Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Death and Burial of the Prince Grand Master, Part I: Announcements of the Death, the Lying-in-State and the Sealing of the Coffin

Recent commitments elsewhere have prevented me from commenting on the recent passing of the late lamented Frà Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie, the Stuart descendent and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, but doubtlessly most of our learned readers have been informed of his passing on February 7 already. Given the rites for the burial and death of a Grand Master and for the election of his replacement are almost as complex as those of the Sovereign Pontiff, it might be worth recalling them at this point. In the next few days, I will be posting passages from the account given in Noonan's The Church Visible, presumably derived from the rites used at the death of Grand Master de Mojana in January 1988. I do not know how precisely these rites were followed at this month's obsequies.

The responsibility of announcing the death of the Grand Master falls to the lieutenant of the Grand Master (a post held by a professed knight of the highest repute), the master of ceremonies of the Grand Magistry, and the Sovereign Council of Professed Knights, who are responsible for the governing of the order during the interregnum.

The first to be informed of the death is the cardinal-patronus, who, in turn, informs the Holy Father and the Cardinal-Secretary of State. The news is announced to the jurisdictions of the order, to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Grand Magistral Palace, and to the world. The interregnum begins, and the ancient formula of preparing for the Grand Master's burial overtakes the Aventine and the via Condotti. All senior officials of the order are summoned to Rome. The lieutenant assumes temporal authority of the order in the name of the Council Complete of State.

In the sanctuary of the Chapel of Santa Maria del Priora [sic; it is more properly called Santa Maria del Priorato], the body is laid in a wooden coffin lined with scarlet and white satin, the colors of the Order of Malta. It is dressed, not as a prince with the splendor of the red tunic and a display of the pontifical, royal or civil decorations awarded in life, but as a simple professed brother in the black woolen habit of the order. In his hands is pplaced a simple wooden rosary.

The open coffin is placed before the altar on a black carpet, upon which is emboridered a skull and crossbones at each corner. A Paschal candle is positioned at the head of the coffin. The throne of the Grand Master, given a place of honor under a crimson satin baldachino emblazoned with the arms of the dead Grand Master, is turned to face the wall, symbolizing the vacancy of the grand mastership.

Those knights asseumbled in Rome gather at the Chapel of Santa Maria del Prioria [sic] on the Aventine for the first of the rites of burial. The cardinal-patronus [...], and as the Camerlengo of the Holy Church, vested in the white satin pontifical mitre (mitre damasco) and black cope emboridered with symbols of the order, intones the prayers for the repose of the dead prince. All knights present are in the black habit of the order, with no outward sign of dignity of weath. Suspended from their backs and permitted to drape around the hips and left forearm mis the great stole of the Order of Malta, resembling both the maniple of ancient vestments and a large monastic rosary, symbolizing the Passion of Christ. It is worn to recall the need to give atonement for our personal failings. Known officially in Italian as the manipule, it bears symbolic reference and reminder to the betrayal, passion and death of Our Lord. Emblazoned on embroidered panels throughout the 1.6 metre long stole appear, respectively, a cloth bag of silver coins [...], a coq, or rooster [...], three dice [...], and a column. [...] The knights now enter the chapel in silence.

At the same time, the via Condotti is flooded with acknowledgments of bereavement from heads of state [...]. The first message to arrive is the chirograph of the pope, followed by telegrams from the Cardinal-Secretary of State and from the cardinal-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. [...] In all, nearly one hundred nations offered condolences to the lieutenant of the Grand Master, the Sovereign Council, and the order at large, illustrating its esteem and importance in the modern world.

After the semiformal farewell on the Aventine, the coffin is sealed. Six candles, joined together in two sets of three, and bound by black cords, are placed beside it to symbolize the lighting of the way ahead. The lieutenant welcomes those present, and receives the first of the personal condolences. The body is solemnly transferred to one of the great Roman churches.

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