How does the Papal Conclave work?

On the Conclave

By Christopher Bolton Sr.

Everyone knows or has seen the image of the thousands that gather in St. Peters square, eager to see the rise of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel. This is the signal that a new earthly leader to the Holy Roman Catholic Church has been chosen. So how does that whole process work? What is a conclave? Well simply, it’s a closed room or hall specially set aside and prepared for the cardinals when electing a pope.

On the opening day of the conclave, the Cardinals will meet in the morning for a celebration of the Eucharist and deliberate in the Sistine Chapel later in the afternoon and at some time vote by a secret ballot. "Extra omnes" or "Everyone out”, uttered in Latin, begins the secret selection process of the new pope. All but voting cardinals are expelled from the Sistine Chapel when the vote takes place. It will end with an "Accepto" meaning "I accept”. These are the words that the victorious cardinal utters to confirm the two-thirds majority needed to become pope.

During the election, the cardinals take a solemn oath of secrecy not to communicate with the outside world in any way. The Vatican has even gone so far as to install phone jamming devices under the floor of the Sistine Chapel to insure that mum’s the word.

Each Cardinal is given a ballot and asked to write the name of the candidate on it, fold it twice, take it to the ballot box and say aloud, “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.” When all ballots have been put into the ballot box, each ballot is pierced with a needle through the word Eligo - meaning “select”- and placed on a thread. After the names have been read out loud, the ends of the thread are tied in a knot. If there is a two-thirds majority the voting is over. After the vote there is the burning of the ballots along with any notes that may have been written. If the smoke that rises from the Sistine Chapel is black, no pope has been chosen. When the smoke is white, we have a new pontiff. If there has not been a two-thirds majority after three days, all voting is suspended for one day of prayer and spiritual exhortation. If after seven more ballots without a majority, the process may again pause for reflection, until finally only the two cardinals who received the most votes in the very last ballot are voted on in a runoff election.

How do they get the smoke to be white? The formula has changed over the centuries. Damp straw was used at one time. Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, told the Times that the chemicals in the cartridges were prepared by technicians "from several different elements." So the chemicals that are used to create the black or white smoke remains a mystery.

So who gets to vote in this sacred election? In 1970 Pope Paul VI enacted a rule change that only cardinals who are younger than 80 at the time the papacy become vacant and are eligible to vote. There are 117 Cardinal Electors eligible to vote in the upcoming papal conclave. One of them will succeed Pope Benedict XVI (or rather as his proper title is now, “Pontiff Emeritus”) as Pope.

As soon as the new pope utters the "Accepto", to the election of office, he then gives the name by which he will be known. The cardinals then pledge their allegiance to him and the pope assumes responsibility of governing the Church. The long-standing Tradition holds that the new pope greets all the faithful by appearing in his new robes of office. So we wait in joyful hope to hear the announcement in Latin from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica "Habemus papam" - We have a pope!

Christopher Bolton is a convert to the Catholic Faith and a parishioner of St. Mary's.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please include your name when you comment! We like to know who you are!