On Monday, February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, becoming the first pope to do so since Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
His resignation is not effective until the end of February, but the two questions on everyone’s mind are: 1) What happens now? 2) Who will be the next pope?
I’m not going to speculate on the latter, but I would like to give you a brief overview of what will be happening in the next few weeks following his resignation (or at least what we expect to happen):
- To start the process, the cardinals of the Church (the senior ecclesiastical officials appointed by the Pope) will meet in what is called a “General Congregation.” This meeting will be held daily and is where the logistics of conclave (see below) are decided: the time and date for its beginning and the selection of two clerics “known for their sound doctrine, wisdom and moral authority” to address the cardinals on the state of the church. These speeches, knowns as de eligendo pontifice are the only discussion of the succession in the large group. The first is speech occurs during a meetins of the General Congregation, the second on the first afternoon of conclave. Before conclave begins, the cardinals will meet informally (either one-on-one or in groups) to discuss a issues facing the church and the cardinals who might be elected to the papacy.
- Conclave begins with a Mass Pro Eligendo Papa (“for electing the pope”). This mass, celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica, is the last public event before the election begins. That afternoon, the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel and take an oath of secrecy.
- Guided by the Holy Spirit, cardinals elect by ballot: traditionally once that fist afternoon, then two in the morning and two in the afternoon everyday until a candidate is elected (having obtained a two-thirds majority).
- Twice a day, the conclave signals the people with smoke (in the late morning and the early evening). Black smoke indicates that no pope has been elected, and white signifies that a pope has been chosen.
- Once a candidate is elected, he is asked by the dean of the College of Cardinals: “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?” The candidate accepts and begins his role as pope by responding: “I accept.”
- The announcement is made by the senior cardinal deacon from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica:
- “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus papam.” (“I have news of great joy! We have a pope.”)
- “Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum Cardinalem Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae [insert the cardinal's name in Latin] qui sibi nomen imposuit [insert the name chosen by the new pope].” (“The most eminent and most reverend lord cardinal of the Holy Roman church [cardinal's name]has taken upon himself the name [his chosen name].”)
- The new pope steps onto the balcony and delivers his first message to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square and to the world.
CONCLAVE -The word literally means “with key” and refers to the fact that during the process, the cardinals were locked in the Sistine Chapel and adjoining buildings. However, in 1996, John Paul II approved new rules that allow the cardinal-electors more comfortable accommodations: they now stay in a guesthouse within the Vatican and travel by bus to and from the Sistine Chapel (where the voting takes place beneath Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment).
The two-thirds majority was actually changed to a simple majority by John Paul II in 1996. However, after Benedict XVI was elected (by simple majority), he changed the rule back to requiring a two-thirds majority.
Over these next few weeks, join with the Church around the world as we pray for our soon-to-be-elected Pope.
As for the second question, I’ll let you weigh in. Who do you think will be elected?