Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of
Antioch, 1st c. A.D
How Popes are Elected
When a Pope dies,1 the
"Cardinal Camerlengo" (Cardinal Chamberlain, known as the "Camerarius"
in Latin) first verifies the death. Traditionally, this is done by
striking the Pope's forehead gently thrice with a silver hammer while
asking him, using his Baptismal name, if he is dead, e.g., "Karol
Wojtyla, are you dead?" When there is no response from the dead Pope,
the Camerlengo solemnly announces his death and removes the Fisherman's
ring from the dead Pope's finger. This ring, along with the papal seal,
are broken, and the Pope's bedroom and study are sealed up. The bronze
doors of St. Peter's Basilica are closed, while its bells toll the
death, and all the bells of Rome join in.
The Camerlengo (who is now in charge of the Church until a new Pope is
elected) arranges the funeral. First, the Pope will lie in state in St.
Peter's Basilica and will then be buried on either the 5th , 6th, or
7th day of the Novenendiales.
There will be a funeral Mass, to and from which his body -- placed in a
cypress coffin -- will be borne by white-gloved "Gentlemen of His
Holiness," lay Italian nobility who are members of families that have
served such purposes throughout History.
His body will be put inside three coffins ultimately:
the first made
of cypress, signifying his humanity
the second of
lead and inscribed with a skull and crossbones. Inside this coffin the
broken papal seal and documents describing his papacy are placed.
the third made
of elm, signifying dignity of the papal office and on which is placed a
plaque indicating his name and the date of his pontificate
He is then
interred in a crypt underneath St. Peter's Basilica. During the
nine-day period of mourning, known as novendiales, that follows the
Pope's funeral a novena of Masses is said.
Most of the dicasteries of the Curia are suspended from operation
during this all this time and until a new Pope is elected; only the
very basic, day to day functions of "the Vatican" are carried out.
Arrangements are made by the Camerlengo to elect a new Pope.
After choosing three assistant Cardinals, the Camerlengo will call a
Conclave which will meet in the Sistine Chapel. The Conclave will
consist of 120 Cardinal electors and takes its name from the Latin
words "cum clave" -- "with a key." This gathering is so-called because
it is conducted under the utmost secrecy, the Cardinals at one time
being literally locked into the Sistine Chapel, where the voting takes
place, until they came to a decision (nowadays they sleep in more
comfortable quarters in the Vatican at night). The election process
must begin between 15 and 20 days after the death. Upon entering the
Conclave, the Cardinals swear an oath of secrecy, the penalties for
breaking being automatic excommunication. The secrecy of the Conclave
is taken so seriously, that the Cardinals cannot communicate with
anyone in the outside world as it goes on, and even windows are painted
over so they can't see out. Newspapers, television, radio -- all are
The Cardinal Dean will read the following oath:
Cardinals of Holy Roman Church, of the Order of Bishops, of Priests and
of Deacons, promise, pledge and swear, as a body and individually, to
observe exactly and faithfully all the norms contained in the Apostolic
Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul
II, and to maintain rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any
way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff or those which, by
their very nature, during the vacancy of the Apostolic See, call for
the same secrecy.
affirms this oath by saying:
And I, N_____
Cardinal N_____ so promise, pledge and swear.
He places his
hand on the Gospels and adds:
So help me God
and these Holy Gospels which I now touch with my hand.
Once in the
Sistine Chapel, another oath is taken. The Cardinal Dean will read the
We, the Cardinal
electors present in this election of the Supreme Pontiff promise,
pledge and swear, as individuals and as a group, to observe faithfully
and scrupulously the prescriptions contained in the Apostolic
Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, Universi Dominici
Gregis, published on 22 February 1996. We likewise promise, pledge and
swear that whichever of us by divine disposition is elected Roman
Pontiff will commit himself faithfully to carrying out the munus
Petrinum of Pastor of the Universal Church and will not fail to affirm
and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and the
liberty of the Holy See. In a particular way, we promise and swear to
observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or
lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the
election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of
the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the
voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way,
either during or after the election of the new Pontiff, unless explicit
authorization is granted by the same Pontiff; and never to lend support
or favour to any interference, opposition or any other form of
intervention, whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree
or any group of people or individuals might wish to intervene in the
election of the Roman Pontiff.
elector will affirm:
And I, N_____
Cardinal N_____, do so promise, pledge and swear.
