Monumental Catafalque for Benedict XVI at FSSP in Urbe


The catafalque is a long-standing custom seen at Catholic funerals when the body of the deceased is not present, and at other high Masses of Requiem. It consists of a coffin-shaped frame of wood, covered with a black funeral pall (in some ways like a heavy blanket), setup and displayed before the main altar. This is a res mobiles structure, movable for easy setup and take down. The body is not present. If the deceased was a lay person, it is set up for his feet to be pointed towards the altar. If the deceased was a priest, the body is turned the opposite way, to signify that his work during life was from the altar. Similarly, the catafalque for popes is set up as for priests, assuming the body is facing the congregation. 


Today we are witnessing a 
redux, a bringing back or restoration of this noble custom. Latin Mass communities are reviving this seemingly forgotten tradition everywhere. Some say the catafalque got its start during the Crusades, when Christian knights died in Eastern lands. In absence of the body, a service in the deceased knight's memory was held at home at which a funeral pile or catafalque was set up, decorated with a pall or flag, sword and shield and surrounded by unbleached beeswax candles.   

Catafalque at San Gregorio dei Muratori, Rome.

Catafalque at Santissima Trinita' dei Pellegrini, Rome.

Catafalque at San Nicola in Carcere, Rome.

The absolution prayers are prayed at the catafalque after the funeral Mass and before the final recessional. This extra lesson in reverence teaches us to honor the dead as their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, tabernacles of Christ, and worthy instruments used in His service and destined to rise again at the time of the final judgment.  Below are several images of the catafalque that was set up at FSSP in Urbe, the FSSP parish in Rome, for their Requiem Mass for the soul of Benedict XVI last Saturday.  


It took several volunteers hours of organizing, cleaning and set up, with tall ladders, to get this right. The golden tiara is a new addition. Many thanks to all who worked on this wonderful project. It brings to mind in some small way the magnificent catafalque that was set up at the Co-Cathedral of St. John in Valetta, Malta, for the Requiem of Benedict XV in 1922 -- it had 230 candles!



Inscribed on two sides of the catafalque, to mark the solemnity of the occasion, are these poetic commendatory inscriptions, written in Latin as a funeral oration to the memory of the deceased Pontiff.  The deed commemorates especially Benedict XVI's incredible contribution to the cultivation of sacred liturgy. 

BENEDICTI XVI P. M. AVCTORITATE
AD X. KAL. APR. AN. SAL. MMVIII DIE RESVRRECTIONIS DOMINICÆ
PER DECRETVM VICARII VRBIS CAMILLI S.R.E. PRESB. CARD. RVINI
TEMPLVM AD PEREGRINOS ACCIPIENDOS LABORE AC PIETATE
S. PHILIPPI NERII OLIM. EXTRVCTVM IN PARŒCIAM CVM CVRA FIDELIVM
PRISCIS RITIBVS LITVRGICIS ADHÆRENTIVM SVB TITVLO
SS. TRINITATIS PEREGRINORVM AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM ERECTVM EST 
***
ÆTERNÆ MEMORIÆ
BENEDICTI XVI PONTIFICIS MAXIMI
MODERATORIS DE SACRA LITVRGIA SOLLICITI QVI NON IVL. AN. SAL. MMVII
LITTERIS APOSTOLICIS MOTV PROPRIO DATIS SVMMORVM PONTIFICVM
VT DEBITA REVERENTIA ERGA DIVINVM CVLTVM DENVO INSTAVRARETVR
SACRA MYSTERIA IVXTA ANTECEDENTES MAIORVM VSVS SERVANDA DECREVIT
PAROCHVS ET FIDELES HOC GRATI ANIMI MONVMENTVM RELIQVERVNT

Translation by Gregory diPippo:

To the everlasting memory of Pope Benedict XVI, a judicious moderator of the sacred liturgy, who on July 7, in the Year of Salvation 2007, by the Apostolic Letter given Motu Proprio, titled Summorum Pontificum, decreed that the sacred mysteries were to be kept according to the prior customs of our forefathers, so that due reverence for the worship of God might again be restored. The parish priest and faithful have left this monument as a witness of their gratitude. 

By the authority of Pope Benedict XVI, on March 23, in the Year of Salvation 2008, on the day of the Lord's Resurrection, by decree of the Vicar of the City Camillo Cardinal Ruini, the church formerly built by the effort and piety of St. Philip Neri to receive pilgrims was erected as parish with care of the faithful who are attached to earlier liturgical rites, under the title of the Most Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims, for the greater glory of God.  






In concluding, some of these nice heritage traditions and customs are not always specifically church law. Instead, they are usage. As professors of Canon Law are often wont to say, instructing their students with diligence: Mos pro lege (custom for law); in other words, usage has the force of law. These favorable usages are worth keeping because they inspire and console and are elegant and beautiful, symbolic and meaningful. The law teaches. Their usage has become law over time. The catafalque is is an eloquent symbol with an important message, serving as a reminder of death and honor. Memento mori. Below is an image from 1914 of a catafalque set up in a similar way in the Sistine Chapel for the recently deceased Pius X.  




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