VATICAN CITY — Delegations from 132 countries have confirmed their presence at what promises to be a very well-attended and momentous inaugural Mass for Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square tomorrow.
Rome authorities are preparing for up to a million people to attend the official start of Pope Francis’ pontificate, although, being a weekday, it’s unlikely numbers will be that high.
Seated on the Holy Father’s right, in front of the facade of the basilica, will be 250 cardinals, bishops and archbishops and — for the first time in over 1,000 years at a Mass of this kind — the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
On the Pope’s left will be heads of state and ministers, including six reigning sovereigns, 31 heads of state, three crown princes, 11 heads of government and many other dignitaries. Among them will be Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., representing President Obama.
A bipartisan congressional delegation will be led by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who chairs the House of Representatives' Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee.
Also seated in the same area as the heads of state and other dignitaries will be President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
But the Vatican, keen to avoid accusations that it had invited the likes of Jesuit-educated Mugabe to the Mass, has stressed that no one has received invitations. “The delegations are coming to Rome following information of the event made public by the [Vatican] secretary of state,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters this afternoon. “There were no ‘invitations’ sent out. All who wish to come are warmly welcomed.”
Also seated close to the Pope will be Jewish and Muslim representatives and members of other religions, together with around 1,200 priests and seminarians, as well as diplomats accredited to the Holy See and civil authorities.
Reception of Communion
The liturgy in St. Peter’s Square is expected to be relatively simple and “not too long,” about two hours, the Vatican said, and, interestingly, Pope Francis will not be distributing holy Communion. It’s not clear why, but the Vatican seemed to infer it was to keep the Mass shorter and simpler (500 priests and deacons will be on hand to distribute Communion throughout the square).
Some observers, however, believe it is so the Pope is not put in the awkward position of giving Communion to Catholic leaders such as Biden and Pelosi, whose public positions on abortion are at odds with Catholic teaching. As cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was categorical in disallowing Communion to any who facilitated an abortion, politicians included.
Pope Francis will enter St. Peter’s Square in the Popemobile shortly before 9am and travel around the square so the crowd will be able to see him up close.
He will then return to the sacristy in the basilica, where he will be taken to St. Peter’s tomb, under the high altar, while trumpets will announce the “Tu es Petrus.” The Pope will venerate the tomb of St. Peter, together with the patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches (10 in number, four of whom are cardinals). He will then be presented with the pallium (papal vestment), papal ring and Book of the Gospels that were placed at St. Peter’s tomb the night before.
The Holy Father will then return to the main floor of the basilica, from which the procession continues. The Laudes Regiae (Christ Is King) will be chanted, with some invocations taken from Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations), the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church. In the Litany of Saints will be popes who have been canonized (not beatified), up to the most recent: St. Pius X. The procession will then make its entrance into St. Peter’s Square.
About 180 Church leaders — including all of the cardinals present in Rome, the Eastern patriarchs and major archbishops and the superior generals of the Order of Friars Minors and the Jesuits, respectively Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo and Father Adolfo Nicolas Pachon — are expected to concelebrate the Mass.
Three Papal Rites
The Vatican highlighted three important rites, specific to the beginning of the Bishop of Rome’s Petrine Ministry, that will take place before the Mass. These include the imposition of the pallium, made of lamb’s wool and sheep’s wool, that symbolizes the Good Shepherd, who carries the lost sheep on his shoulders. The one to be used by Francis is the same one that Benedict XVI used, and it will be placed on the Pope’s shoulders by French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the protodeacon who announced the new Pope to the world last Wednesday. A prayer will then be recited by Cardinal Godfried Daneels, protopresbyter and archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium.
Secondly, the Pope’s “Fisherman’s Ring” — whose name derives from Peter, the fisherman apostle called to be a “fisher of men” — will be presented to the Pope by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis’ ring is notable in that it has close links with Pope Paul VI. In a statement, the Vatican explained the ring’s provenance as deriving from Archbishop Pasquale Macchi, former personal secretary of Pope Paul VI, who kept the wax cast of a ring made for Paul VI by the artist Henry Manfrini.
“The ring was never cast into metal,” the Vatican said, “and Paul VI had never wore it because he always wore the ring that was commissioned at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Macchi left the cast, along with other objects, to Msgr. Ettore Malnati, who worked closely with him for many years. Msgr. Malnati made a ring of gold-plated silver from the wax cast. This was offered to Pope Francis, along with several other possible rings, by the papal master of ceremonies, through the auspices of Cardinal Re. It was this ring that Pope Francis chose to be the ring of the fisherman, presented to him at the Mass of inauguration of his Petrine ministry.”
In the third rite, six representative cardinals will approach the Pope to make an act of obedience. This emphasis on obedience is new, as one of the last acts of Benedict XVI and emblematic of his wish to foster unity around the Successor of Peter (the cardinals electors have already pledged to obey the Pope, at the end of the conclave in the Sistine Chapel). At the moment when the Pope “takes possession” as Bishop of Rome of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, another act of obedience will also be made, this time by representatives of the various members of the people of God.
The Mass will be that of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the Gospel will be proclaimed in Greek, and the Pope will give his homily in Italian, with spontaneous remarks expected. There will be no offertory procession, to keep the ceremony shorter.
At the end of the celebration, the Holy Father will greet the heads of the official delegations from various countries in the basilica, before returning to his temporary residence in the Domus Sanctae Marthae for lunch. The Pope will receive delegations of the Christian churches and ecclesial communities and of other religions in audience on Wednesday.
The Papal Motto
Also announced ahead of the inaugural Mass was the Pope’s coat of arms and motto. These are the same that he used as bishop, but instead of the wide-brimmed, red cardinal’s hat atop the shield, it is now crowned by the papal tiara and crossed keys.
Pope Francis’s motto is “Miserando atque Eligendo” (“Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him”), taken from the Venerable Bede’s homily on the Gospel account of the call of Matthew.
The Vatican said it holds “special meaning for the Pope,” because, when he was only 17 years old, after going to confession on the feast of St. Matthew in 1953, “he perceived God’s mercy in his life and felt the call to the priesthood, following the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola.”
Edward Pentinis the Register’s Rome correspondent.