Thoughts on the funeral

Thoughts on the funeral

I got up at 4 am to watch the funeral. Luckily, I was TiVoing it because I fell back asleep only a little ways into it. When I woke up, I went back to watch it from the beginning.

It was a majestic and awesome event. It was the full-flowering of what the Catholic celebration of the Eucharist is about. The whole Church was gathered in Rome, 5 million from around the world, representing the rest of the 1.1 billion. They were our representatives. in a way their presence was more impressive than the dozens of kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, and so on. Pope John Paul II had spent his pontificate going out to the see the world, and at the end the world returned his visit.

It was also beautiful to hear the Mass prayed in Latin (although the readings and prayers of the faithful were read in various languages.) Archbishop John Foley of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications provided the instant translations. Cardinal Ratzinger, as someone pointed out in the comments below, showed himself to be a humble priest, not the dreaded theological stormtrooper he’s made out to be. His homily was beautiful and I was struck by his comment that Pope John Paul is looking down upon us know from his Father’s house. The people began chanting “Magnus” (the Great) and “Santo Subito” (Sainthood now!)

In an earlier era, before the process of canonization we have now, this might have been enough to declare him Pope St. John Paul the Great. I suppose it will be up to his successor to determine that. I bet he will wait a year or two to open the process and the recommendation for beatification will follow a few years after that. After all, it took six years for Mother Teresa to be beatified (and she’s not even canonized yet) and look at how the whole world knew of her sanctity before her death. It won’t happen overnight for JP2.

I was especially moved by the Greek prayers by the Eastern-rite patriarchs at the end of the Mass. It was a nice homage to the Holy Father’s standing as the first Slavic pope and his oft-stated desire to reconcile East and West in the Church. Let it be a prediction of the future.

President Bush told reporters that he was deeply moved by the Mass and counts it as one of the high points of his presidency. I hope that it carries it a longlasting impact on all the world leaders gathered there, although I have enough cynicism in me to doubt it. Still, I wonder if it would have enough of an impact on the president to encourage him to consider “swimming the Tiber” and joining his brother Jeb on the other side.

There has never been a funeral like this one in history. That can be said with confidence. There has never been a pope like John Paul. It’s not that he didn’t make mistakes, but that he redefined the papacy like no other could have. He set the bar so high that even he couldn’t live up to it. He was often criticized for trying to do too much, and not focusing enough on the governance of the Church. So be it. I think that’s probably true. But look at what he did accomplish. Let the next pope attend to governance. John Paul was the general who led the spearhead of the attack into enemy territory. Now the follow-on forces will mop up and consolidate our gains. I think that’s a fair assessment of John Paul’s papacy.

In spite of the pageantry and splendour, Karol Wojtyla was laid to rest in a wooden box in the ground like other men. But he did show what one man can do when he relies totally on the his Blessed Mother, the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, and Our Father. “Totus Tuus.”

  • Dom:

    I wish I could have been there. Thank you for such a moving account, and for the “first-hand” accounts you provided us from your friends in Rome.

    Sadly, Blogger picked the last couple of days not to work at my end. Thanks to the generosity of Kathy Shaidle, author of RelapsedCatholic (and the woman who introduced me to the weblog phenomenon), I was able to have my encomium of the late JPII posted on her site:

  • Dom:

    I stayed up most of the night (the Mass started at 2 am PST here in LA), and I was on the floor at what I saw.  The paradox of simultaneous exaltation and simplicity; the sheer ornateness of it all, and yet the whole liturgy was a study in understated depth and gravity; emotional but not sentimental; solemn but not stuffy.  W’s response to it says a lot.

    Did anyone else notice the red Book of the Gospels that was laid upon the casket?  For a few minutes it simply lay there, an open book upon the Man With the Open Heart.  Then a stiff breeze came up and the white pages started flapping back and forth, like a dove in flight.  Then in the middle of the Mass, the book suddenly closed itself.  Boom.  I couldn’t help but notice the perfect symmetry: Its spine lined up flush with the upright beam of the painted cross, the one with the “M” at the lower right.  You’d have to sit there and adjust it a few times to get it that aligned, and yet the wind did it in one take.  The cynic in me says I’m reading in too much, but the sight of a “closed book” upon his casket in the midst of his final good-bye was moving.  Gave me Godbumps, and reminded me of the oddly vivid rainbow that suddenly graced the sky over Mile High stadium the instant the Holy Father strode on to the stage for WYD Denver in 1993.  We do well to appreciate when nature’s God gives His people a wink.

