I got up at 4 am to watch the funeral. Luckily, I was TiVoing it because I fell back asleep only a little ways into it. When I woke up, I went back to watch it from the beginning.
It was a majestic and awesome event. It was the full-flowering of what the Catholic celebration of the Eucharist is about. The whole Church was gathered in Rome, 5 million from around the world, representing the rest of the 1.1 billion. They were our representatives. in a way their presence was more impressive than the dozens of kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, and so on. Pope John Paul II had spent his pontificate going out to the see the world, and at the end the world returned his visit.
It was also beautiful to hear the Mass prayed in Latin (although the readings and prayers of the faithful were read in various languages.) Archbishop John Foley of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications provided the instant translations. Cardinal Ratzinger, as someone pointed out in the comments below, showed himself to be a humble priest, not the dreaded theological stormtrooper he’s made out to be. His homily was beautiful and I was struck by his comment that Pope John Paul is looking down upon us know from his Father’s house. The people began chanting “Magnus” (the Great) and “Santo Subito” (Sainthood now!)
In an earlier era, before the process of canonization we have now, this might have been enough to declare him Pope St. John Paul the Great. I suppose it will be up to his successor to determine that. I bet he will wait a year or two to open the process and the recommendation for beatification will follow a few years after that. After all, it took six years for Mother Teresa to be beatified (and she’s not even canonized yet) and look at how the whole world knew of her sanctity before her death. It won’t happen overnight for JP2.
I was especially moved by the Greek prayers by the Eastern-rite patriarchs at the end of the Mass. It was a nice homage to the Holy Father’s standing as the first Slavic pope and his oft-stated desire to reconcile East and West in the Church. Let it be a prediction of the future.
President Bush told reporters that he was deeply moved by the Mass and counts it as one of the high points of his presidency. I hope that it carries it a longlasting impact on all the world leaders gathered there, although I have enough cynicism in me to doubt it. Still, I wonder if it would have enough of an impact on the president to encourage him to consider “swimming the Tiber” and joining his brother Jeb on the other side.
There has never been a funeral like this one in history. That can be said with confidence. There has never been a pope like John Paul. It’s not that he didn’t make mistakes, but that he redefined the papacy like no other could have. He set the bar so high that even he couldn’t live up to it. He was often criticized for trying to do too much, and not focusing enough on the governance of the Church. So be it. I think that’s probably true. But look at what he did accomplish. Let the next pope attend to governance. John Paul was the general who led the spearhead of the attack into enemy territory. Now the follow-on forces will mop up and consolidate our gains. I think that’s a fair assessment of John Paul’s papacy.
In spite of the pageantry and splendour, Karol Wojtyla was laid to rest in a wooden box in the ground like other men. But he did show what one man can do when he relies totally on the his Blessed Mother, the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, and Our Father. “Totus Tuus.”