Placing his hand
on the Gospels, he will add:
So help me God
and these Holy Gospels which I touch with my hand.
electors (who, since Pope Paul VI, must be under the age of 80 to serve
as electors 2) are given paper
ballots inscribed with the words, "Eligo in suumum pontificem" ("I
elect as Supreme Pontiff") with an area for them to write in their
preference. These ballots are placed on the Altar by each Cardinal in
order of seniority. The Cardinal will kneel and say aloud, "I call to
witness the Lord Christ, who will be my judge, that I am electing the
one whom, under God, I think ought to be elected." He then places the
ballot on a paten, slides it into a large chalice, bows to the Altar,
and returns to his seat.
These ballots are read aloud first by the Camerlengo, by each of his
three assistants, and then tallied. When the ballots arrive at the
third assistant, they are bound together by needle and thread. If no
person has received a 2/3 vote, there is another vote. If still no Pope
has been elected, the ballots are burned along with straw so that the
smoke is black; if a Pope has been elected, the paper is burned alone
so that the smoke is white. Crowds and media personnel gather at the
Vatican to watch for those black or white smoke signals as they are the
only way for the Conclave to communicate with the outside world until
an official announcement of an election is made.
If after voting for three days, no Pope has been elected, a day is
taken to rest, pray, and discuss. When voting is resumed, if seven more
days pass with no decision being made, another day of rest and prayer
is taken. Another series of seven ballots is held, followed by another
day of rest and prayer, if necessary. Then again, another series of
seven ballots is held. At this point, if still no Pope is elected, they
may elect a Pope by absolute majority (i.e., 50%+1 instead of the 2/3
majority) or decide to vote only on the two candidates who ranked first
and second in the most recent tally (this, too, is a novelty).
Once a Pope is elected, the elected person is asked by the Cardinal
Do you accept
your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?
He is then
By what name do
you wish to be called?
If he accepts,
he becomes Pope and goes to a room called "The Room of Tears" to be
vested in white soutane. The room is called this because so many new
Popes break down and weep as they ponder the enormity of the sacred
responsibilites they have assumed. Spiritual father to a billion
Catholics! Shepherd of souls! Vicar of Christ!
Once a Pope is chosen and the white smoke appears from the Vatican
chimney, the bells of St. Peter peal wildly. Then the new Pope is
introduced to the world with the words, spoken by the senior
Cardinal Deacon 3:
gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam. Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum
Dominum, Dominum ___ Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem___ qui sibi
nomen imposuit ___.
(I announce to you a great joy. We have a Pope. The most eminent and
reverend Lord, the Lord ___ Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church ___ who takes
to himself the name ___.)
(You can hear
this announcement at the 42:33 mark in the video below)
The new Pope
goes to the balcony to impart an Apostolic blessing "Urbi et Orbi"
(which means "For the City and the World"), and the crowd cheers "Viva
il Papa!" ("Long live the Pope!").
A few days later, the first Papal Mass will be held at St.
Peter's. On the way to the Altar, the procession stops three times and,
at each, a piece of flax mounted on a reed is burned. As the flames
die, the Pope hears the words, "Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi"
("Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world") to remind him that
he is, indeed, a man, a mere mortal.
Note: Any Catholic man can become Pope, whether he is a priest or not,
but most times, the new Pope will come from the Cardinalate and has
long been considered "papabile" (able and likely enough to be elected
The Election of Pope Benedict XVI Fox News, April 19,
Footnote: 1Just a little cultural
side-note: there's a monument to Pope Sylvester II (A.D. 950 - 1003) in
the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. Before a Pope dies, this
monument is said to "cry" -- its marble said to moisten or "sweat."
2 In my opinion,
arranging things such that no Cardinal over the age of 80 could elect a
Pope was done to keep the then-Traditional older Cardinals from having
a say. This rule, however, might
come back to haunt the liberals; the younger seminarians of today are
much more conservative than those of the last few previous
generations, and if they have the intelligence and fortitude to learn
what has not been taught to them and to proclaim Tradition, the rule
might serve its opposite intended effect.
"Cardinal Deacons" originally were members of the Roman
Curia, theologians especially honored by the Pope, deacons who assist
in the papal household, and the deacons who administer to the Roman
dioceses. They were not members of the electing College of Cardinals.