December 8, 1962
The first phase of the Second Vatican Council closed simply, its ritual muted to a minimum.
But what set the final ceremony in sharpest contrast with the opening of two months before was not its relative austerity, since the pomp of a solemn procession and the richness of cope and miter were missing. Nor was it even the relative brevity of the closing ceremony, though it took only a third of the time of the opening.
The most striking difference was the absence of Pope John XXIII through most of the morning.
The Pope, who had been ailing for almost two weeks, appeared in the council hall only to deliver a 25-minute speech.
But his voice was reassuringly firm and vibrant. It seemed to give evidence of fatigue only at the end, when he gave the apostolic benediction. Then it faltered a moment and broke — but whether from fatigue or emotion could not be said.
For more than an hour, throughout the Mass that opened the ceremony, priests and laity jamming the vast basilica could be seen glancing at the Pope’s empty throne. Anxiety was written on their faces.
An outburst of applause greeted his appearance, which was heralded only by the choir’s intonation of “Tu Es Petrus” (Thou Art Peter), a hymn recalling Christ’s promise to make St. Peter the foundation of the Church.
Pope John entered from the side of the basilica and walked to the throne. Under bright lights his face showed few if any signs of his illness and convalescence.
The Pope noted in his speech that the name of St. Joseph had appeared in the canon of the Mass for the first time that morning. (The Mass was offered by Paolo Cardinal Marella, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Basilica of St. Peter and president of the council’s commission on bishops and the government of dioceses.)
Pope John also made it known, through an announcement read by Archbishop Pericle Felici, general secretary of the council, that he would offer Mass on Dec. 10 for all the council Fathers who had died since the opening of the council and on the 11th for the intentions of the council Fathers.
At the end of his speech the Pope summoned his listeners to a vision of “the heavens opened above our heads and the splendor of the heavenly court” shining upon the assembly.
“In this light, as we look forward to your return, we salute all of you, venerable brothers, ‘with a holy kiss,’ while we call down upon you the most abundant blessing of Our Lord, of which the apostolic blessing is the pledge and promise,” he said.
Pope John walked out amid the applause of bishops, priests and people. Then the great basilica emptied without ceremony almost abruptly.
The closing meeting had taken less than an hour and 45 minutes in all. There was no discussion. The entire ceremony consisted of a Mass, the announcement by Archbishop Felici and the address by the Pope. When it was over, many of the council Fathers and the guests remained among the thousands of persons waiting in the great square outside to see the Pope.
At noon he appeared at the window of his apartment and led in the recitation of the Angelus with the great holy day throng. Then he lifted his hands and his voice in blessing. As the people knelt to receive it, dozens of bishops in their purple choir robes could be seen in the thick of the crowd bowing their heads to the leader of their apostolic college who had brought them together in council.