The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has promoted and released guidelines for Masses and prayer services surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's resignation at the end of February.
“It is appropriate to offer special prayers for Pope Benedict XVI, for his health and well-being, and in thanksgiving for his service to the Church,” said the bishops’ Feb. 13 document, “Liturgical Notes and Resource Materials for Use upon the Resignation of the Pope.”
Encouraging the “attendance of as many of the faithful as possible is desirable,” the document suggests that both “the Diocesan Bishop and priests in every parish might consider offering a special Mass for the Pope.”
On Feb. 11, Pope Benedict XVI announced that effective Feb. 28, he would be stepping down from his position as Pope, due to advanced age and declining strength. After the Pope leaves office, Cardinals from around the world will meet in Rome to elect a new Pope in a special closed meeting called a conclave. A papal resignation has not occurred in nearly 600 years.
“With great surprise tinged with sadness, the Church learned of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. During his reign, he has been a faithful witness to Christ, and in this decision, he teaches us with his integrity and humility, putting the needs of the Church first,” said Rev. Msgr. Richard B. Hilgartner, executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship.
In preparation for the end of the Pope’s reign and election of a new pope, the Secretariat of Divine Worship encouraged prayer and has prepared “liturgical and musical resources to assist dioceses, parishes, and other groups to pray for Pope Benedict XVI, to give thanks for his pontificate, and to pray for the Church as we look to the future and the election of a new Pope.”
The document describes appropriate prayers, wording for the Mass and music, as well as guidelines for homilies and other activities to pray for Pope Benedict and for a new pope.
It also reminds priests and bishops that until the pope’s resignation goes into effect at 8:00 p.m. Roman time on Feb. 28, the Pope’s name is to be used in the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass and is encouraged in private prayer “in the recitation of the Rosary.”
It states that parts of the Mass also should include prayers for Pope Benedict and encouraged homilies that “reflect on the particular ministry of Pope Benedict XVI as an example to follow, especially as it relates to Lent.”
The “Liturgical Notes and Resource Materials for Use upon the Resignation of the Pope” also suggests that celebrants emphasize Pope Benedict’s teachings, writings and achievements. The document highlights the outgoing pope’s “love for the liturgy as well as his desire to foster an authentic celebration and participation in the sacred liturgy,” “ecumenical outreach,” writings on “the need for an authentic personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and his “constant care, concern and outreach for the poor, the sick, and oppressed.”
“Once the Pope’s resignation takes effect,” the document adds, “both the Diocesan Bishop and priests in every parish might consider offering a special Mass for the election of the Pope, according to the guidelines of the liturgical calendar.”
During this time from the evening of Feb. 28 until the election of a new Pope, references to the Pope are to be removed from liturgical prayers, because there is no apostolic successor to St. Peter.
In addition to advocating special Masses for the election of the Pope, the document also suggests the inclusion for prayers for a new Pope and guidance of cardinals during the Prayer of the faithful.
The statement also encourages the laity to offer their “private prayers, works and almsgiving for the successful election of a new Supreme Pontiff,” advocating the prayer of the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, and the inclusion of prayers for the election of a new Pope during the recitation of the Rosary.
The bishops’ document also addresses prayers and Masses surrounding the election of a new Pope, suggesting that “both the Diocesan Bishop and priests in every parish might consider offering a special Mass for the newly elected Pope according to the guidelines of the liturgical calendar.”
Such a Mass cannot be offered on Sundays of Lent or Easter, nor during Holy Week. The document adds that the faithful are strongly encouraged to pray for the new Pontiff, once elected, and suggests that flowers may “be placed near the Vatican flag” and displayed prominently in the church building.