Inaugural Mass Full of New Symbolic Gestures

Emphasize Pope as Successor of Peter

Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s inaugural Mass was the first one to incorporate new symbolic gestures that finalize the process of updating the installation rites of a new Pope.

The solemn Mass for the beginning of the pontificate replaced the coronation ceremony, which had been abolished by Paul VI in which a new pope received a tiara.

The process of updating the rite began during the Second Vatican Council, but hadn’t been finalized when John Paul I was elected in 1978, or when John Paul II became Pope about a month later.

Substitute measures were used in these ceremonies, Monsignor Crispino Valenziano, of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, told reporters Saturday.

The new Pope approved the rites a few hours after his election, and the Vatican reported that Benedict XVI wished to give the ceremony an intense symbolic value to highlight the Petrine (of Peter) dimension of his ministry.

Visit to the Grottoes

One of the most significant novelties took place at the beginning of the Mass on Sunday with a visit to the grottoes underneath St. Peter’s Basilica to pay homage at the tomb of the first Pope, St. Peter.

Monsignor Valenziano explained that Benedict XVI had in mind to underline that he “was not elected successor of John Paul II, but of Peter.”

The Holy Father, accompanied by the Eastern patriarchs, went down from the Altar of the Confession to the first Pope’s sepulcher. At that moment, two deacons collected the two symbols that would later be imposed on the Pope: the Fisherman’s Ring and the pallium, which had been laid by the tomb throughout the night.

“I leave from where the apostle arrived,” Benedict XVI said before processing to St. Peter’s Square.

The liturgist of the St. Anselm Pontifical Liturgical Institute explained that in the past, popes were sometimes crowned in the Sistine Chapel, while others were crowned in the basilica.

However, Benedict XVI began his pontificate solemnly in St. Peter’s Square “because it is the place of Peter’s martyrdom,” he explained, and not for logistical reasons.

The pallium

Benedict XVI’s pallium is different from that of the last Popes, as it has the shape of the original pallium, explained Monsignor Valenziano.

It is an ancient episcopal symbol woven in pure wool, which Roman Bishops have worn since the fourth century to symbolize the yoke of Christ, which the “servant of the servants of God,” as the Pope is known, carries on his shoulders.

On this occasion, the novelty is that the model is like those used by the Church in the first millennium and is inspired by the medieval mosaics of some churches of Rome.

Much larger than the one used by John Paul II, the new Pope’s pallium has images of “Jesus, the Good Shepherd,” as the Pontiff carries it on his shoulders, as if it were a “lost sheep.”

The symbolic representation of the pallium is completed with five red crosses, a reminder of the “wounds of the Crucified and several pins, symbol of the nails.”

Fisherman’s Ring

The innovation of the Fisherman’s Ring is that it will have the same image on it as the lead papal seal that the Pope uses to seal documents.

It is an image of St. Peter with the boat and fishing nets, and for this reason is called the “the Fisherman’s Ring,” as the first Pope was that fisherman who, believing in Jesus’ word, cast his net into the waters and miraculously caught a great quantity of fish.

When fitting the ring, the Pope commented that he liked the size 24 — “It is the double of 12” — referring to the Twelve Apostles. It was forged by the Association of Roman Jewelers.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state and vice dean of the College of Cardinals, placed the Fisherman’s Ring on Benedict XVI’s right hand.

Rite of obedience

In another change, not all the cardinals knelt down in a gesture of obedience to the new Pope, as they had already done so the day of his election.

A symbolic group of 12 persons, representing the Twelve Apostles, knelt down in place of the whole Church: three cardinals, a bishop, a priest, a deacon, a man and a woman religious, a married couple and two newly confirmed youths.

St. Paul Outside the Walls

Another novelty will be the Holy Father’s visit on Monday, a day after the official start of the pontificate, to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, which houses St. Paul’s tomb.

The Pope wished to visit it immediately “to express the inseparable bond of the Roman Church with the Apostle Paul. Peter and Paul are the two founders of the Church of Rome,” explained Monsignor Valenziano.

This basilica is entrusted to the Benedictines by the Holy See.

Taking possession of St. John Lateran

The Pope will take possession of his Chair (“incatedratio”), the Basilica of St. John Lateran, cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, on May 7.

In another novelty, during the “incatedratio” there will be “a celebration to the Holy Spirit, who infuses wisdom,” said Monsignor Valenziano. The celebration, during which the Pope will sit for the first time on the chair, “will be totally dedicated to the Holy Spirit,” he explained.

Visit to St. Mary Major

The date has yet to be announced but the Pope also plans on visiting the fourth major basilica of Rome, St. Mary Major.

The Pope will go to St. Mary Major Basilica to greet the Blessed Virgin with the prayer “Ave Maria Stella.” Mary’s image as the salvation of the Roman people (“salus populi romani”) is housed in that basilica.

After greeting the image with the words of the Gospel, Benedict XVI will pronounce for the first time a prayer of Eastern Patriarch St. Germanus of Constantinople, dedicated to the protection of the city’s citizens and visitors.

Share this Entry

ZENIT Staff

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation