The Pope everyone forgets to remember

Today in 1978 Pope John Paul I died.

Please say a prayer for Papa Luciani today.

33 days.  Not the shortest reign as Bishop of Rome, but pretty short.

John Paul I Luciani

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  1. asperges says:

    RIP. We shall never know what sort of Pope he might have been had he lived.

    BTW, I note he is holding his hand in the traditional form of blessing (fingers right hand, two up two down). He successor always used a “straight” hand, which was never seen in papal photos or earlier church art before. The present Pope does likewise. Why did this change, I wonder, and what is its significance?

  2. Prof. Basto says:

    By the way, nice to see in the picture above the traditional Latin gesture of benediction used by popes, archbishops, etc., so often represented in art, and sadly out of use today in the Court of Rome, for a reason I can’t explain (John Paul II used the gesture, at least when he was younger and had more control over his hands): thumb, index and middle finger extended, ring and little finger bent backwards.

  3. Legisperitus says:

    Purely a hypothesis, but the three extended digits may represent the Trinity and the two folded digits the dual nature of Christ. What the omission of this gesture might represent is anybody’s guess.

    Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine.

  4. Frank H says:

    I have noticed some of our newest priests using this hand position when giving the final blessing at Holy Mass.

  5. guatadopt says:

    Legisperitus, your hypothesis is correct. It is the ancient Greek (and then Latin/Roman) form of benediction. There were calls at one point after his death for a cause for canonization, no? I remember reading about it somewhere a few years ago. I wasn’t born yet when His Holiness was on Peter’s chair. However, in his brief pontificate I also recall reading that he did away with much of the pomp and circumstance surronding the Papal Coronation, which in my humble opinion was probably best. His successors have followed suit. The crowning of the pope as some sort of temporal ruler is something I always felt would make St Peter turn in his grave. Again, just my opinion. Rest in peace and long live our present pope!

  6. ReginaMarie says:

    +Blessed repose & eternal memory.

    The hand of Pope John Paul I is positioned in the same manner that one would see Christ (or the Apostles) extending a blessing in an icon.

  7. irishgirl says:

    Yes, he is a ‘forgotten Pope’, since his reign was so short.
    I remember when he died. I heard it on the radio at home before going to work. I was so shocked!
    Then one of my co-workers (a snotty twenty-something girl) made a sarcastic remark to the effect of, ‘Why did they elect such an old guy?’ I was so mad at what she said, I was ready to punch her in the mouth!
    On my second trip to Rome in 1979, I visited his tomb in the Vatican Grottoes.
    Rest in eternal peace, Papa Luciani!

  8. Bryan Boyle says:

    ‘Twas there, as a newly-minted studio/field engineer for ABC in ’78 for his election. Only Catholic in the crew (the rest were indeterminate or Jewish…); I guess I showed a bit of excitement (hey, who wouldn’t, having pretty much great seats in the press area) as he came out on the Loggia…I remember thinking to myself: “this is a gentle man with an awesome responsibility…” A month later, back on a plane…to watch him go to his rest…wasn’t there for JP-II, though…off on another mission with other reporters…amazing to actually witness history being made (along with other events I participated in as an observer).

    If you want a glimpse into his being…I’d suggest obtaining a copy of “Illustrisimi”, which is a collection of his writings, as addressed to famous people, characters, etc. Fascinating, and eminently readable.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Bless him. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota and studying for the GRE, as I was going into graduate school in January. I sat on the bed and one of my roommates told me. We said prayers immediately and were truly shocked.

    God be with him and may he be with God.

  10. Random Friar says:


    May his memory be eternal.

  11. Daniel Latinus says:

    I had just been awakened to go to school, and my grandmother said,”The Pope died.” I thought it was the set-up for a joke. But Grandma went on making clear that this was no joke.

    The hand gesture, when correctly executed, represents an abbreviation for “Jesus Christ”. The straight index finger represents the letter “iota.” The slightly bent middle finger represents the “round sigma”, which resembles the Latin letter “C”. The thumb crossing the ring finger forms the letter “chi,” and the curled pinky another “round sigma.” Together, we get “IC XC”, which stands for Jesus Christ. (In Greek, the abbreviation usually includes bars over “IC” and “XC”.)

