Between pope’s death and papal election

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Here is an explanation of some of the terms and practices related to the time between the death of one pope and the election of a new pope.

"Sede vacante"

Dioceses are also called sees. The Latin for "when the see is vacant" is "sede vacante." When a pope dies and the vacant see is the Diocese of Rome, all major church decisions, such as new legislation or the appointment of bishops, stops until a new pope is elected. Only ordinary business and matters which cannot be postponed can be conducted by the College of Cardinals.

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The period between popes is called an interregnum -- between reigns -- even though Pope Paul VI set aside many of the regal trappings of the papacy and references to a papal "reign" gradually fell into disuse since then. Pope Paul had inaugurated his ministry in 1963 with a coronation but then set the papal tiara aside. It was the last time a pope wore the beehive-shaped tiara, a triple crown.

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Latin for a nine-day period of mourning after the death of a pope and the services conducted during that time. In Rome the novendiales began with the pope's funeral, followed by eight days of Masses in St. Peter's Basilica.

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A meeting of cardinals to elect a new pope is a conclave. The word -- from the Latin "cum clave" (with key) -- means under lock and key. In 1268 cardinals couldn't decide on a new pope. After nearly three years the people finally locked them up and cut their rations. The man elected, Pope Gregory X, ordered that in the future cardinals be sequestered from the start, and eventually the practice became normative.

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When the pope died, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, as camerlengo, or chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, verified the pope's death and locked and sealed the papal apartment. Other key jobs are heading a three-member commission that oversees physical preparations for the conclave and heading particular congregations -- formed with three other cardinals chosen by lot -- which handle the administration of the Holy See's property and finances and other day-to-day business until a new pope is elected.

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Dean of the College of Cardinals

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is the current dean. Some of the dean's main jobs are to notify the diplomats at the Vatican and heads of state when the pope dies, call the cardinals to Rome, preside at their daily meetings before the conclave, administer their oath of secrecy, and convene and preside at the conclave.

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Only cardinals under 80 can enter a conclave and vote for a pope. Even if he is retired from other church posts, if a cardinal is under 80 he is considered an active cardinal for the purposes of the conclave. There are currently 117 cardinal-electors, but two of them were too sick to attend the conclave.

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General congregations

When a pope dies, all cardinals under 80 who are able to go to Rome must do so as quickly as possible to attend the general congregations, daily meetings in which the College of Cardinals prepares for a conclave and handles more serious church business that must be attended to between popes. Cardinals over 80 may also participate in these meetings but they are not required to. General congregations end when the cardinals enter into conclave.

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Particular congregations

Between popes, the church's camerlengo and three other cardinals chosen by lot handle the day-to-day business of the Holy See in daily meetings called particular congregations. These continue while the cardinals are in conclave. Every three days three new cardinals are chosen by lot to assist the camerlengo.

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"Extra omnes"

The Latin command, "all outside," orders everyone who is not authorized to be in the Sistine Chapel during the conclave there to leave before the conclave starts.

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Cardinals take two oaths of secrecy not to reveal to anyone anything directly or indirectly related to the election of the pope. The first is taken the first day a cardinal joins a general congregation; the second, at the start of the conclave. The few noncardinals authorized to assist the cardinals while they are in conclave also take an oath of secrecy.

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Three cardinals, chosen by lot at the start of a conclave, to oversee the depositing of the marked, folded ballots for pope into an urn. They shake the urn, count the ballots to assure the number of votes and voters matches, then open each ballot and record and read aloud the name on it. They add the votes cast for each candidate to determine if a pope has been elected and handle the burning of the ballots and any notes taken by cardinals.

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Three cardinals, chosen by lot at the start of a conclave, to oversee conclave balloting by any cardinal-electors who are too ill or infirm to sit through the conclave sessions in the Sistine Chapel. On each ballot, after depositing their votes in an urn, they go together to the sick cardinals with blank ballots and a locked box in which the completed ballots can be placed through a slit. They return to the conclave and deliver the votes.

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Three cardinals, chosen by lot at the start of a conclave, to recount and verify each round of balloting for the election of a pope, whether a pope has been elected on that ballot.

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White smoke, black smoke

The traditional signal, from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, whether a pope has been elected: Black smoke, no; white smoke, yes. The smoke is generated by burning conclave ballots and notes with chemicals to make the smoke the right color. To avoid any possible confusion, the cardinals decided to have white smoke accompanied by ringing bells. (CNS)


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