Ash Wednesday not only marks the day Lent begins, it will also be the last major liturgical celebration of Benedict XVI as the pope resigns on February 28.
Ash Wednesday ushers in the 40 days of Lent, which is a period of penance, reflection and fasting in preparation for Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. On Ash Wednesday, Christians may choose to deny themselves something- fast food, alcohol, or any other indulgence as a way of strengthening their relationship with God. Ash Wednesday will be overseen by Pope Benedict XVI, but a different pope will celebrate Easter Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
After the pope resigns, Benedict XVI will once again be known as Joseph Ratzinger. He will not become a cardinal once again but he will have the title of bishop emeritus of Rome. The symbols of the papacy, the ring of the fisherman and his official seal, will be destroyed some time in March. The pope’s personal Twitter account, @pontifex, fortunately has a generic name in case the next pope decides to continue sending out messages through social media.
According to USA Today, church historian Matthew Bunson says that the decision for the pope to resign was led by Ratzinger watching the last years of Pope John Paul II who suffered with Parkinson’s:
“I believe he is no longer physically capable of the effort, and he quit rather than put the entire church through the experience of watching a pope grow increasingly infirm and die. Ratzinger was well positioned in those years to see how everything slowed down in the governance of the church.”
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, the pope’s health has been ailing and he secretly had a pacemaker installed. A pope resigning is not unprecedented, but it has not happened in hundreds of years, leading some to raise the specter of conspiracy theories. Already, people are asking who will be the next pope and several cardinals are being named as prime candidates.
According to ABC, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated an Ash Wednesday Mass marking the beginning of Lent at Saint Peter’s Basilica in the afternoon. This was his first public appearance since announcing his resignation. Ash Wednesday include Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and some Baptist followers.