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What Happens Behind the Scenes of a Papal Election? (3012)

After white smoke issues from the Sistine Chapel chimney, a number of formalities are observed before the new Pope appears on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

03/13/2013 Comments (1)

VATICAN CITY — The span of time between being elected pope and appearing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica is about 45 minutes. But what exactly happens in that time?

Right after the name of the new pope is being read out loud in the Sistine Chapel, the junior Cardinal James Harvey, the junior cardinal deacon, will summon the secretary of the College of Electors and the master of papal liturgical ceremonies back to the Sistine Chapel.

The acting dean, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, will then — in the name of the whole College of Electors — ask the consent of the newly elected with the words: “Do you accept our canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?”

Having received his assent, Cardinal Re will continue: “By what name do you wish to be called?” This is the choice of the new Pope alone (all cardinals will have chosen a name just in case), and he declares the name he wishes to assume during his pontificate.

A document will then be drawn up, certifying the new Pope's acceptance and the name he wishes to assume as Roman Pontiff. Msgr. Guido Marini, the master of liturgical ceremonies, acts as notary in this formality, and the two masters of ceremonies act as witnesses.

At this very moment, the newly elected cardinal is immediately Bishop of Rome, true Pope and head of the College of Bishops, and he acquires full and supreme authority over the universal Church. White smoke will appear in St. Peter's Square, the bells of the basilica will ring out across Rome.

The new Pope, accompanied by Msgr. Marini and some assistants, will then enter the “Room of Tears,” a small, simple room situated immediately behind Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. There, they will help him to divest his scarlet robes and don the traditional white vesture of a pope.

Three sizes of soutane (cassock), large, medium and small, and made by the famous local Gammarelli vestment makers, will be waiting for him. Each can be rapidly adjusted to meet his personal requirements. In addition, he will be attired in the traditional white moiré silk fascia and skull cap, the lace rochet (surplice), a crimson silk mozzetta (a sort of shoulder cape), red morocco leather slippers and an elaborate gold-embroidered red-velvet stole.

A short ceremony will then take place in which, one by one in order of rank, the electors pay homage and obedience to the new Pope, followed by a solemn act of thanksgiving to God, intoning the Latin hymn Te Deum, the traditional hymn giving thanks to God.

The cardinals will process outside of the chapel, while the Pope is taken to the loggia of St. Peter’s to be presented to the people. But before he arrives, a new procedure will be added at this election: He will stop for a brief moment for personal prayer and adoration in the Pauline Chapel.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal deacon, will then announce from the central balcony of St. Peter’s that a canonical election has taken place and proclaim the identity of the newly electrd and the pontifical name he intends to adopt. This proclamation is made using the Latin formula: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam. Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum N. Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem N., qui sibi nomen imposuit N.”

This means: “I announce a great joy to you; we have a Pope! The most Eminent and most Reverend Lord, the Lord N. (baptismal name) Cardinal N. (surname) of the Holy Roman Church, who has taken the name of N. (his choice of pontifical name).”

The new Pope will then make his appearance on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and impart from there the first apostolic blessing urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and to the world).

At this moment, the Church’s 75th conclave will be over; the Holy See is no longer vacant, and the Church’s 266th Successor of Peter will have begun his pontificate.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Filed under catholic church, conclave, papacy