A Day in the Life of the Conclave

Secrecy, and Lots of Prayer

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 18, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Personal and community prayer, ballots and a retreatlike atmosphere are the characteristics of the conclave that 115 cardinal electors are holding to elect a new pope.

Joaquín Navarro Valls, director of the Vatican press office, confirmed that the cardinals moved into the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse, on Sunday afternoon and dined together in the evening.

They will reside in this House for the duration of the election. This afternoon they processed to the Sistine Chapel, where the voting will take place.

By the authority of the cardinal chamberlain and with the outside assistance of the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, the guesthouse and the chapels used for liturgical celebrations and the Sistine Chapel “are to be closed to unauthorized persons” from “the beginning of the electoral process until the public announcement that the election of the Supreme Pontiff has taken place, or in any case until the new Pope so disposes,” states John Paul II’s 1996 apostolic constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” (UDG).

That document contains the norms on the election of a Roman pontiff.

The apostolic constitution also stipulates that no one must approach “the Cardinal electors while they are being transported from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Apostolic Vatican Palace.”

The cardinal electors will be able to walk or take a bus on the road behind the Vatican basilica.

All points of access to St. Damasus’ courtyard will be sealed off. Tourists will not be able to go up to the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica or go into the Vatican Gardens, although pilgrims will be able to visit John Paul II’s tomb during the hours of opening of the Vatican Grottoes.

The isolation of the cardinals during the conclave and the observance of secrecy in regard to all that concerns the election is to protect the electors “from the indiscretion of others and from possible threats to their independence of judgment and freedom of decision,” states UDG, No. 61.

Moreover, in the apostolic constitution John Paul II stated: “I absolutely forbid” the introduction “of technical instruments of any kind for the recording, reproducing or transmitting of sound, visual images or writing” (UDG, No. 61).

The cardinals’ seclusion guarantees their “resulting concentration which an act so vital to the whole Church requires of the electors,” according to the UDG’s introduction.

UDG specifies the settings where the conclave is to be held, limits their access and the persons who may have contact with the electors, establishes the oaths to be taken to maintain secrecy on all aspects of the election, and stipulates the communications that may be given or received during that time.

While the conclave is in session, personal and office needs related to the election process will be attended to, within the established limits, by a number of people.

These include the secretary of the College of Cardinals; the master of pontifical liturgical celebrations with two aides and two religious attached to the Pontifical Sacristy; an ecclesiastic chosen by the cardinal dean to help him in his task; some religious of several languages for confessions; doctors and male nurses; and a sufficient number of persons involved in dining room service and cleaning; those involved with the transportation of the electors from the Domus Sanctae Marthae and the Apostolic Palace; elevator operators in this area; technical services’ staff; and priests who help some cardinal electors.

The latter, for their part, must abstain from all forms of correspondence with persons not connected with the conclave — except for very serious and urgent reasons recognized by the cardinals’ Particular Congregation and spelled out in UDG, Nos. 44 and 56. They may not receive the press, listen to the radio, or watch television broadcasts.

“In particular,” says UDG, No. 59, “the Cardinal electors are forbidden to reveal to any other person, directly or indirectly, information about the voting and about matters discussed or decided concerning the election of the Pope in the meetings of Cardinals, both before and during the time of the election. This obligation of secrecy also applies to the Cardinals who are not electors but who take part in the General Congregations in accordance with No. 7 of the present Constitution.”

During the conclave the cardinals will celebrate or concelebrate Mass at 7:30 a.m. in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and at 9 a.m. they will enter the Sistine Chapel.

In the latter, under the guidance of the master of pontifical liturgical celebrations, they will pray lauds from the Liturgy of Hours, with voting taking place immediately after. There will be two ballots in the morning and two in the afternoon. The latter will begin at 4 p.m., at the end of which vespers will be prayed.

The “Ordo Rituum Conclavis” (Rites of the Conclave) indicates that before the voting and ballots, the cardinal electors must hear the Word of God and pray fervently to the Lord.

It suggests several readings, including 1 Corinthians 10-13; Romans 8:26-27; and 1 Peter 1:16-19. It also proposes different prayers of invocation and supplication to the Holy Spirit.

During the voting the cardinal electors will remain alone in the Sistine Chapel. At the end of the morning and afternoon voting, and before they leave the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals’ slips of paper and notes will be incinerated in the stove installed inside the premises.

The Vatican spokesman said that smoke might emit from the chimney around noon and 7 p.m. Black smoke indicates an election has not taken place. White smoke will indicate the success of the election. In that case, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica will ring at the same time.

The only valid way to elect the Roman Pontiff is by secret ballot. Two-thirds of the votes are required, calculated on the totality of the electors present — two-thirds plus one if the number of cardinals cannot be divided in three equal parts — for the validity of a papal election. That means a minimum of 77 votes out of 115 electors.

If there is no positive result in three days (with two ballots in the morning and two in the afternoon), there will be a one-day pause for prayer and free discussions among the voters and a brief spiritual exhortation.

Voting would begin again in three rounds of seven ballots each, between which there would again be pauses for reflection.

After 34 votes, a majority of cardinal electors could agree to lower the two-thirds requirement to a simple majority.

Each cardinal elector must write clearly but with handwriting that does not identify the author, the name of his choice on a rectangular slip of paper, so that it can be folded in half.

On the upper half, the words “Eligo in Summum Pontificem” (I elect as Supreme Pontiff) are printed.

By order of precedence, each cardinal will carry the slip of paper, in a visible way, to the altar. There, each will pronounce in a loud voice the following oath formula: “I place as my witness the Lord Christ, who will judge me, that I give my vote to the one who, in the presence of God, I believe should be elected.”

Then each will deposit his slip of paper in a plate and use the latter to introduce it in the urn.

Each session of the election will close with a brief act of thanksgiving — “We thank you for all your benefits, Almighty God. You who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen” — and with an invocation to the Virgin Mary, according to the texts of the Rites of the Conclave.

The conclave is not over with the positive result of the election — validly held — but rather “immediately after the new Supreme Pontiff assents to his election, unless he should determine otherwise,” state UDG, No. 91.

From that moment the new pope can be approached by the substitute of the Vatican Se
cretariat of State, the secretary for relations with states, the prefect of the Pontifical Household and by anyone else needing to discuss with him matters of importance at the time.

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