Benedict, the papist formerly known as Pope Benedict, has died, in a development deemed unremarkable by anyone familiar with human mortality. He was 95 years old and his debut on the death-tour circuit followed an express set of rules. There are lots of rules in this business. Benedict broke one of them by depoping himself a few years back. Mostly, that just isn’t done. It doesn’t matter how tired you are, or unsound of mind, or plagued with doubt, or anything else, you are expected to pope it out to the very end. If you’re starting to feel fallible, you can just keep it to yourself.
So it was not a given that Mr. Benedict would be accorded the usual foofaraw associated with dead popes, because he wasn’t a pope when he checked out. It hardly seems fair to punish the fellow with a substandard funeral, but nothing about the situation was normal. There has to be a set of rules for everything in a stout religion: behavior, attire, ritual, all of these help guard against a perilous slide into critical thinking.
But Benedict was laid out in accordance with tradition, as if he hadn’t left everyone hanging there, with no one to tell them how they’ve gone wrong. Which means there are people, official people, in charge of dead-pope arrangement. He was presented lying on his back with his head on two crimson pillows and his hands clasped and holding a rosary. I do not know if they have to wire him to the rosary or what. He was famously rigid in life and even more so in death so I suspect once they got him in the proper position he would stay put.
His rigid resolve in life was a matter of comfort to those who are most at ease with one incontrovertible truth. His successor Francis has proved to be much more liberal in temperament and policy, and has horrified the conservative elements in the Church. He has also been criticized by those on the left who think Catholics should be something else altogether, like maybe Unitarians. But it’s their club.
Not only is Benedict supine with his head on two crimson pillows and his giant cone-head hat shooting out the back, like a garden gnome that had been knocked on its butt, but he is resting on an enormous fluffy pillow. Perhaps it was a personal request; people are particular about their pillows. Speaking of personal requests, Benedict’s wish was that his funeral be simple. No problem! The Vatican handbook on funeral rites for popes runs to four hundred pages.
To begin with, popes are to be interred four to six days after their apparent demise. This is to distinguish them from the Jews, who are much more sanitary about the issue. Also, you can’t be too sure about severely holy men. You have to give them a chance to pop back up.
A pope is to be interred in three caskets. The inmost one should be made of cypress and closed with red ribbons. The larger intermediate one is made of zinc and decorated with a cross, the Pope’s name, his years of Service, his coat of arms, and an emergency contact number. The third casket is enormous (see Cone-head Hat, above). It can be made of either walnut or elm and closed with gold nails.
It’s simplicity itself.
I’ll do him one better. When I go, I want to be dipped in suet and rolled in bird seed, and placed outside, face down, please—I’ve always been a stomach sleeper and I don’t want to change up if it’s going to be a long one. If you can’t manage that, see that I am diced up and arranged around a fountain of molten Gruyère with a bowl of toothpicks. Simple.
Being a rather vain sort of person, this would be a nightmare scenario for me. First, that I would live to 95. Second, that someone would preserve me, making me wear funny clothes and looking like a mummy. Thirdly, that they would put me on public display in that condition for FIVE FUCKING DAYS, so that I could be gawked at. The only creatures I want to see me after I die are vultures. I love birds and wouldn’t mind feeding them one last time.
Plus, vultures poop on their own feet so you can have a short second life caked on their toes and riding the thermals.
I have always thought being put on a pallet for the crows would work for me. Being chopped up and put around a fountain of cheese, not for me. Eeeew.
No, not for you, but think of your funeral guests! Mm.
I’ve always (for at least 60 years) been of the opinion that when I go, I wish to be ground up into chum and poured into the ocean for the enjoyment and sustenance of our fishy brethren. Any thing like being turned into ash or nailed into a box seems like such a waste.
It is, but fungi gotta eat too.
This was a curious read, as I know next to nothing about Catholicism I guess I never gave much thought to how their popes are interred. For some reason while reading this, I kept thinking about a recent documentary I watched on King Tut’s tomb. Will people 3000 years from now be digging up this pope and putting him on display in New Ancient Rome? Probably! Anyway, thank you for the fascinating read Murr and I always heard you weren’t supposed to sleep on your stomach, but what do I know!
You aren’t supposed to sleep on your stomach. I think my mom must have stuck me that way (I wasn’t planned on) but I survived and it’s quite the habit by now.
I’ll bring the wine!
And he was a weird colour too. That was my 2nd thought after seeing him being carried aloft by the pope carriers. My 1st thought was the sonorous chant from “Search For the Holy Grail”, “Bring Out Your Dead” “Bring Out Your Dead” “Bring Out Your Dead”, and there’s this one guy trying to sneak a not-quite-dead-yet guy onto the cart and he protests, “I’m not dead,”… well, the ex-pope looked definitely dead. No doubt about it.
“Oy’m not dead yet” is a standard phrase in this house.
Three caskets and gold nails??? While half the world is starving? Seems a tad excessive to me.
Gets pretty far away from Jesus, I’d say.
I was surprised to learn that Benedict was the great-grandfather of George Santos! Benedict followed his wife, George’s great-grandmother, Barbara Walters, who was slightly Jewish, into the afterlife.
Thanks for that!
Really, Murr! You seem to have no respect at all for the more formal ways we humans find to exploit and victimize ourselves, and I like that about you.
I’m not a masochist and that interferes with my spiritual efforts.
Any tie between this post and your mulch post are purely coincidental. Some of what you said could be considered somewhat blasphemous, however, nothing that a good hot shower with an ecclesiastically approved and blessed pope soap on a rope won’t cure.
I was just thinking about that pope soap on a rope the other day. Not really a coincidence, though.
E. E. Cummings put it this way:
“when god lets my body be
from each brave eye shall sprout a tree
fruit that dangles therefrom
the purpled world will dance upon
between my lips which did sing
a rose shall beget the spring
that maidens whom passion wastes
will lay between their little *******
my strong fingers beneath the snow
into strenuous birds shall go
my love walking in the grass
their wings will touch with her face
and all the while shall my heart be
with the bulge and nuzzle of the sea”
But we’ve both signed up with the Neptune Society, and our ashes will be scattered in San Francisco Bay, if that’s still legal. If it isn’t, they can do what they like with us.
If I recall correctly, in the novel The Shipping News, a woman who had long ago been raped by her uncle dumps his ashes into the outhouse.
Sorry about the *******. I copied and pasted that poem before I realized Mrs. Grundy couldn’t abhor the word “breasts.”
e. e. cummings wrote about another death:
Buffalo Bill ’s
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Always liked that one. His work suggests he had no fear of dying — but maybe he only wished to have no fear of dying. He drew a distinction between “death” and “dying,” the former being bad and the latter good:
“dying is fine)but Death
Death if Death
when(instead of stopping to think)you
begin to feel of it,dying
cause dying is
it mildly lively(but
& artificial &
evil & legal)
we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us,o life!the sin of Death”
Well you two have certainly classed the place up. I was just reminding myself what the Neptune Society is (I think ashes in bodies of water is illegal almost everywhere) and I note they have “Cremation Packages.” I didn’t know you could just get a part of yourself cremated!
Perhaps you’re confusing “Cremation Package” with “Cremation of Packages.”