In Historic funeral Mass Pope Francis calls Benedict XVI pastor who spread Gospel

Alluding to the various challenges Benedict XVI faced in his 8-year papacy, Francis said that “like the Master, a shepherd bears the burden of interceding and the strain of anointing his people.”

Newsroom (05/01/2023 7:55 AM, Gaudium Press)  In one of the rarest of scenes in two millennia of Catholic Church history, Pope Francis Jan. 5 celebrated the funeral Mass of his predecessor, the late Pope Benedict XVI, offering a subtle send-off to someone he extolled as a pastor that “spread and testified” to the Gospel for his entire life.

During a brief, 7-minute homily to a crowd of thousands gathered during a cool, foggy morning in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis reflected on the life of Christ, marked by “hands of forgiveness and compassion, healing and mercy, anointing and blessing,” seemingly drawing a parallel to the same devotion in which Benedict served the church. 

Pope Francis, the first pope to preside over the funeral of a pope emeritus, offered a generic homily on the role of a pastor, saying God, like a potter, “wishes to shape the heart of every pastor, until it is attuned to the heart of Christ Jesus.”

He spoke of both the grateful and prayerful devotion that a pastor must have, as well as the “trusting obedience to the Lord’s command to feed his flock.”

Alluding to the various challenges Benedict XVI faced in his 8-year papacy, but without mentioning anything specifically, Francis said that “like the Master, a shepherd bears the burden of interceding and the strain of anointing his people, especially in situations where goodness must struggle to prevail and the dignity of our brothers and sisters is threatened.”

“In the course of this intercession, the Lord quietly bestows the spirit of meekness that is ready to understand, accept, hope and risk, notwithstanding any misunderstandings that might result,” he said, saying this meekness is “the source of an unseen and elusive fruitfulness, born of his knowing the One in whom he has placed his trust.”

This trust, he said, is “born of prayer and adoration, capable of discerning what is expected of a pastor and shaping his heart and his decisions in accord with God’s good time.”

Pope Francis also spoke of the support offered by the Holy Spirit, which he said, “always precedes the pastor in his mission,” which he said must be carried out “In the painful yet steadfast serenity that neither attacks nor coerces. In the stubborn but patient hope that the Lord will be faithful to his promise, the promise he made to our fathers and to their descendants forever.”

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“Holding fast to the Lord’s last words and to the witness of his entire life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his steps and to commend our brother into the hands of the Father,” he said, asking that Benedict XVI’s “merciful hands find his lamp alight with the oil of the Gospel that he spread and testified to for his entire life.”

The Jan. 5 funeral brought an end to a nearly decade-long era, where from 2013, the late Benedict shocked the world with his resignation that year, lived within a monastery inside the Vatican under the title of “pope emeritus,” while the reigning pope, Francis, lived only a few steps away. 

During the Mass, Francis focused his reflections primarily on the life of Christ – a theme frequently explored by the late pope, including in a trilogy of books on “Jesus of Nazareth,” which he penned during his nearly eight-year papacy – rather than dwelling on the contours of the predecessor’s long life and influence. 

In the years since Benedict’s resignation, Francis has referred to his predecessor as a “grandfather of all grandfathers” and often praised the wisdom Benedict offered as a retired pope living inside the Vatican walls. 

In the homily for the funeral Mass, Francis focussed on more basic matters – leading the people in St. Peter’s Square and Catholics watching around the world in praying for God to welcome Benedict home.

Invoking the image of the women in the Gospel stories who incensed the tomb of the deceased Jesus, Francis said “we too have come with the fragrance of gratitude and the balm of hope, in order to show once more the love that is undying.”

“We want to do this with the same wisdom, tenderness and devotion that [Benedict] bestowed upon us over the years,” said Francis. “Together, we want to say: ‘Father, into your hands we commend his spirit.'”

Order of the requiem mass

The Collect prayer was prayed in Latin:

Let us pray. O God, who in your wondrous providence chose your servant Benedict to preside over your Church, grant, we pray, that, having served as the Vicar of your Son on earth, he may be welcomed by him into eternal glory. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.

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The readings for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s funeral Mass were:

Isaiah 29:16-19, read in Spanish;

Psalm 23, sung in Latin;

1 Peter 1: 3-9, in English; and

Gospel of Luke 23: 39-46, chanted in Italian.

In the Prayers of the Faithful, the second prayer was said in German:

For Pope Emeritus Benedict, who has fallen asleep in the Lord: May the eternal Shepherd receive him into his kingdom of light and peace.

At the end of the Prayers of the Faithful, Pope Francis prayed:

God our Father, lover of life, hear the prayers we raise to you with faith in the Risen Lord for Pope Emeritus Benedict and for the needs of the Church and our world. Grant us a share in fellowship with you in the heavenly Jerusalem, where sorrow and tears will be no more. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Prayer Over the Offerings:

Look with favour on the offerings of your Church as she calls on you, O Lord, and by the power of this sacrifice grant that, as you placed your servant Benedict as High Priest over your flock, so you may set him among the number of your chosen Priests in heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer III, offered in Latin:

Remember your servant Pope Emeritus Benedict, whom you have called from this world to yourself. Grant that he who was united with your Son in a death like his, may also be one with him in his Resurrection, when from the earth he will raise up in the flesh those who have died, and transform our lowly body after the pattern of his own glorious body. To our departed brothers and sisters, too, and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.

The Prayer after Communion was prayed in Latin:

Let us pray. As we receive sacred sustenance from your charity, O Lord, we pray that your servant Benedict, who was a faithful steward of your mysteries on earth, may praise your mercy forever in the glory of the saints. Through Christ our Lord.

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After Communion there was a Final Commendation and Farewell followed by a moment for silent prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters, in celebrating the sacred mysteries we have opened our minds and hearts to joy-filled hope; with confidence we now offer our final farewell to Pope Emeritus Benedict and commend him to God, our merciful and loving Father.

May the God of our fathers, through Jesus Christ, his only Son, in the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, deliver Pope Emeritus Benedict from death, that he may sing God’s praises in the heavenly Jerusalem in expectation of the resurrection of his mortal body on the last day.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles and Salus Populi Romani, intercede before the Eternal Father, that he may reveal the face of Jesus his Son to Pope Emeritus Benedict and console the Church on her pilgrimage through history as she awaits the Lord’s return.

After Pope Francis incensed the mortal remains of Benedict XVI, the Pope prayed in Latin:

Gracious Father, we commend to your mercy Pope Emeritus Benedict, whom you made Successor of Peter and shepherd of the Church, a fearless preacher of your word and a faithful minister of the divine mysteries.

Welcome him, we pray, into your heavenly dwelling place, to enjoy eternal glory with all your chosen ones. We give you thanks, Lord, for all the blessings that in your goodness you bestowed upon him for the good of your people.

Grant us the comfort of faith and the strength of hope.

To you Father, source of life, through Christ, the conqueror of death, in the life-giving Spirit, be all honor and glory forever and ever.

The choir and the congregation sang the following Antiphons:

May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come and welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem.

May choirs of angels welcome you and with Lazarus, who is poor no longer, may you have eternal rest.

As Benedict XVI’s coffin was carried to his place of burial in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica, the choir sang the Magnificat in Latin.


  • Raju Hasmukh with files from NCR, Crux Now and National Catholic Register


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