BY FREDDY GRAY
MORE THAN one billion people are expected to watch the funeral of Pope John Paul II on television today.
With at least two million pilgrims arriving in Rome to honour the dead Pontiff, the service is expected to be the greatest funeral in modern times.
Weather permitting, the Requiem Mass will be held in St Peter’s Square in order to accommodate the enormous crowd.
Most members of the College of Cardinals will participate in the ceremony. For John Paul I’s funeral – the last papal burial – 92 of the 127 cardinals took part.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, will preside over the Mass. The funeral service is expected to last two-and-a-half hours. Some parts of the ceremony are particular to a papal funeral. For example, the Swiss Guards will kneel for the consecration of the host, dipping their halberds with their right hand and saluting with their left.
As the Pope’s body is carried into St Peter’s Basilica, a 10-ton bell will ring out. The Pope’s cypress-wood coffin will be encased inside a lead box, which in turn is put inside an outer coffin.
After the funeral, the cardinals will turn their attention towards the conclave – the meeting in which the Pope’s successor is chosen. The conclave must begin between April 17 and April 22. As The Catholic Herald went to press, the exact date had not been fixed.
On the morning of the appointed day, a votive Mass is celebrated to invoke the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit in the process of choosing the next Pope. The cardinals then file from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel. The maximum number of cardinal electors in any conclave is 120. Cardinals above the age of 80 are not entitled to vote. For this election, 117 of the world’s 183 cardinals will play a part. Only three of these men have ever elected a Pope before.
According to conclave rules established by Pope John Paul II in 1996, the Sistine Chapel must be thoroughly searched to ensure that no electronic recording devices have been installed. But experts in espionage believe that sophisticated “bugs” could pick up the conversation from outside the Vatican. Every effort is made to ensure that the cardinals are completely cut off from the outside world. The electors are forbidden to read newspapers, listen to the radio or watch television.
Once inside the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals will swear an oath to follow the rules of procedure as laid down by Pope John Paul.
All non-electors must exit the chapel so that the conclave can officially begin.
Assuming there is time, one ballot should be held on the afternoon of the first day. In the following days, there will be two ballots each morning and two more in the afternoon. Each ballot has three phases: prescrutiny, scrutiny proper, and postscrutiny. In the first stage, every cardinal is given two or three ballot forms. These are rectangular slips of paper, with the words Eligo in summum pontificem (I elect as Supreme Pontiff) printed across the top, and a space below where the candidate’s name is written.
Cardinal Attilio Nicora, junior Cardinal Deacon, will then draw lots to select three cardinal scrutineers, whose duty is to count the ballots, and three cardinal revisers, who must supervise the work of the scrutineers.
During the scrutiny proper, each elector must write the name of only one candidate on his ballot. Handwriting should be disguised as much as possible in order to preserve anonymity in the voting.
The cardinals approach the altar, kneel for a brief moment of prayer and then say in Latin: “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.” The votes are put into a large chalice. The scrutineers then count the votes. If there is any irregularity in the voting process all the slips are burned and the ballot is declared null and void.
Traditionally, a candidate must receive two-thirds of the vote to become the new pope. Yet under a proviso introduced by the Pope in 1996, this majority can be reduced. If the cardinals fail to elect a new pontiff after 30 ballots or 12 days, a majority in the conclave can change the rules to mean that a candidate only needs 50 per cent plus one of the votes.
Vatican observers speculate that this alteration means a determined bloc of voters could push through their preferred candidate by waiting until they can change the rules and then electing the man they want.
After an inconclusive ballot, the voting slips are burned along with some chemical substance, and thick black smoke curls out from the tall metallic chimney at the gable-end of the Sistine chapel.
On the other hand, if the necessary majority has been reached, only the ballot forms are burned and a thin plume of white smoke rises out of the chimney. This is the first signal to the outside world that a pope has been chosen. Also, for the first time, the bells of St Peter’s will ring to declare the election of a pope.
Inside the chapel, the election is greeted with a round of applause. Cardinal Nicora summons the secretary of the College of Cardinals, Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, and the master of papal liturgical cele brations, Archbishop Piero Marini.
Cardinal Ratzinger, as Dean of the College of Cardinals, will ask the newly-elected pontiff if he accepts his appointment. From the moment the new Pope utters the word “Accepto” he officially becomes the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.
A few prelates have in the past refused the office of Pope. For example, the famous CounterReformation saint, Charles Borromeo (1538-84), turned down the position.
However, Pope John Paul II urged his successor not to hesitate. “I also ask the one who is elected not to refuse, for fear of its weight, the office to which he has been called, but to humbly submit to divine will,” he wrote in his 1996 Apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis. “God, who imposes the burden, will sustain him with his hand, so that he will be able to bear it.” The newly-elected Pope usually says a few words to the cardinals. In 1978, John Paul I, having accepted the office, turned to his electors and joked: “May God forgive you for what you have done.” The Dean will then ask then ask the new Pope which name he has chosen for his Pontificate.
After various formalities, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, the senior Cardinal deacon, steps out onto the balcony and pronounces the famous words: “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum” – I announce to you news of great joy – “Habemus Papam” – we have a pope. He will then reveal the identity of the new Pontiff.
After a few moments, the chosen man will appear on the same balcony and greet the world’s one billion Catholics as their new spiritual leader with an address first to the city of Rome and then to the world.
After this greeting, the new Pope will probably return to the conclave for a meal with his cardinals.
In 1963, Paul VI returned to the seat he occupied during the conclave meals rather than sitting in a place of honour. In 1978, Pope John Paul II uncorked a bottle of champagne and moved around the room topping up the cardinals’ flutes. He sang Polish songs with Cardinals Stefan Wyszynski of Warsaw and John Krol of Philadelphia.