Pope Benedict XVI celebrated what is expected to be his last public Mass yesterday, Ash Wednesday, at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. On Monday morning, the Pope announced his resignation to a consistory of cardinals, while discussing three canonizations. In his announcement, the Pope said he was resigning due to lack of physical strength to uphold the duties of office.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God,”
Pope Benedict said,
“I have come to the certainty that my strength, due to advanced age, is no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine Ministry.”
The announcement sent shockwaves through the world due to the rarity of the event. The last papal resignation was 600 years ago, when Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415. Since this time, the office has only been vacated by physical death.
The 85 -year-old pope’s schedule for the past eight years has been notably demanding, with papal visits to the Middle East, Latin America, Europe and even the United States. Reportedly the Pope has had two strokes and a heart condition. In his announcement Monday, Pope Benedict said his strength has been deteriorating the last few months and recognizes his incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to him.
In his short eight-year reign, Pope Benedict has left a legacy of unification and orthodoxy pursuing inter-faith and inter-denominational dialogue, while implementing a new translation of the Mass, a translation closer to the Latin text with more orthodox music. The Pope has also left the world a wealth of rich theology through his encyclicals from the Papacy, in addition to his vast list of books written as a cardinal. Pope Benedict also embraced the social media as a way to evangelize, launching a Vatican YouTube and periodically tweeting messages to the faithful around the globe.
During the homily at yesterday’s Mass, the Pope encouraged people world-wide to return to God, praying that the invitation to conversion be strong.
Pope Benedict will hold the Papacy until February 28th, at which point a conclave will be called to elect a new pope. Current law states the conclave cannot start until 15 to 20 days after the Papacy becomes vacant. In a report from the Catholic News Service this week, the Holy See’s Press Office said the conclave could begin as early as March 15th and as late as the twentieth. Some commentators say, though, the earlier date is more likely, in an effort to elect a pope by Easter. Although conclaves have been both long and short, the last two that elected Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II lasted between two to three days. After vacating the Papal Office, the Pope plans to dedicate himself to a life of prayer and writing in a monastery in the Vatican.
Pope Benedict said in his announcement,
“let us entrust the Holy Spirit to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore His Holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.”