The USCCB on Friday sent bishops liturgical guidance on how to prepare for the death of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, the first pope to resign his office in more than 600 years.
Benedict died Dec. 31, but his death was anticipated in the days prior, after Pope Francis announced Wednesday that his predecessor was in failing health.
Bishop Steven Lopes, chair of the bishops’ committee on liturgy, explained in a Dec. 30 memo that the rare situation of a papal resignation had prompted questions about how Benedict would be mourned in the Church’s sacred liturgy.
“There is already speculation on blogs and in social media as to whether the special circumstances of his resignation from the Papal Office will change the liturgical rites surrounding his funeral and burial,” Lopes wrote in the memo.
But Lopes said the USCCB would presume that “the customary prayers and practices observed at the death of a Pope should take place,” unless “the Holy See itself specifies otherwise.”
As of Sunday morning, the Vatican had said the Jan. 5 funeral of Benedict XVI “will be carried out in the sign of simplicity,” but had not offered additional liturgical guidance for priests and bishops around the world.
For his part, Lopes wrote in the memo Friday that “both the Diocesan Bishop and priests in every parish might consider offering a special Mass for the deceased Pope Emeritus. Mass offered by the Diocesan Bishop at the Cathedral or in each Vicariate for the attendance of as many of the faithful as possible is desirable.”
“Care should be taken that such a Mass be celebrated according to the norms of the liturgical calendar,” the bishop added.
Lopes noted that in Masses offered for the dead, “the vestment colors violet, white, or black may be used in Masses and Offices for the Dead. However, it is customary for red vestments to be worn at a Mass for the Dead offered for a Pope since we are mourning the death of the successor of the Apostle Peter.”
The bishop also mentioned a longstanding custom of after the death of a pope, the “novemdiales” tradition of mourning for nine days, beginning with the day of the pope’s funeral.
“It is the custom that the nine days following the funeral of a Pope are observed as official days of mourning in Rome and throughout the Church. The Novemdiales, as they are called, may be observed in different ways in the various Particular Churches. In addition to the celebration of Mass, Bishops might encourage public prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic and other devotional prayer, lectures on the teaching and legacy of the Pope Emeritus, activities for the relief of the poor offered for the intention of his soul, or other such initiatives,” Lopes wrote.
“A sample set of novena prayers will be made available on the USCCB website,” the bishop noted.
The bishop encouraged that “communities and individuals can pray the Office of the Dead in the Liturgy of the Hours for the intention of the Holy Father.”
“A reflection on the life of the former Pope might best be given after the concluding prayer and before the dismissal,” he added.