Today will be a day of “lasts.” Overnight, people held a candlelight vigil to mark Benedict’s last night sleeping in the papal quarters. This morning, he had an audience with the cardinals who would normally have gathered to pay their last respects and bury him. Instead, they each wished him well, and then will turn to the task of choosing his successor.
And later today, the Papal signet ring–the annulus piscatoris–will be smashed using a silver hammer. In keeping with ancient tradition, this is to prevent documents from being forged after the pope’s death, since that was the point of a signet ring: to seal a document.
It hasn’t been used for this function since the 19th century (a stamp and red ink serve the same purpose), and indeed some recent popes haven’t worn the signet. Benedict did, showing the traditional image of Peter the fisher of men, casting his nets from a boat.
This is Peter, who Jesus ordered to “put out into deep water.” That deep water is where the danger is for a fisherman. It’s also where the fish are. As Thomas Aquinas noted, if the highest aim of a captain was to keep his ship safe, he’d keep in the harbor. But that’s not what ships–or the barque of Peter–are built for.