Cappella Papale

Coronation homily

Fragments of the homily given by Holy Father Paul VI at the Coronation Mass on 30 June 1963 (source: The New York Times, 1 July 1963):

The events that are unfolding before our eyes in this memorable hour are so solemn, so filled with splendor and meaning that our spirit cannot but be deeply moved by them and on this account they seem to call for silence rather than words, quiet meditation rather than speech.

But our office imposes upon us the obligation to speak. For just as the merciful God has bidden that his mercy and goodness toward us become publicly known, so too it is only right that the thanksgiving that goes forth from us to him also be openly shown. And just as the good wishes, honor and loyalty of both individuals and nations have been publicly expressed to us, so, too, it is altogether fitting that the testimonies of our grateful spirit not be hidden.

As our very first action, though it be in fear and in trembling, we bow down in veneration before the hidden designs of God, who has willed to impose upon our slender powers and immense, though most important, burden – the Catholic Church, an institution than which there is most assuredly no greater or more holy upon this earth. For it was established by Christ, the son of God and redeemed by him with his blood; it is his immaculate and beloved spouse, is the parent and protector of all the nations that have given their name to Christ and have faithfully clung to him; it is lastly the light and hope of all the peoples of the world.

Moreover, God has entrusted this Church to us not only that we might preserve it in its holiness and in the richness of its vigor but also as Christ himself has commanded each of his vicars – that we might devote to it our thoughts, our care, and even life itself, if need be, to the end that its power, its light, and its riches, which are altogether divine and infinite, might be poured out upon men ever more and more widely.

It is then a very heavy charge that has been laid upon us, and we would surely be crushed by it were we not persuaded that God on the one hand often chooses for the carrying out of the noblest tasks instruments that seem to men very weak, so that his power and glory might shine forth more resplendently, and that he on the other hand increases his merciful help in proportion to our greater need and in accordance with the wise design of his providence. It was this very sentiment that the Most Holy Mother of God felt when she sang: “My soul doth magnify the lord (…) for he has looked down upon the lowliness of his handmaid (…) for He who is mighty has done great things to me.” (Lk. 2,46-49).

Placing no trust, therefore, in our own powers, we implore the help of the most gracious God, through the intercession, first of all, of the Virgin Mother of God. For to whom is the church more dear than the Mother of Christ? Who was with the church not only when it was born from the opened side of her son and when it took up its work at Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit descended upon it, but who has also been ever with the church through the succeeding ages as it struggled, suffered and went forward in its mission?

We seek next the help of the Apostle Peter, to whose office, though we are far inferior in merit, we have succeeded. May he who, despite his occasional wavering, nevertheless received the firmness of a rock through the prayer of Christ, and who also received the keys of supreme power from the divine master, not fail we pray, to cover us with the shadow of his loving protection.

We flee, finally, to Paul, from whom we have taken our name so we may place ourselves under his auspices and gain his protection. He loved Christ most dearly, desired and strove with all his might to carry the gospel of Christ to all the nations, and poured forth his life for the name of Christ. May he choose to be our heavenly model and patron through all the days of our life.

This ceremony, extraordinarily solemn and expressive, adds to its spiritual significance yet another meaning, an apostolic one.

We know that we ascend the throne of St. Peter and assume a most high and formidable office. With divine help we overcame the paralyzing trepidation caused by our insignificance. With open awareness we undertake our position in the church and the world. We let the words of the apostle whose name we have taken comfort us: spectaculum facti sumus mundo et angelis et hominibus (1 Cor. 4,9), “We have been made a spectacle to the world and to the angels and to men”; and we look upon you, eminent members of the Sacred College; upon you, venerable bishops; upon you, men and women, all the faithful, people of God, parts of the mystic body of Christ: genus electum, regale sacerdotium gens sancta, populus adquisitionis (1 P. 2, 9), “Chosen royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people”; we look upon the church, upon this Roman church, which presides over the love (S. Ignatii Ant. ad Rom. prol.) of all the church of God on earth – unique, holy, Catholic and apostolic.

And it is before the whole church we, with trepidation and faith, accept the keys of the kingdom of heaven, heavy and powerful, beneficial and mysterious, which Jesus Christ entrusted to the Fisherman of Galilee, made Prince of the Apostles, and which are now passed on to us.

This ceremony bespeaks the authority given to Peter and thus to those who succeed him. We know that this authority, so feared and venerated by us, invests us and makes us teacher and pastor, with full authority of the Roman church and of the universal church. To the city and to the world our divine mandate is now spread. But it is precisely because we are elevated to the summit of the church hierarchy that we feel as though we are placed in the lowest office as servant of the servants of God. The authority and responsibility are so marvellously joined, the dignity with the humility, the rights with the duties, the power with the love. Do not forget the admonition of Christ whose vicars we are: “Let him who is greatest among you become as the youngest, and he who is the chief as the servant” (Lk. 22,26). Therefore we are conscious, in this moment, of taking a pledge, sacred, solemn and most serious: that of continuing and spreading on earth the mission of Christ. We take this pledge before history of the church of the past developing with vital coherence from Him our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave the church origin and form and who, alive and mysterious, supports the church through the ages. We take the pledge before the church of the future, which does not expect anything from us but the perfect faith in the initial evangelical mission and in the true tradition that sprang from it. We take this pledge before the history of the church of today, which we know and which we will study in order to get to know even better the structure, the events, the richness and the needs. In these things we sense almost like voices calling to us, an erupting vitality, gravest sufferings, common wishes and flowering spirituality.

We will resume with highest reverence the work of our predecessors. We will defend the holy church from errors of doctrine and custom, which both inside and outside the church threaten her integrity and hide her beauty. We will try to preserve and increase the pastoral virtue of the church, which keeps her free and poor as mother and teacher, most loving of her faithful children, respectful, comprehending and patient, and warmly calling to those who are not her children.

We will resume, as already announced, the Ecumenical Council, and we ask God that this great event confirm in the church its faith, refresh moral energies and rejuvenate and adopt its forms to the needs of the times, and so present the church to the Christian brothers, separated from its perfect unity, in a way to make attractive, easy and joyous to them the sincere recomposition, in truth and charity, of the mystic body of the sole Catholic church.

And we have, with the aid of God, a heart for all. It is enough for us, in this moment, to remember among all our children, the children suffering because of the oppression against the liberty due them, and because of the infirmity of their body or spirit.

Venerable fathers, dear children here present and all of you whoever you may be, who hear my voice.

Permit the new Pope to use a language so widespread and widely understood, to declare, humbly but strongly, to the world at the dawn of his pontificate, what feelings motivate him and what attitude he intends to adopt toward the Catholic community, the separated churches and the modern world.

1) The church – is it necessary to repeat after so many and such explicit declarations by our predecessors – that the church considers as an incomparable richness, the variety of languages and of rites in which its dialogue with heaven is expressed? The Oriental communities, bearers of ancient and noble traditions, are in our eyes worthy of honor, of esteem, of confidence. The unfolding of the splendid liturgy of the pontifical mass, with the chanting in Latin and in Greek of the Epistles and the Gospel, is this not already in itself a spoken testament of the solicitude with which the church has welcomed the heritage of the distant past and defends it against the erosion of time? Let the venerable Oriental churches have confidence in the Holy See. We exhort them to do so with love, and let them have in their heart above all to persevere in the thing that makes their double title of glory: the most complete faithfulness to their origins and attachments without weakening to the successor of Peter, the vital center of the apostolate of the mystic body of Christ.

2) To those who, without belonging to the Catholic church are united with us by the powerful link of faith and of the lord Jesus and marked with the seal of the unique baptism: unus Dominus, una fides, unum baptisma (Eph 4, 5) “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”, we address ourselves with a double respect of immense desire, the very one which for so long has moved so many among them, to hasten the blessed day which will see, after centuries of sad separation, the realization of the prayer of Christ at the eve of his death: ut sint unum! (Jn. 17, 11), “That they be one!”

We welcome with emotion on this point the heritage of our unforgettable predecessor Pope John XXIII who, filled with the Holy Spirit, brought about hopes that we deem it a duty and an honor not to betray.

No more than he certainly, do we nourish illusions about the extent of the problem to resolve and the gravity of the obstacles to surmount. But, faithful to the task of the great Apostle whose name we have taken: veritatem facientes in caritate (Eph. 4, 15); “Rather are we to practice the truth in love.” Supported only by the weapons of truth and charity, we intend to pursue the dialogue that has begun, and to advance, as much as it will be in our power, the work that has been undertaken.

3) But beyond the frontiers of Christianity, there is another dialogue in which the church is engaged today – the dialogue with the modern world. In a superficial examination, the man of today can appear to be more and more a stranger to all that is religious and spiritual. Aware of the progress of science and technology, intoxicated by spectacular successes in domains until now unexplored, he seems to have divined powers of his own and to want to do without God.

But behind this façade it is easy to find the profound voices of this modern world, also affected by the Holy Spirit and by grace. It aspires to justice, to a progress not only technical but human, to a peace which is not only the precarious suspension of hostilities between nations or between social classes, but which permits finally an openness and collaboration of men and peoples in an atmosphere of reciprocal confidence. In the service of these causes, it is possible to practice to an astonishing degree the virtues of strength and courage, the spirit of enterprise, of devotion, of sacrifice. We say it without hesitation, all that is ours. And we cite for proof of it the immense ovation which has been raised everywhere at the voice of a Pope recently calling all men to organize a society in brotherhood and peace.

We hear those profound voices of the world. With the help of God and the example of our predecessor, we will continue to offer to the humanity of today the remedy for its ills, the answer to its calls: investigabiles divitias Christi (Eph. 3, 8), “Unfathomable riches of Christ”. Will our voice be heard?


We send our special greetings and our blessing to our beloved Poland, “Poland always faithful”, which we visited and which always remains near our heart.


May Christ be gracious and fulfil your words and wishes of prosperity. In this grave moment, we lay our hopes only in his most potent and ever-present succour.

Gently touched with piety expressed by the cardinals after the ceremony of our coronation, we would like to show gratitude for You and your companions. With no merits of ours, you have presented us with so many tokens of graciousness to this day. At the same time we constantly give our heartfelt thanks to the rejoicing Church. The proof of its faith, hope and love are an immense consolation for us.

While the night is falling on the city of Rome, may the events of the day never lose its splendour. We ask you, our reverend brothers and all the children in Christ for one thing, for which we pray and which our predecessor Leo the Great besought: “Aid with your prayers him whom you have sought out by your solicitations that the Spirit of grace may abide in me (…) so that all the days of my life being ready for the service of Almighty God, and for my duties towards you, I may with confidence entreat the Lord: Holy Father, keep in Your name those whom You have given me” (Jn. 17, 11; s. Leonis I, Sermo I; ML 54, 142).

With renewed feelings of love, we plead God for gifts of divine generosity for you, and with utmost love, as a token of our graciousness, we give you apostolic blessing.