    In the Latin Church, it is my understanding that this gesture is reserved to the Holy Father alone.

    May John Paul I, the “September Pope,” rest in peace, and let everyone say, amen.

  12. Centristian says:

    guadadopt says: “However, in his brief pontificate I also recall reading that he did away with much of the pomp and circumstance surronding the Papal Coronation…”

    I’ll say. He did away with the papal coronation, altogether, being the first pope in centuries not to be crowned. While Pope Paul VI ends up getting all the flack/credit (depending upon one’s point of view) for giving his own personal tiara away, it was John Paul I who introduced the modern papal inauguration in which the pope is simply invested with the ring and the pallium in an relatively unimpressive outdoor ceremony in St. Peter’s Square. All of his successors have followed suit, alas.

    The portrait shown (that some have commented on) was once typical. The popes used to pose dressed in various papal costumes for a variety of official portraits which would then be hung in Catholic rectories, schools, hospitals and featured on papal blessing parchments. Often the pope would be depicted with his hand raised in blessing, as in this case.

    I have always thought it strange that Benedict XVI, of all popes, with his rather traditional bent, has not thought fit to continue this tradition. He posed, I think, for one official portrait that looks more like a mug shot than a papal portrait.

  13. teomatteo says:

    Was he not nicknamed ‘the little wren’ or is that not right? my memory fails me.

  14. Prof. Basto says:

    Mr. Latinus,

    The gesture of blessing in question is not reserved to the Pope alone in the Latin Church. You are right that the gesture is not universal, that is, there are restrictions on its use (for example, priests are not to bless with this gesture), but I’m confident that at least Metropolitan Archbishops were and are allowed to use this gesture in blessing. If I’m not mistaken, “normal” Bishops did not use the gesture, but Metropolitan Archbishops used it. Regarding Cardinals, I’m not certain.

    By the way: Pope John Paul I reigned for only 33 days and yet there are traditional and proper Papal portraits of him in gesture of benediction. It is hard to figure out why the Papal portraits of the current Roman Pontiff are of such low quality, resembling quickly taken driver’s licence photos.

  15. Centristian says:

    “Was he not nicknamed ‘the little wren’ or is that not right? my memory fails me.”

    I’ve never heard that but I have read that when Luciani emerged from the conclave a Vatican official, unconvinced of the new pope’s competence, remarked, “they’ve elected Peter Sellers.”

  16. ReginaMarie says:

    Daniel Latinus is correct about the fingers forming the letters for the name of Jesus Christ (IC XC). I’m unsure about restrictions for its usage, as this is the way that priests (& Bishops / Metropolitan Archbishops) in the Eastern Catholic tradition give a blessing.

  17. frjohnt says:

    Papa Luciani said repeatedly that he would “not be here long”. “After me,” he said, “will come the ‘straniero'” (the foreigner).

    It’s “revisionist” history … but if he had lived for several years:
    — Would the Berlin Wall have come down?
    — Would the “Assisi gathering” ever happened?
    — Would Cardinal Ratzinger have retired as Archbishop of Munich?
    — How would he have handled the “abuse crisis?”
    — What would be the state of the Missal of 1962?

    Only God knows.

  18. Filipino Melkite says:

    In the Latin Rite, here were formerly three ways in which priests and bishops would extend their right hand to impart blessings:

    1) With all fingers extended (palm open). This was the way most priests would have their right hands.

    2) With the thumb, index and third digit extended, and the ring and small fingers bent and touching the palm. Most bishops (and Dominican priests) would have their right hands held in this manner. This appears to be the way JPI is holding his hand above.

    3) In the Eastern way previously described: with the thumb touching the bent ring finger, the index extended, and the long and small fingers slightly bent, forming “IC XC”. This had been reserved for the Pope in the West, and is used by all priests in East. See, e.g., this, or this.