  • According to the commentator I heard, the sun was out before the funeral, but the sky was cloudy and windy during the funeral.  The sun came out again as they carried him into the basilica after Mass.

    There are a lot of things that could be read into that, of course.

    David, Blogger has been very frustrating over the last 24 hours.  I couldn’t post last night or this morning.  I Googled Blogger and pulled up several blogs that were able to post last night and this morning, however.  None of them Catholic. 



  • I saw the funeral liturgy live on ABC and rerun on EWTN in the afternoon.  It was a beautiful and moving ceremony especially with the Latin and Greek, but the priests and archbishop that I heard commenting need to brush up on their Latin and Greek. 

    After Cardinal Ratzinger’s sermon, the choir sang by the creed.  The commentator said that it was the Nicene Creed, but it was the Apostles’ Creed with “Credo, credo, amen” (“I believe, I believe, amen”) as a refrain.  At solemn Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica (or the piazza outside) the Nicene Creed is usually sing in Latin to one of the Gregorian Chant settings, and many among the clergy and in the congregation (especially the “locals”) are familiar with the tune and join in alternating verses with the choir.  This unusual use of the Apostles’ Creed is an innovation which I attribute to the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Archbishop Marini, who has been known to introduce such unusual things in Papal Masses in Rome and   around the world (such as the dancers from India at the Offertory during the beatification Mass for Mother Teresa of Calcutta)—in the name of inculturation of the liturgy to the locale of the person being beatified or canonized—or to the place where the Pope went to offer Mass.  Nonetheless, according to the revised General Instruction (and rubrics) of the Roman Missal, the Apostles’ Creed may be used instead of the Nicene Creed.

    Near the end of the papal funeral Mass, some Eastern Catholic bishops and clergy were chanting some of the memorial prayers for the deceased used by Byzantine Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) and reciting some others in Arabic.  The commentator read a translation of the Greek refrain which is usually used (“May his memory be eternal”), but because it is Easter-time in the Western Church, the Eastern Catholic hierarchs and clerics sung the refrain for Easter: “Christ is risen from the dead, and by His death He has trampled upon death and has given life to those who were in the tombs.”

    After the singing of the “In Paradisum” (“May the angels welcome you into Paradise”) at the conclusion of the funeral liturgy, and while the concelebrating patriarchs, cardinals, archbishops, and bishops were processing into St. Peter’s Basilica, the choir started another Latin chant, which the priest-commentator identified as “In Paradisum.”  It was actually a setting of the “Magnificat” (“My soul magnifies the Lord”)—the Gospel canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, usually used at vespers (or evening prayer).

  • It’s always nice to see the liturgy done in Latin, especially if you understand it a bit, because you see how much we’re missing with our terrible stripped-down English translation – for example, the triple “mea culpa” in the Confiteor or the full “Domine, non sum dignus”.

    I’m really too overwhelmed to comment on the Mass other than to say that I adore Faure’s Requiem, especially the “In Paradisum” – it is “the” “In Paradisum” in my book. There was no reason for me to be expecting it as the rest of the Mass was chanted, but I was let down a bit when they didn’t play it! Why??? No reason to be, other than that’s the only “In Paradisum” in my heart that I would think fitting for his funeral. But perhaps too “wispy” for a harsh, windy spring day in Roma.

    But was that English-translation reader having problems or what? I guess he was outside; it sounded like he kept shuffling his papers right up by the mike, and he left out whole chunks of things, but if he was outside, his papers may have gotten blown around a bit and he had to put them back in order etc. Besides the “Magnificat”, he also read something at the first reading that was *not* the reading from Acts – I was trying to ignore him, since I can understand Spanish. Some gospel reading but it wasn’t the gospel they used. Very confusing. My friend, two words: ring binder.

