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Archive for Sunday, April 3, 2005

Tradition dictates mourning, succession

April 3, 2005

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With the death of Pope John Paul II, a centuries-old tradition of mourning and succession begins.

After the pope's death is certified, the cardinal camerlengo, or chamberlain, ritually calls John Paul's baptismal name, Karol, three times to confirm that he cannot respond.

The papal apartment is sealed until a successor is named and takes possession of it. John Paul's ring and seal are broken to signify the end of his reign. No autopsy is performed.

Vatican flags are lowered to half-staff, and the Bronze Door at St. Peter's Basilica is closed.

The pope's body lies in state in the Clementine Chapel in St. Peter's Basilica, probably beginning Monday.

Four to six days after his death, a funeral will be held at the basilica or St. Peter's Square. That begins nine consecutive days of Masses.

The conclave to elect a successor will most likely commence 15 days after the pontiff's passing. The meeting of 117 cardinal electors can be delayed for as many as five additional days in an emergency.

The first vote for a new pope is taken on the first afternoon of the conclave in the Sistine Chapel, with a two-thirds-plus-one vote needed to elect a successor.

In 1996, John Paul amended the rules to prevent a long deadlock: If no one achieves a two-thirds majority after four rounds, a pope may then be elected from between the top two contenders by a simple majority.


















During the process, the cardinals are either locked inside the Sistine Chapel or in lodgings at a nearby hotel-style facility in Vatican City. They do not have access to the outside world.

Most conclaves last only a few days, but there have been some exceptions. In the 13th century, it took nearly three years to select Gregory X and 1 1/2 years to elect Innocent IV. In 1831, it took 53 days to name Gregory XVI.

During the conclave, the ballots are twice daily mixed with substances and burned to produce either white or black smoke. Black smoke coming from the Sistine Chapel chimney signifies that the cardinals have not yet found a new pontiff. White smoke means there is a new pope.

Within hours of election, the new pontiff will select his papal name and be announced from the balcony of the basilica to the crowd in St. Peter's Square. The senior cardinal deacon will declare, "Habemus papam!" (We have a pope). The pontiff will then give his first blessing.

A few days later, an inauguration Mass will be held.

The entire process, from the death of the pope to the naming of his successor, usually takes three to four weeks.

Popes of the 20th century

  • Leo XIII, served from Feb. 20, 1878-July 20, 1903.
  • Pius X, served from Aug. 4, 1903-Aug. 20, 1914.
  • Benedict XV, served from Sept. 3, 1914-Jan. 22, 1922.
  • Pius XI, served from Feb. 6, 1922-Feb. 10, 1939.
  • Pius XII, served from March 2, 1939-Oct. 9, 1958.
  • John XXIII, served from Oct. 28, 1958-June 3, 1963.
  • Paul VI, served from June 21, 1963-Aug. 6, 1978.
  • John Paul I, served from Aug. 26-Sept. 28, 1978.
  • John Paul II, served from Oct. 16, 1978-April 2, 2005.

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