Only days after closing the Pauline Year, Pope Benedict XVI was able to preside at the re-opening of the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace. The Pontiff restored the chapel to its full use by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
On July 4, the Holy Father prayed evening Vespers in the chapel and returned the Blessed Sacrament to the house of worship that is reserved for the Pope and Pontifical Family.
Restoration of the chapel, which features some of the last frescoes by Michaelangelo, took seven years.
In his homily, Benedict XVI reflected on Michaelangelo's frescoes featuring the conversion of St. Paul and the crucifixion of St. Peter.
The faces of Paul and Peter play a central role in the chapel's iconography, the Pope said, noting that although it is known that Paul was around 30 at the time of his conversion, Michelangelo depicts him as an old man.
"The artist's decision takes us outside pure realism, it takes us beyond the mere narration of events and introduces us to a deeper level," he said. Thus Paul's face "reveals the maturity of a man illuminated from within by Christ the Lord. ... The grace and peace of God enveloped Saul, conquering him and transforming him from within."
Peter, who turns his head to contemplate the viewer, seems to express "the state of mind of a man facing death and evil; he looks lost ... as if he were searching for something or someone in this his last hour." The Apostles "are facing one another. ... It is as if Peter, at the moment of supreme trial, sought that light which gave the true faith to Paul. In this context the two images become two acts of the same drama, the drama of the Paschal Mystery: Cross and Resurrection, death and life, sin and grace."
"For those who come to pray in this chapel, and above all for the Pope, Peter and Paul become masters of the faith," the Holy Father said.
"By their witness they invite us to ... meditate in silence upon the mystery of the Cross which accompanies the Church until the end of time, and to welcome the light of the faith thanks to which the apostolic community can extend the missionary and evangelizing activity entrusted to her by the Risen Christ to the confines of the earth."
Noting that the chapel is one that only the Pope and his household can pray at, he said: "Here Peter's Successor and his collaborators meditate in silence and adore the living Christ, Who is especially present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Sacrament in which all the work of Redemption is concentrated. In the Eucharistic Jesus we contemplate the transformation of death into life, of violence into love."
At the end of his homily, Benedict XVI expressed his thanks to everyone who had contributed to the restoration of the Pauline Chapel, from the Vatican Museums, to the Governorate of Vatican City State, to the Association of Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.