An estimated 50,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square for the funeral Mass of Pope Benedict XVI, and among the crowd was Diocese of Rochester seminarian James Muscatella.
Muscatella, a third-year theology student at Pontifical North American College and Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy, attended the funeral Mass Jan. 5. He also had the opportunity to pay his respects to Pope Benedict when the pontiff’s body was lying in state in St. Peter’s Basilica.
When it was first announced at the end of December that Pope Benedict was in ill health, Muscatella was traveling during Pontifical North American College’s two-week Christmas break. He was in London when he heard that Pope Benedict was ill and in Ireland when he passed Dec. 31. Providentially, Muscatella said, he was due back in Rome Jan. 3, two days before Pope Benedict’s funeral Mass.
“It worked out really well that I would be in Rome with plenty of comfortable time to both attend some of the viewing hours and attend the funeral Mass,” he said.
A quick but worthwhile visit
Early in the morning on Jan. 4, Muscatella and his friend, Noah DaSilva, a seminarian for the Diocese of Providence, R.I., went to St. Peter’s Basilica to pay their respects to Pope Benedict. Muscatella said people from all over the world stood in line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica, from priests, to women religious, to tourists who just happened to be in Rome on vacation. Muscatella said mourners had to go through two security checkpoints before entering the basilica, and then once inside, everyone was ushered down the center aisle where Pope Benedict was lying in state. Once reaching the front, Muscatella said security would tell people avanti, avanti (forward, forward), as they did not want anyone stopping.
“It was very beautiful, he was there with his papal vestments with his mitre on, and there was a Swiss Guard in their full color uniform standing on either side at attention,” he said. “It was a beautiful, solemn, quick, but a nice thing to spend a little time with him.”
Muscatella and DaSilva were able to go to an adjacent chapel within the basilica to say a few prayers before they left.
“It was a quick visit, but one definitely worth going,” he added.
Attending the funeral Mass
Pope Benedict’s funeral was celebrated the following morning in St. Peter’s Square. At 6:05 a.m., Muscatella and his friend, Nick Martell, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., left Pontifical North American College to take the 10-minute walk to St. Peter’s Square. They arrived by 6:15 a.m, a half-hour before the gates opened, and were in their seats by 7 a.m., more than two hours before the funeral Mass started.
“It was an early morning,” Muscatella said with a laugh.
Because Muscatella and Martell got there so early, they were able to sit right behind the partition that separated the priests and deacons from the general public. Though they were a distance back from the altar, Muscatella said for the most part, they were able to see what was going on.
One of the things that struck Muscatella was the diversity of the crowd in attendance. Most notably, since Pope Benedict was from Germany, Muscatella said said there were many Germans in attendance wearing traditional garb. Some even carried flags and had brass instruments with them. Seated not far from Muscatella was a group from France, whose members were praying the rosary in French before Mass. He also ran into classmates from Panama and Ireland, and he even saw a Buddhist monk among the crowd.
“It was very beautiful to see the whole world coming together to pray for the former Holy Father,” he said.
There were many moments throughout the Mass that they were powerful, Muscatella noted. One in particular, he recalled, was at the end of the liturgy when the pall was being taken out. Muscatella said the crowd started chanting santo subito (saint immediately) and Pope Benedict’s name. He said he found it distracting at first, but then he looked up at the screens and he saw Pope Francis with his hand on the casket.
“A last prayer, a last moment of contact with his brother, and with that and the crowd around me shouting and praying, it was quite the experience,” he said.
Pope Benedict’s funeral marked the first time since 1802 that a pope has celebrated the funeral of his predecessor.
“It was a great show of the continuity of our faith and the church that Christ established that one man was there to pray for his predecessor,” Muscatella said. “A sitting pope there giving thanksgiving for the work of a pope that came before him, it was really something to see.”
Photos below courtesy of James MuscatellaTags: Monroe County West, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis