“Memento mori!”

Throughout history our insightful forebears have inserted into rituals which exalt some mere mortal  certain elements intended to deflate, remind that we are mortals.

For example, in ancient Rome during a general’s triumph a slave stood beside the triumphator in his chariot and repeated “Respice te, hominem te memento … Look behind you, remember that you are a man (i.e. you are not a god”) and “Memento mori … Remember that you are going to die”.

The the rite of coronation of Popes, up to 1963 at least, as the new pope was carried into St. Peter’s Basilica in the sedia gestatoria, the procession would halt three times.  One of the MC’s would kneel and and hold up on a rod a piece of burning flax.  He would say, “Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi!   … Holy Father, in this way the glory of the world passes!”

An old rite was repeated at the funeral of Otto von Hapsburg, who would have been Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

A reader sent an email with a link and explanation, which I share:

A traditional ceremony during the funeral is when the procession of mourners arrives at the gates of the Capuchin Church, under which the Imperial Crypt lies, and the Herald knocks on the door. A Capuchin then asks “who demands entry?” The Herald responds with the name and title of the deceased. The Capuchin then responds “we don’t know him/her.” The same procedure is repeated once. Only on the third attempt, when the Herald responds with “a sinful, mortal human being”, the gates are opened and the dead Habsburg admitted into the Crypt.


We all need reminders that we are not as special as sometimes we think we are.  Special?  Yes, for we are made in God’s image and likeness, we died for us

And here is the Sic Transit during the coronation of Bl. John XXIII… which I think should never have been abandoned.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Liz says:

    This is so wonderful to actually see. I remember a friend describing what I think was the same ceremony for his mother, Empress Zita.

  2. irishgirl says:

    Liz-yes, the same ceremony was enacted for his mother Zita, now a ‘Servant of God’.
    I wish that the body of his father, Blessed Charles I, would be brought back to Vienna and rest with his ancestors in the Habsburg Crypt.
    May Archduke Otto rest in peace!
    ‘Memento Mori, indeed, Father Z!

  3. The first time, the man lists the royal accomplishments (domain of rule, etc.); the second time, the man lists the social accomplishments (degrees, presidencies, etc.).

  4. MarieSiobhanGallagher says:

    Wonderful to see. The Augustinian Canons of Klosterneuberg are here in Glen Cove now and have scheduled a Solemn Requiem Mass for His Imperial Highness Archduke Otto von Habsburg for Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. Will be in Latin in the Ordinary form with Gregorian Chant and the Imperial Anthem will be sung. Also, the Rev. Mons. James Pereda will deliver the Panegyric. All are welcome to attend.

  5. PeterK says:

    do check out the requiem Mass http://youtu.be/tXVt5ScQSqA

  6. Jack Hughes says:

    Would bringing the body of Blessed Charles back to Vienna for internment necessitate a modification of the ceremony ? Blessed Charles being a blessed and all………

    Just wondering

  7. Geoffrey says:

    A Requiem for an Emperor!

  8. amenamen says:

    What might have been?

    Just suppose that Otto von Habsburg had reigned over the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1922 until 2011. Would Europe be better off today?

  9. Prof. Basto says:


    Footage of this rite being performed on the occasion of the burial of Empress Zita can also be found in Youtube.

    By the way, the Requiem was very solemn, very dignified, beffiting an Emperor-King. For a few minutes, it was as if Austria-Hungary still existed, and as if Austria was still a Catholic state. Even the Habsburg-era National anthem was played.

    May Archduke Otto rest in Christ’s peace, contemplating for eternity the beatific vision in the company of his father, blessed Charles of Austria.

    Archduke Otto and his parents were great examples of Catholic Princes.

    By the way, if I’m not mistaken blessed Charles’ Coronation as Apostolic King of Hungary on 30 December 1916 remains to this day the last time the liturgy “De Benedictione et Coronatione Regis”, the Catholic rite for the anointing, blessing and crowning of a monarch, still contained in the extraordinary form Roman Pontifical, was performed.

  10. “Memento mori!”

    Rats! I should’ve said that when the guy doing some painting in my house this weekend forgot his Blackberry on the counter!

    [Very droll!]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  11. digdigby says:

    My Jewish ancestors ADORED the Emperor and proudly carried Austro-Hungarian passports. To understand the 20th century this is indispensable:

  12. B.C.M. says:

    I think his brother and/or his son should lift the mantle that himself put down.

    Am I the only one that mourns, not only the man, but the passing of an Empire? Is it unusual to actively desire a monarchical structure? Especially one loyal to the Pope?

    Though, I am one who also things that the Holy Father should put his crown back on.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    “Am I the only one that mourns, not only the man, but the passing of an Empire? Is it unusual to actively desire a monarchical structure? Especially one loyal to the Pope?”

    Not at all. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that monarchy “the best form of government” and that “it is more advantageous to live under one king than under the rule of several persons” (De Regimine Principum, chapter VI).

    The Roman liturgy used to include prayers for the Holy Roman Emperor. He had a Votive Mass in the Missale Romanum:

    “O God, who prepared the Roman Empire for the preaching of the Gospel of the eternal King, extend to Thy servant, our Emperor, the armoury of heaven, so that the peace of the churches may remain undisturbed by the storms of war. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

    He was also mentioned in the general intercessions of Good Friday, as well as in the Exultet at the Easter Vigil.

  14. Matariel says:

    Does anyone know what the organ piece that starts around 1:50 and continues as the procession goes forward?

  15. Denis Crnkovic says:

    Eine schöne Leich.

  16. Dr. Eric says:

    May His Imperial Highness rest in peace.

  17. PostCatholic says:

    I think I prefer the version of memento mori announced by Howard Morris to Shecky Green in “Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part One.”

  18. Reginald Pole says:

    HI & RH Otto von Hapsburg buried in a ceremony the likes of which we will probably never see again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0A21D7zp1Vk&NR=1

  19. irishgirl says:

    Reginald Pole-thanks for the link! It’s good to see some pomp and pageantry once in awhile! Loved seeing all the regional and national dress!
    I got the chills hearing the Imperial Anthem-I learned the tune in music class back in grade school.
    I noticed that the current Austrian president didn’t even sing-how very rude of him! It looked as if he didn’t want to be there in the first place!
    A worthy farewell to a worthy Prince! I’m sure he received a ‘royal and imperial’ welcome from his holy parents in heaven!
    MarieSiobhanGallagher-how very lucky that you have the Augustinian Canons in your area! I hope that there will be a good turnout for the Mass tonight!

  20. mvhcpa says:

    I had the chance to meet the Prince and some of his children at a dinner where he received a prize for his efforts on behalf of liberty. I could tell this was true royalty, in a good sense, not an arrogant sense.

  21. irishgirl says:

    mvhcpa-you met members of the Hapsburg family? In person? Wow….I have to say this, but I’m jealous! Very cool!

  22. Imrahil says:

    Dear @irishgirl,

    well the tune of the Imperial Anthem can not unregularly be heard in some sports events, in soccer matches for the third place in a World Cup, for instance… Excuse the rant.

    (Did you really learn it as “the tune of the Austrian Imperial anthem”? Not being patriotic, just curious…)

    The best words to put on this tune, anyway, is: “Tantum ergo sacramehentum, veneremur cernuhui”, etc. (Try it, it’ll work. Just repeat the last line of each stanza once.)

    By the way, I can understand the Austrian president not singing along. We may wish back the Empire back, but he might not and he might think he can’t; an the text is “God save, God protect our Emperor, our Land! Pow’rful supported through the pillar of Faith, he leads us with wise a hand! Let us guard his fathers’ crown against every foe that come: Fondly remains it that Habsburg’s throne and Austria’s fate is one.”

    Wonderful! But we have to respect a President of Austria not singing along. Just as little as I would, as a student on an exchange visit to the United States, pledge allegiance to the flag of a foreign country. Symbols have meanings which courtesy must not neglect.

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