VATICAN CITY — The ceremony to install Pope Benedict XVI blends centuries-old tradition with some new elements, a mix of ritual that involves giving the pope a shawl emblazoned with red crosses to signify the blood of Christ and a golden ring to show his papal authority.
The symbolism of Sunday’s ceremony is evident from the start, when Benedict will join cardinals in the grottoes underneath St. Peter’s Basilica to pay homage at the tomb of St. Peter — the first pope — who is believed to be buried there.
“I leave from where the apostle arrived,” Benedict will say, before processing out into St. Peter’s Square for the two-hour installation Mass that is expected to draw world leaders and a half-million faithful, many from Benedict’s native Germany.
Ceremony steeped in symbolism
Monsignor Crispino Valenziano, an official with the Vatican’s Office of Liturgical Celebrations, outlined the rituals for journalists Saturday, explaining that many of the rites will be used for the first time since they were updated following the Second Vatican Council, the series of meetings in the 1960s that modernized the church.
The installation ceremony used to be called a coronation — when popes wore crowns to signify their political and spiritual powers. Pope Paul VI did away with the tiara, but the rite of the installation wasn’t finalized when John Paul I was elected in 1978 or when John Paul II became pope about a month later, and “substitute” measures were used, he said.
The new rituals were approved by Benedict the day after he was elected, and draw on centuries-old tradition with a few new elements, Valenziano said.
Most importantly, Benedict will receive his Fisherman’s Ring and pallium — the wool shawl that together with the ring signify his pastoral authority.
The ring traditionally had been emblazoned with the large seal on it that was used by popes to seal apostolic letters. This time, the seal will be a separate piece, but the ring will have the same picture on it: the figure of St. Peter casting his net from a fisherman’s boat.
“I like size 24, it’s double 12,” — the number of Christ’s apostles, Valenziano quoted Benedict as saying during a session to fit the ring, which was commissioned by the Association of Roman Jewelers.
In another shift that dates back to the first millennium, Benedict’s pallium will be unusually long — almost 2.6 yards long, as opposed to the short, stole-like pieces that are given to bishops. Benedict’s pallium will be embroidered with five red silk crosses as opposed to the six black ones that bishops wear.
Valenziano said the crosses were red “because they are the wounds of the shepherd who allowed himself to be crucified for the sheep.” A pin pierces three of the crosses, to symbolize the nails driven into Christ on the cross, he said.
The tips of the pallium are embroidered in black silk — like the feet of lambs, he said.
The wool used to make the pallium come from sheep and lambs raised by Trappist monks outside Rome.
A representative flock
In another change, not all cardinals will kneel before new pope to pledge obedience to him since they have already done so, Valenziano said. Instead, a representational group of 12 people — again because of the 12 apostles — will swear obedience: three cardinals, a bishop, a priest, a deacon, a married couple, a nun, a religious brother and two youths who have received the sacrament of confirmation.
At the end of the Mass, Benedict will probably be driven around the piazza and will greet delegations, he said.
The installation ceremonies continue after the Mass, with visits by Benedict to the three other main basilicas of Rome: St. Paul outside the Walls, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major. Benedict travels first to St. Paul outside the Walls on Monday — a pilgrimage because Paul is considered the co-founder of the church with Peter. Benedict will read a biblical passage from the Letter from St. Paul to the Romans to signify his links to the city.
He will further that symbolism on May 7 by presiding over a Mass at St. John Lateran, his cathedral as bishop of Rome. Finally, he will pay homage to an icon of Mary at St. Mary Major basilica before returning to the Vatican.
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