08 April 2005

Papal Funeral

Pope Soap on a Rope, anyone?
You can indeed buy such things in Rome. What price they'd fetch nowadays I've no idea, mind.

I watched the Holy Father's funeral mass this morning, on BBC. They've not archived the whole thing, only some 'key moments'. I can't imagine what the BBC would deem to be the highlights of the mass; maybe I should check. I've a feeling the consecration probably wouldn't make the top ten, and I suspect the readings have been ditched - the first was from Acts 10:34-43, the Epistle was from from Paul's Letter to the Philippians 3:20-4:1, and the Gospel was sung from John 21:15-19. I wonder did they include the final commendation with the litanies of Martyrs and of Saints - I liked how Saints Maximilian Kolbe and Maria Faustina Kowalska had been added to the lists. A nice touch that, I felt, and one of which I'm sure the Holy Father would have approved.

In any case, RTE have archived the whole ceremony, with a commentary, and needless to say all manner of information about the ceremony can be found at the Vatican's site. Mind you, that's if you can get the links to work. Technology, unfortunately, is not infallible.

A Universal Church?
One of the most remarkable aspects of the ceremony, as far as I could tell, was how it marvellously showed the Church to some degree breathing with both lungs, as John Paul would have put it. The celebrant was assisted in the mass not merely by the Cardinals, but by Eastern Patriarchs too. The Eastern representatives who assisted in the mass were from those churches in communion with the Holy See, but there were representatives there from other Eastern communions too.

And then there was the multiligual aspect. The mass may have been said primarily in Italian - fittingly, considering the Pope's primary role as bishop of Rome - but parts were said or sung in Latin, Greek, Spanish, English, French, Swahili, Tagalog, Polish, German, Portugese, and Arabic. It's hard to imagine a better demonstration of the Church's catholicity than by showing how it fulfils the its mission to 'make disciples of all nations'

The homily's certainly worth listening to - or reading in English, if your Italian is lacking! I think Cardinal Ratzinger did a fine job on that. For all that he's one of the Church's most controversial and polarising figures, I've always been rather fond of the man called by his biographer 'the Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith'.

The Enforcer?
I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's simply because I've always liked a joke - at his expense, mind - that's long done the rounds on the internet. There are numerous variations on it, but the version I first heard goes more or less like this:
'The Pope, Hans Kueng and Cardinal Ratzinger all die on the same day, and go to up to the pearly gates, where St. Peter is waiting for them.

Peter walks over to the three, and says that before they are allowed enter Heaven, he needs to have a quick word with each of them - just to make sure their faith is pure.

He calls John Paul into his office, and the Holy Father follows him in. While the two of them are in the office, Kueng and Ratzinger sit outside nervously, saying their Rosaries and such. Anyway, after about an hour, John Paul comes up, tears running down his face, murmuring about his shame at getting so much wrong. "Don't worry, Lolek," Peter says to him, smiling, "You always meant well, and you did so much, and your faith was invincible. I'll take you in, and introduce you to Lord, once I'm done with the others."

He turns to the other two lads, and signals to Kueng to join him in the office. The two of them are in there for the best part of a day, and occasionally raised voices can be heard by Ratzinger and the Holy Father, who are otherwise engrossed in their prayers.

Eventually, the door opens, and Hans stumbles out, trembling and distraught. "Why was I so arrogant?" he wails, "How could I have been so foolish?" Peter smiles, and pats him on the back. "Don't worry, Hans, you never stopped believing in Our Lord, and you always thought you were right. You were absolutely dedicated in your quest for the truth. Our Lord is very forgiving. You'll be okay."

Kueng sits down next to the Pope, sobbing but smiling, and gathers up his beads to start praying again. Peter turns to the Cardinal. "Joseph," he says, "if you'll come with me."

The Pope and Kueng are astounded, as Ratzinger and Saint Peter don't come out of the office that day, or the next. Every now and again they hear shouting, and weeping. Finally, on the third day the door swings open, and Saint Peter staggers out, a broken man.

"How could I have been so wrong?" he whimpers.'
Hans Kueng, just to explain, is a Swiss dissident theologian, who, along with Ratzinger, Rahner, Congar, De Lubac, and Von Balthasar, was one of the 'Young Turks' who drove the liberalising agenda of the Second Vatican Council. As Ratzinger has moved to the right since then - not as far right as people make out, but definitely to the right - Kueng has headed further and further left, to the extent that it at times is difficult to see why he actually considers himself Catholic, seeing as he rejects so much of the Church's teaching. Some years ago there was a fairly public reconciliation between Ratzinger and Johann Baptist Metz, a theologian who had previously fallen foul of the Cardinal; Kueng was highly critical of this reconciliation, making comments that Metz felt were very hurtful. 'Sometimes,' he said, 'Kueng conducts himself like a second magisterium. To tell you the truth, one is enough, at least for me.'

Incidentally, I heard an amusing story about the Cardinal a few months ago. It seems that he's known his approachability, and is often to be seen strolling across Saint Peter's Square. One day some years back a priest from my diocese - he may have been a seminarian then, I'm not sure - was being visited by his mother while he was studying in Rome. Seeing the Cardinal in the the Square, he hurried his mother, who was eating an ice-cream at the time, over to be meet him. Unfortunately she stumbled or something, and the poor Bavarian found himself with gelato smeared all over his cassock. The mother immediately produced a handkerchief, and began wiping the ice-cream away, while the Cardinal laughed about it. Needless to say, the poor priest was mortified.

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