As I've mentioned, one of the tasks I've been charged with recently is the setting of the tables for the friars' meals. In the refectory, como Dios manda, are displayed four images: a crucifix, an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a portrait each of the Pope and the Minister General of the Order.
Back on February 28, I wondered if I ought to take Pope Benedict XVI down when I prepared the refectory for supper. After all, by the time the food was blessed and the brethren were getting their soup, his pontificate would be over.
I consulted a friar whose delicacy I have come to trust. He said that he didn't think I needed to worry about taking Benedict down, pointing out that there were probably many houses of the Order that had not updated their pope-portrait to Benedict XVI, not to mention those that hadn't yet taken note of his pontificate. Then I suggested affixing a post-it note to the portrait to say 'emeritus,' but I was corrected on this as well. Infra dignitatem, it seemed.
So though Benedict XVI said good night from his balcony at Castel Gandolfo and disappeared into the hidden life, he remained on the wall of the refectory. As the days went by and I continued to set the tables, I lost any scruple about it. In fact, I came to see the perduring portrait as capturing, in a way, the novel ambiguity of the moment; after all, he was still a pope, even if he was no longer the pope.
But then I got to wondering; when would Benedict XVI come down from the wall of the refectory? Perhaps when his successor was elected? No. Pope Francis emerged from the conclave and passed even his first couple days of Petrine ministry without his predecessor making any move from the refectory. So finally I decided that Benedict XVI would probably remain on the wall until the portrait of Pope Francis arrived. This conclusion seemed consistent with certain general rules of religious life I have learned over the course of my association with it.
But I was wrong. Today, in fact, when setting up for the midday meal, I learned what constitutes the circumstances for removing the portrait of a recently emeritus pope from the refectory. It happens when one of the Cardinal Electors from the conclave that has given us the new Pope comes to dinner. After all--at least as I interpreted it--we would not want such an eminence to think we didn't recognize the new and blessed moment that our Cardinals have given us in our Holy Father Francis.