Pope Benedict XVI made history today by being the first pope in modern times to resign, and the first pope ever to resign because of old age / frailty.

It seems to me there ought to be some way to mark this passage. There isn’t any rite to retire Cardinals from voting in papal elections, and when bishops retire…? We don’t have a rite for that either, do we? Just a nice send-off with a Mass and a party seems to do the trick. In fact, I am forced to reflect that we’re really not as adept at saying goodbye as we are at commissioning new beginnings. I mean, we’re good at death and all that, just not at saying goodbye while the person is still living.

Still, the pope could set a trend for celebrating such transitions that might become a model for others. What do you think?

If it were up to me, I’d have prayers of thanksgiving and penitence, Ecclesiastes 3, perhaps “consider the lilies of the field” or a New Testament reading concerning the kingdom… We’d have to sing of course. Maybe a ritual gesture of some sort. Turning in the keys to the papal apartment? Giving up the Pontifex twitter account?

There are so many novel questions! What should the role of a retired pope be at the ceremony of the installation of a new pope? These are all uncharted territories. So, make your suggestions now, and perhaps some of the high-ranking officials who read Pray Tell (!) will take notice, and you too could change history.

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