  • Tom and Anne:

    Archbishop John Foley of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications was doing English voice-over, but it depends on what network you were on.  On Fox News I think they had their own interpreters.  On other stations that we watched as we were flipping around for the best coverage (i.e. the coverage that had the least amount of blabbing by commentators), they would have Abp. Foley, but at times a priest or lay commentator would weigh in also.  The bottom line, however, is that when Abp. Foley read something in English, he was using the current ICEL translation, as that is what people would recognize.  He was not attempting to give any sort of literal translation.  Also, with regard to the Apostle’s Creed, I believe it was appopriate given the remembrance of baptism symbolized by the sprinkling of holy water.  The fact that they used a “response” version (the crowd occasionally interjected with “Credo, Credo, Amen.”) was odd and somewhat annoying, but I think that was the worst thing in the whole ceremony.  Overall it was quite beautiful and fitting.  EWTN has the “official” order of worship which includes all the music available for download in two PDF files on their site.

  • Patrick, I did notice that-and at one point one of the crew from NBC noticed it (I have to say it was refreshing to have GWeigal with Katie ( I was wishing and praying she’d have at least a bit of the conversion experience Matt seemed to be having) Couric et al.  They were mostly quiet for the Mass.

    David-yeah, blogger’s been a pain.  Some how I finally got my thoughts posted on mine, but only after I’d poured my heart out and then thought I’d lost it all.  durned blogger!

    Over all, I still mourn, but with each heavy sigh of missing him I wonder what he’d be challenging me to do.  So I’ve been rather busy for having only 4 hours of sleep and bawling through most of the early morning!!

  • I watched Global here in Canada. They have a great young priest, Fr. Raymond deSouza (you may have heard of him in the States, too), and he did a lot of excellent commentary, although Global was very restrained and really held back on their commentary (I flicked around a little bit and it seemed like the big US networks and the CBC were being rather restrained too – we don’t get the cable news channels). But whoever was doing the English voice-over on the main feed, even if it was Abp Foley, was having some serious problems with the pacing and with the actual texts he was using. He had papers he was shuffling around which clearly had the actual translated texts on them – a different “interpreter”, for example, interpreted the homily, as it was clear he was interpreting and not reading off of a prepared text. I understand you don’t do a papal funeral every day, but reading anything like that requires rehearsal, besides trying to match it up live. Not that it hasn’t been stressful this week for the Abp.

  • BTW – Bryan, I see from your site that a diocesan confrere read the second reading this morning, the one in English. He did an *excellent* job!

  • Thanks, Anne.  We were all very proud of John.  He did a great job on the reading, I thought.  He’s in second theology at the NAC.

    In Abp. Foley’s voice over I could not hear shuffling of papers.  Weird!  Oh well, it was such a blessing at any rate just to see the papal funeral, even if the commentators were obnoxious or distracting.  Right now I’m taping the C-SPAN version of it.  I think it’s the best—the picture quality is good (better than EWTN’s by a long shot), and they only have Abp. Foley’s comments and English translation, so one does not have to suffer through the political commentary of those “journalists” who really don’t know much about the faith.

  • The shuffling of papers was not Archbishop Foley. I’ve now seen both the EWTN feed and the CNN feed and the archbishop was on EWTN, while someone else was doing CNN. The interesting thing is that while the archbishop was reading from the GIRM English translation, the CNN guy was translating literally and you could hear the vast difference between the literal Latin and the poor English translation we now have to live with.

    May the next Pope grant us the gift of a better translation of the Mass.

  • I thought it was interesting, in light of his body not being enbalmed, and the Scripture passage about Lazarus being called out of the tomb after three days, and the retort “There will be a stench”, that the final words of the funeral Mass were “May you have eternal rest with the poor man Lazarus in Heaven.”


  • While I certainly don’t have a copy of the Ceremoniale for the Requiem Mass of a Pope, having ANY Credo in a Funeral Mass is unique.  Perhaps the Papal Funeral Mass is the only occasion which has that prescribed.

    While what we saw was certainly wonderful, it’s too bad that the Dies Irae was not chanted—or for that matter, the Libera Me, as the coffin was incensed after the Mass ended.

    But perhaps all those reminders of the Four Last Things would have been a bit much, eh?

    As to the Faure ‘In Paradisum,’ I suspect that the required orchestration would have been a bit difficult to assemble (much less to hear in an outdoor setting.)