Cardinal Angelo Comastri puts ash on Pope Benedict XVI's head during the celebration of Ash Wednesday mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a solemn period of 40 days of prayer and self-denial leading up to Easter. Pope Benedict XVI told thousands of faithful Wednesday that he was resigning for "the good of the church", an extraordinary scene of a pope explaining himself to his flock that unfolded in his first appearance since dropping the bombshell announcement. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict has celebrated his final public Mass as pontiff.
He presided over Ash Wednesday services at St. Peter's Basilica.
The retiring 85-year-old pope was wheeled down the central aisle as a choir sang, preceded by dozens of cardinals.
In his homily, Benedict referred to his pending Feb. 28 resignation and asked for prayers.
At the end of the Mass, the pope's longtime deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (tahr-CHEE'-see-oh behr-TOH'-nay), thanked him for being an example of a "simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord." Those were the words Benedict himself used when he was elected pope in April 2005.
As the pope made his exit, the basilica erupted in a standing ovation.
Earlier in the day, during his weekly catechism lesson, the pope explained why he had broken with 600 years of tradition and decided to retire, saying he was doing so "for the good of the church."