Hours after Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral in Rome, Los Angeles-area Catholics gathered to pray for the pontiff emeritus at a memorial Mass celebrated by Archbishop José H. Gomez.
“As he looks on the face of God and hears his voice, his legacy will not be one of great words and important books,” the archbishop said of Pope Benedict at the Jan. 5 noon Mass, which drew more than 150 people. “His legacy will be the countless souls who found friendship with Jesus through his love, through his gentle invitation to ‘come and see.’ ”
Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishops David O’Connell and Marc Trudeau, along with a dozen local priests, concelebrated the Mass, one of several celebrated in parishes around the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to honor and pray for the pontiff, who died Dec. 31 at the age of 95 after spending nearly a decade in quiet retirement. Another noon memorial Mass with Archbishop Gomez is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 9.
Earlier that day in Rome, Pope Francis celebrated the funeral Mass for Benedict, attended by more than 50,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. Concelebrating with hundreds of priests and bishops was Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who participated in the conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope in 2005.
"God's faithful people, gathered here, now accompany and entrust to him the life of the one who was their pastor," Pope Francis said of his predecessor. "Together, we want to say, 'Father, into your hands we commend his spirit.'"
At the cathedral Mass in Los Angeles, there were a few symbolic tributes to the late pope.
Before the Mass began, a bell was rung eight times, one for each year that Pope Benedict served as pontiff before his unexpected resignation in February 2013, the first resignation by a pope in more than 600 years. Later, the cathedral choir sang Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” a nod to the late German pope’s well-known affinity for the great composer and fellow countryman. Outside the cathedral, the Vatican flag flew at half-mast in a sign of mourning.
In his homily, Archbishop Gomez praised the late pope as “a gentle soul” and “one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the Church and Western civilization.”
Pope Benedict “understood that the modern world is moving away from God, that faith is fading from the hearts of many people, that our society is growing cold and intolerant toward religion,” Archbishop Gomez said. “But he also knew that God is not finished with his creation, not done building his kingdom on earth. Jesus is still calling, still knocking at the door of every human heart.”
Juan Torres brought his teenage grandson, Juan Diego, to the cathedral Mass “to thank God for such a wonderful man running the Church for eight years.”
“He was our pope, a great theologian, a good preacher,” said Torres. “As Catholics, we need to follow the pope’s direction. And I personally think he did a good job.”
Torres believes the pope’s decision to resign in 2013 will stand out in history: “I think you have to have a lot of humility to do something like that.”
In nod to Benedict XVI's love of Mozart, "Ave Verum Corpus" is sung during presentation of gifts at Memorial Mass. pic.twitter.com/jmFPIY55BU
— Pablo Kay (@pablo_kay) January 5, 2023
Kelly Rice, an aspirant with the Franciscan Sisters Poor of Jesus Christ, had just finished reading her first book by Pope Benedict, the first volume of his “Jesus of Nazareth” trilogy, before his death. She said his faithfulness was an inspiration to her.
“He knew Christ personally and wanted to share that, especially through his studies,” said Rice, originally from Austin, Texas, after the Mass.
In the days since his death, she was particularly struck by a passage from his 2005 encyclical “Deus caritas est” (“God is Love”).
“I found that … really beautiful and very essential to my vocation, because that’s the journey that I’m on, to discover this true happiness that comes from knowing God personally,” she said.
Sister Maria Goretti, who arrived in LA with the Sisters Poor five years ago, said she was impressed the most by the public outpouring of personal testimonies about Pope Benedict since his death, which she said point to his “capacity of being holy in the sight of God through humility, even though he was very smart and he was the pope.”
In his closing remarks at the Mass, Archbishop Gomez said he thought “it is clear to all of us that Pope Benedict is in heaven” and invited the faithful to invoke his intercession for their needs.
Then came a final surprise. What was supposed to be the final day of a historic rain storm hitting Southern California had turned out to be a cloudy, dry morning. But as the archbishop was speaking about Benedict, a burst of sunlight poured through the cathedral windows for a few seconds.
It was, in the archbishop’s words, “a good sign,” an assurance that the late pope would continue “bringing this light into our lives with the light and presence of Jesus.”
And, for believers in the cathedral that day, a fitting “thank you” from the gentle soul they’d gathered to pray for.
For more Angelus news coverage and reflections on the late pontiff and his legacy, visit LACatholics.org/benedictxvi