In a Dec. 31 statement, the Holy See press office said: “With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican.”
Benedict XVI was the first pope to resign in almost 600 years. While the Vatican has a well-established protocol for the death of a pope, its procedures following the death of a pope emeritus are unclear.
Here's what we know about what happens next:
Lying in state
In its statement announcing Benedict XVI’s death, the Holy See press office said that “further information” would be provided “as soon as possible.”
True to its word, it issued a brief follow-up statement saying that the body of the pope emeritus would lie in St. Peter’s Basilica from Monday, Jan. 2.
Benedict XVI’s death comes during the busy Christmastide period at the Vatican. His successor Pope Francis is due to celebrate First Vespers and recite the Te Deum in St. Peter's Basilica at 5 p.m. Rome time on Dec. 31, following the Vatican’s New Year’s Eve custom.
The announcement that Benedict XVI’s body will lie in state suggests that the Vatican is, in some respects, following the traditional procedure for the death of a pope.
For example, Benedict XVI’s predecessor John Paul II lay in state in St. Peter’s Basilica from April 4, 2005, until the day of his funeral Mass on April 8, allowing mourners to pay their respects over several days.
There could be some differences between the two events, given that Benedict XVI was a pope emeritus. For example, John Paul II’s body was carried in a long procession to the basilica from the Clementine Hall, accompanied by Gregorian chants.
It is currently unclear whether Benedict XVI’s body will be carried directly from his residence, the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, to the basilica and whether the journey will be made publicly.
The Holy See press office released further information on the afternoon of Dec. 31, explaining that the faithful will be able to pay their last respects to Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Basilica between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 2, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 3, and Wednesday, Jan. 4.
Days of mourning
Following a pope’s death, the Vatican invites Catholics to observe nine days of mourning known as the Novemdiales. On each of the nine days a Requiem Mass is celebrated, usually by a cardinal, in St. Peter’s Basilica, and priests usually offer all Masses during that period for the soul of the late pope.
It is unclear whether the official nine-day mourning period will be observed for Benedict XVI, and the Holy See has not yet announced plans in that regard.
The pope emeritus’ funeral will be held on Thursday, Jan. 5. Those attending will not not require tickets.
Most members of the College of Cardinals can be expected in Rome this week, and government officials from around the world are likely to attend the Mass, given that Benedict XVI served as head of Vatican City State from 2005 to his resignation in 2013.
Pope Francis will celebrate the funeral Mass at 9:30 a.m. in St. Peter’s Square. The precise liturgical plans for the funeral are currently unknown - given that a retired pope has not had a funeral since 1296, it is not clear whether Benedict will receive a full papal funeral, or something similar liturgically to the funeral of a cardinal.
Benedict XVI’s biographer Peter Seewald has said that Benedict XVI wanted to be buried in the tomb where John Paul II was initially laid to rest, in the Vatican Grottoes, near the tomb of St. Peter.
Following John Paul II’s beatification, the Polish pope’s body was moved in 2011 to the Altar of St. Sebastian in St. Peter’s Basilica, leaving the tomb vacant. The tomb was previously Pope John XXIII’s resting place, before his body was moved in 2001, following his beatification.