What to Expect When Conclave Begins

At the end of a press conference this weekend, the Vatican released a more detailed schedule of the Conclave, complete with what procedures are in place in the event that a pope is not selected within 11 days.

According to the Vatican Information Service (VIS), the Conclave will officially begin on Tuesday, March 12, at 3:45 p.m. when the cardinals will move from their residences in the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Pauline Chapel in the Apostolic Palace. At 4:30pm, they will process from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel and, after they have all taken the oath, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations will give the order “Extra omnes” (everyone out) for all those not taking part in the Conclave to leave the Sistine Chapel.

The chapel has been closed to visitors for several days now as arrangements are made to prepare the space for the election. The VIS reports that the Cardinal-electors will sit around the altar on 115 cherry wood chairs, each engraved with the name of the cardinal who will occupy it. These chairs will surround 12 wooden tables covered in beige and bordeaux fabric where the cardinals will prepare their ballots. They will cast their votes in front of Michelangelo’s fresco of “The Last Judgment” on the wall of the altar.

Two chimneys have been installed in the chapel to emit the famous smoke signals that will ultimately inform the world of the election of a new pope. The first of the two iron stoves that are connected to the chimneys was cast in 1938 and contains the dates of the five Conclaves it has been used in etched upon it—from the one electing Pius XII in 1939 until the latest, in 2005, when Cardinal Ratzinger became Benedict XVI. This  older oven is used to burn the balloting papers.

The second stove, a more modern one equipped with an electronic device, will add the chemicals to produce the black or white smoke indicating the result of the voting until the election occurs.

Once the Cardinals have taken their seats tomorrow, they will hear a meditation concerning the grave duty incumbent upon them and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the Universal Church, after which they will proceed to the first vote. At 7:00pm they will pray Vespers and, at 7:30pm, will return to the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Beginning on Wednesday, March 13, the cardinals will move from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Pauline Chapel at 7:45am where, at 8:15am, they will celebrate Mass. At 9:30am they will enter the Sistine Chapel, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and proceed to the voting process. Around 12:00 noon they will return to the Domus Sanctae Marthae and, after lunch there, will go back to the Sistine Chapel at 4:00pm where they will pray briefly and resume the voting procedure until 7:00pm.

Since there are two votes each morning and afternoon, Fr. Lombardi stated that the ‘fumata’ (smoke signaling the election or non-election of a pontiff) that is produced from the burning of the ballots from those two voting processes could be expected around 12:00 noon, in the case of the morning, or 7:00 pm, in the case of the evening.

Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, also outlined the procedure in the case that a pontiff is not elected in the first four days of voting. In such an instance the cardinals will take a pause on the fifth day in order to pray, speak freely among themselves, and listen to a brief exhortation given by the senior cardinal in the Order of Deacons.

This will become the new procedure with two days of voting followed by a third day devoted to prayer—until the 34th vote on the afternoon of the eleventh day.

If a pope is still not selected, the rules state that if, after 11 days, a pope is still not elected, the rules state that ” . . . only the two names which received the greatest number of votes in the previous scrutiny, will have passive voice. There can be no waiving of the requirement that, in these ballots too, for a valid election to take place there must be a clear majority of at least two thirds of the votes of the Cardinals present and voting. In these ballots the two names having passive voice do not have active voice.” That is, the two candidates with the greatest number of votes will be voted for and cannot themselves cast a vote.

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