    I think I have (or had) a catechism showing an illustration of a “generic” priest, bishop and pope giving blessings this way. I’ll see if I can’t dig it up.


  19. “33 days. Not the shortest reign as Bishop of Rome, but pretty short.”

    If Pope John Paul does not hold the record for shortest reign as Bishop of Rome, than which (non-anti) pope holds this record?

  20. Denita says:

    May perpetual light shine upon him

  21. Sam Urfer says:

    from Wikipedia:

    Urban VII (15–27 September 1590): reigned for 13 calendar days, died before coronation.
    Boniface VI (April 896): reigned for 16 calendar days
    Celestine IV (25 October – 10 November 1241): reigned for 17 calendar days, died before consecration.
    Theodore II (December 897): reigned for 20 calendar days
    Sisinnius (15 January – 4 February 708): reigned for 21 calendar days
    Marcellus II (9 April – 1 May 1555): reigned for 22 calendar days
    Damasus II (17 July – 9 August 1048): reigned for 24 calendar days
    Pius III (22 September – 18 October 1503): reigned for 27 calendar days
    Leo XI (1–27 April 1605): reigned for 27 calendar days
    Benedict V (22 May – 23 June 964): reigned for 33 calendar days
    John Paul I (26 August – 28 September 1978): reigned for 33 calendar days.

  22. Sam Urfer says:

    Also: “Stephen (23–26 March 752), died of apoplexy three days after his election, and before his consecration as a bishop. He is not recognized as a valid Pope, but was added to the lists of popes in the 15th century as Stephen II, causing difficulties in enumerating later Popes named Stephen. He was removed in 1961 from the Vatican’s list.”

  23. Lori Pieper says:

    Father, thank you for commemorating the all-too-easily forgotten Pope John Paul I. He has been my personal spiritual mentor as well as my model as a writer, ever since his election. It’s a shame Catholics don’t know more about his life and writings.

    Illustrissimi is a wonderful book, out of print, but available used. You can also learn a lot about JPI as Pope from his audiences and Angelus addresses at the Vatican web site (there are English translations for all but one). There is also the book I contributed to: The Smiling Pope: The Life and Teaching of John Paul I, which has his writings as a bishop and cardinal. I’ve also written tons about him on my blog.

    Just look at the sidebars for guidance.

    In the last few days I’ve started making progress on organizing a conference in New York next year to commemorate the centenary of his birth (October 17, 1912). If anyone is interested in furthering knowledge about Pope John Paul I, please pray for its success.

    The process for his beatification is making progress. The diocesan process was completed in 2006 and they are now writing the Positio. Someday soon I hope we will be able to pray not just for but to him.

  24. Jane says:

    I always remember the beautiful smile of Pope John Paul I. In 1978 when Pope Paul VI died, the banner for a Sydney newspaper read: Pope is Dead.

    When Pope John Paul I was elected, my Protestant boss made a sneering remark to his brother-in-law (another of the bosses) that there was another Italian in the Vatican. I won’t tell you exactly how he put this. It was not nice. He was implying that only Italians get elected as pope.

    One afternoon I was walking home from work, I spotted the newspaper banner and again it read: Pope is Dead. I was really confused and thought that the newsagency had mistakenly put out the previous banner. It never occurred to me that it was referring to Pope John Paul I.

    I left that job at the end of the month, and then Pope John Paul II from Poland was elected. I wish that I had stayed in that job just one more month to see my employer’s reaction. How quickly he was proven wrong.

  25. Eric says:

    My uncle was in Rome during JPI’s pontificate. He brought me a rosary blessed by JPI while he was pope. Probably not too many of those floating around.

  26. Michael J. says:

    I do not know why Pope John Paul I used the Traditional manner of Blessing while his two Successors generally do not. Maybe they feel it has some semblence of a reflection of the Pope’s temporal power, I just do not know. I do know two odd things about Pope John Paul I. One, he did away with the Papal Coronation, which even Pope Paul VI anticipated would be retained, and he changed more than just about any Pope I know of in his reign, not counting even the Mass changes. Also, he picked a dual name. Third, even if you look on Facebook, the cause of Pope John Paul I’s canonization has been opened, I do not know for how long. If the Pope will not wear the Tiara, why expect a Traditional Blessing pose? I doubt they even think about it often. Maybe someone close to the Holy Father can ask him, because I have no idea why he does not use that form.

