Since the surprising announcement on Feb. 11 that our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, would resign from office on Feb. 28, the Church and the world have grappled to find appropriate words and gestures to respond to this new reality. Only twice before, in 1294 and 1415, has something similar occurred.
Questions immediately arose; practical questions. When I met with the media on the day of the announcement I was asked, “What will he be called after his resignation?” and “What will he wear?” There were also more probing questions: “What will be the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI?” “What happens next?”
These and many other questions have been on the minds of many Catholics as well as people of other faiths and no faith at all. The interest surrounding this unlikely event reminds us of the importance of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, not only for Catholics who number more than 1 billion members throughout the world, but his importance for all of humanity. His is a singular voice of religious and moral authority which may not always be heeded, but is rarely ignored.
The preoccupations that have filled the minds of many during the early days following this announcement, such as his title (post-resignation) or even his legacy are certainly not the questions that the Holy Father spent time pondering in arriving at his decision. As he himself acknowledged this was a decision made before God, and God alone. It was based solely on what Pope Benedict determined was best, not for himself, but for the Church. Having recognized that his strength, due to his advancing age and attendant physical weakness, was no longer adequate to fulfill the responsibilities and shoulder the burdens of his Office, he resolved to renounce the Petrine ministry. In doing so he clears the way for another man whom the Cardinal electors, guided by the Holy Spirit, must select to occupy the Chair of Peter in the course of the upcoming Conclave. It is hard to imagine a more humble demonstration of the enduring love and concern for the Church which this Servant of the Servants of God has made the foundation of his life and ministry.
The years ahead will provide adequate opportunity to assess the legacy of Pope Benedict’s papacy and his other significant contributions as priest, theologian, bishop and cardinal. This moment, however, is a moment to give thanks. Here we have no particular paradigm to follow. Though he will soon resign, he will still be with us. We are not mourning the death of a pope. It offers us an opportunity to express our gratitude in various ways.
I am proposing that all of the priests, deacons, consecrated women and men, and all of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City join together in prayer during these days. I ask that we begin a novena on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and conclude on Thursday, Feb. 28, the day of the Holy Father’s resignation. The same prayer of gratitude and petition can be used following that date until the election of a new Pope has been accomplished.
The prayer, developed by the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, Archbishop William Lori, ought to be used to conclude the Universal Prayer (Prayers of the Faithful) at each Mass. It can also be prayed personally, in the home, in parish gatherings and in schools.
Thank you for accepting this invitation to pray for the Church. At this moment our hearts swell with gratitude for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI. We entrust the future of the Church and the See of Peter to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who promised never to leave his flock untended.
Prayer for the Church
O Lord Jesus Christ, Supreme Pastor of Your Church,
we thank you for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI
and the selfless care with which he has led us
as Successor of Peter, and Your Vicar on earth.
Good Shepherd, who founded Your Church
on the rock of Peter’s faith
and have never left your flock untended,
look with love upon us now,
and sustain Your Church in faith, hope and charity.
Grant, Lord Jesus, in Your boundless love for us,
a new Pope for Your Church,
who will please You by his holiness
and lead us faithfully to You,
who are the same yesterday, today and forever.
To download the .PDF of this prayer, please click here.