By Florence Mafomemeh
History has been made at the Vatican. Former Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s funeral mass on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square and planned by current Pope Francis was one of a kind. It was an unusual and unprecedented event in the history of the Catholic Church.
The event marked the first occasion in modern times that a sitting pontiff had planned and presided over the funeral of his predecessor or a former pope since the Middle Ages – and who the first ever of one who resigned.
Popes typically hold office until death, but Benedict became the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life. The last pope to step down was Gregory XII, who quit in 1415 to end a civil war within the church. Benedict died at the age of 95 on December 31 at a monastery in Vatican City.
Pope Benedict was the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State from 2005 until his resignation in 2013 citing his advanced age as a reason he was no longer fit to lead.
The ceremony was similar to that of a reigning pope but with some modifications. Benedict was named pope emeritus during the funeral, and the language of some prayers was different because he was not the reigning pope when he died.
Benedict’s election as the 265th pontiff in 2005 at age 78 occurred following the death of Pope John Paul II. Benedict, who became the oldest person to be elected since 1730, was criticized for his handling of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. His efforts to rid the church of what he called “filth” went further than those of John Paul II, but he was reluctant to hold bishops accountable. Pope Benedict XVI was a champion of Catholic tradition.
Benedict was known as a conservative academic, teacher of the faith, staunch defender of Catholic faith and more conservative than his successor, Pope Francis, who has made moves to soften the Vatican’s position on abortion and homosexuality, as well as doing more to deal with the sexual abuse crisis that has engulfed the church in recent years and clouded Benedict’s legacy.
After three days of lying in state within St.Peter’s Basilica for people to offer their final farewells, his remains were buried in the Vatican crypt under the basilica , in the first tomb of John Paul II. The tomb was vacated after John Paul II’s body and remains were moved to a chapel inside the Basilica after he became a saint. About 90 popes are buried in the tombs, while some, including John Paul II, are buried in the church itself.
Born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in Marktl, Germany, Benedict who never wanted to be pope spent his final years at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery within the walls of the Vatican where he passed away.