Pope Benedict XVI's Ash Wednesday mass was moved to St. Peter's Basilica from a small Rome church to let more worshipers say goodbye to him, the Vatican said.
"It's very clear that St. Peter's is a much bigger church than Santa Sabina in Aventino, so for a celebration in which we expect there will be a lot of faithful, bishops and cardinals who wish to be present to pray together with the pope, St. Peter's Basilica was chosen spontaneously," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told the Catholic News Agency.
The Basilica of St. Sabina on Aventine Hill -- one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built -- is a minor basilica. St. Peter's, in Vatican City, is one of only four major basilicas in the world, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic churches. The three others are in Rome.
St. Sabina is the mother church of the Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans.
"It's a natural motive of space, and it's also necessary to bear in mind that this will probably be the last big liturgical celebration, the last mass, presided over by the pope with the cardinals," Lombardi said. "So it's normal that it occurs in his church, in St. Peter's Basilica."
The 85-year-old Benedict announced Monday he would abdicate Feb. 28 -- the first pope in six centuries to do so.
Benedict said he could no long bear the strains of the church's highest office, amid his advanced age and increasing frailty.
Benedict had been scheduled to preside Wednesday over the solemn traditional Lenten Stations of the Cross at the Benedictine Confederation's Sant'Anselmo abbey before celebrating mass at nearby St. Sabina's.
A traditional procession between the abbey and the church was to have included cardinals, archbishops, bishops, Sant'Anselmo monks, St. Sabina friars and lay people singing the litany of the saints.
The pope's last general audience, scheduled for the day before his resignation, also was moved, the Vatican said.
It was originally scheduled to be at the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall, which has a seating capacity of 6,300, but it will now be at St. Peter's Square, which can hold hundreds of thousands.
Benedict is also expected to recite the Angelus from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square two more times before he retires, the Vatican said.
The Angelus is a Christian devotion in memory of the Incarnation, the belief that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity.
Separately, the Vatican Tuesday denied Benedict's decision to step down after an eight-year reign was prompted by a specific health problem, after an Italian newspaper reported the pope underwent secret surgery to replace the batteries in his pacemaker three months ago.
Lombardi confirmed the Il Sole 24 Ore report but said the surgery was standard, uneventful and completely unrelated to Benedict's decision to step down.
"It was a routine replacement of the batteries," he said, declining to give a date for the operation, from which Benedict was reported to have recovered well. "It is absolutely not a relevant procedure."
Benedict has been wearing the pacemaker since before he was elected pope in 2005, Lombardi said.
The pacemaker's existence -- which British newspaper The Guardian said was known to some Vatican observers -- had not been publicly acknowledged before.
Benedict, while serving as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in 1991 and had a pacemaker fitted, Lombardi said.
A hemorrhagic stroke involves a weakened blood vessel that ruptures and bleeds into the brain.
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