What is a Papal Mass and why is one being performed for Pope Benedict XVI's funeral?

Pope Francis to eulogise his predecessor and ‘Two Popes’ friend in the historic funeral ceremony

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Pope Benedict XVI will be given a grand farewell at the Vatican in what is set to be a Papal Mass unlike any other in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church.

In 2013, the Pope Emeritus became the first pontiff to resign from office in 600 years. At the time, he said he had made the decision because, as the modern world was changing rapidly, someone of his age and era was “no longer suited” for the job.

As a result, his funeral Mass at the Vatican on Thursday will be unique: For the first time, a sitting pope will preside over a Papal Mass for his predecessor in an occasion that will be live-streamed to viewers around the world.

What is a Papal Mass?

A Papal Mass is a Solemn Pontifical High Mass presided over by the pope. It happens on several occasions throughout the church’s calendar, including at Easter, Christmas and on other major feast days.

It also takes place for a papal coronation, the canonisation of a saint and an ex cathedra pronouncement — in other words, a major church announcement.

Following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, several vestments and parts of Papal Masses were discontinued. However, Benedict revived some of these traditions such as the playing of the Papal Anthem on brass instruments from inside St Peter’s Basilica to announce his arrival.

The majority of Papal Masses are said in Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church. While Benedict always said key components of the Mass in Latin, Pope Francis says them in Italian.

Pope Francis, left, with his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, right. The Pope will eulogise his friend at his funeral Mass on Thursday. AP

Other elements of such Masses have changed through the decades. For example, in former times, only the pope, the deacon and the subdeacon received Holy Communion. In modern Papal Masses, many worshippers can receive the Eucharist, some from the pope himself.

Benedict, known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his pre-Vatican days, was renowned for his theological knowledge as well as for his eloquent speeches.

Pope Francis will eulogise his predecessor at the funeral, which the Vatican has said will be marked by the simplicity that Benedict requested.

The theologian died last Saturday, four days after the current pontiff had asked congregants at a Mass to pray for his “very sick” predecessor.

Benedict's body is lying in state at St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, which thousands of mourners have visited since Monday.

Vatican officials said they expected up to 100,000 people to pass through the basilica to pay their respects.

Many of the world’s 1.3 billion Christians are expected to watch the historic funeral Mass on TV on Thursday at 9.30am Vatican time (8.30am UK time).

After the Mass, the German-born former pope will be buried in the crypt under St Peter’s Basilica.

Who will be in attendance?

Since Benedict was no longer head of the Vatican City State, his funeral Mass will carry different protocol compared to funerals of reigning popes.

Only two countries — Italy and his native Germany — will send official delegations, according to the Vatican.

Instead, politicians and members of royal families around the world, especially of predominantly Catholic countries, will attend in a private manner.

The process also differs greatly to that seen in recent times, as there is no need to elect a new pontiff, and visiting cardinals will not have to remain in Rome for any election process.

Pope Francis has largely conducted business as usual since his predecessor died.

On Tuesday, he met the cardinal who heads the Italian bishops’ conference and bid farewell to South Korea’s ambassador to the Holy See in a courtesy visit.

The pontiff also greeted a delegation of an organisation promoting brotherhood and appointed new papal envoys to Uruguay and the UAE.

Pope Benedict XVI — in pictures

Updated: January 05, 2023, 6:47 AM