty coffin was blessed and incensed.

This practice used to be common in some countries for requiems before the Second Vatican Council, but is no longer permitted. The introduction to the "Ordo Exequiarum," No. 10, allows the rites of sprinkling and incensing to be performed only in the presence of the mortal remains.

Another reader asked why a pall was not used at the funeral Mass for John Paul II. The Holy Father asked that his funeral follow the dispositions first laid down by Pope Paul VI as well as those which he himself approved in the new order for papal funerals.

Both Popes were addicted to simplicity and asked that the coffin used in the funeral be the plain cypress wood box, placed at ground level, and with the open Book of the Gospels placed upon it.

Several readers asked regarding prayers for the Pope, especially those for his intentions related to gaining a plenary indulgence.

During these days most prayers directly for the Holy Father, such as those in the Prayers of the Faithful, or intercessions of the Divine office, are usually omitted.

With respect to plenary indulgences, it is certainly not the Church's intention to make them unavailable during the interregnum. Since God is not bound to time, I suggest praying the usual prayers and let him take care of the rest. ZE05041220

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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