  27. Michael J. says:

    Sorry, I forgot to add, Eternal Rest grant unto him, oh Lord, and may Perpetual Light shine upon him. Me he rest in Peace. Also, Long Live Our Current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI!

  28. Daniel Latinus says:

    Some years ago, I found a postcard with John Paul I’s picture on it at a stamp show. The message on the back was from a religious sister who was visiting Rome, and had seen the Pope at an audience. Written at the bottom of the message, in a different ink, were the words, “the Pope died today.”

  29. I include Pope John Paul I in my prayers every week when I go through my weekly litany of deceased before Sunday Mass. It’s partly because I know that every Pope bears a heavy burden and by virtue of his office alone is worthy of our prayers; every Pope is responsible for the salvation of millions of souls. It’s also partly because I once read that Pope John Paul I died a lonely man, not really comfortable in the bureacracy of the Vatican. That always sounded sad to me, and it was something with which I could sympathize.

  30. Mamma B says:

    May the Lord grant him blessed repose and eternal memory! ?????? ??????!

  31. Mamma B says:

    oops the comments it did not like the Cyrillic characters! Vichnaya Pamyat!

  32. friarpark says:

    I didn’t know of the anniversary, but quite by coincidence tonight I came across the book mentioned above and ordered one for me and for my pastor. Then I found this article.
    Here is a link to the book:

  33. Phillip says:

    Pope John Paul I was well before my time, but from everything I’ve read and seen of him, he seemed like such a kind and good man. Prayers for the repose of his soul.

  34. bookworm says:

    I was in high school when he was elected and when he died. Perhaps God allowed him to be elected pope simply as a final crowning honor to his life. Did he appoint any bishops during those 33 days? If he did, those bishops would have quite a distinction….

  35. mark says:

    I remember John Paul I – and I have been praying for him. I feel sure that he remains in the hearts of many people – those who knew him, and those who have read his writings and his life story.
    Next year will see the centenary of his birth – 17th October 1912.

  36. Random Friar says:

    From wiki:

    In Italy he is remembered with the appellatives of “Il Papa del Sorriso” (The Smiling Pope)[1] and “Il Sorriso di Dio” (The smile of God).[2] Time magazine and other publications referred to him as The September Pope.

    Another interesting fact: Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad, who was present at his installation, collapsed and died during the ceremony, and the new Pope prayed over him. (!!)

  37. Lori Pieper says:

    More accurately, Metropolitan Nikodim collapsed and died of a heart attack two days after the installation (Sept 5) while in a private audience with the Pope, which Nikodim had very urgently requested. Interestingly, the Pope himself gave Nikodim absolution in Latin, in the Catholic rite – and thereby hangs a tale – which I hope I get a chance to tell in my book on the Pope.

  38. Andrew says:

    I remember in 1978, I was a a schoolboy of 15 years old, when I heard about John Paul I’s death. I had just gotten off the school bus, and come home a minute or two later. In Australia, it was mid afternoon. My mother who let me in first of all asked me how my day went, then heard another news flash on the television. (We still had black and white then!) She said to me, “Andrew, you’re going to be shocked when you hear this news”. And sure enough here it was. The newsreader said, “Word has come from the Vatican, that Pope John Paul I has died”.

    It was an eerie feeling, because it had only been in the previous month that I had experienced my first ever death of a pope, in Paul VI. Now this had happened again.

    I always believed these extraordinary events that happened in Rome in the second half of 1978 were part of God’s plan to bring to the throne of Peter, the first Polish pope in history, in John Paul II.

    I have always found it terribly interesting that the three successors of Paul VI, were all made cardinals by him, and the last of these is Pope Benedict, is the marvelous Vicar of Christ, which we have now. The providence of God is always a remarkable thing to reflect on when one looks back on world events, like now.

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