Habemus Datam – Conclave Starts Tuesday
Related just before 6pm in Rome – an hour ahead of schedule – the decision by the College of Cardinals emerged toward the end of this fifth day of General Congregations, little more than 24 hours after the last of the 115 electors who'll participate arrived at the Vatican.
While the governing meetings – which have been attempting to shape the desired "profile" of the next Pope – will continue at least into tomorrow, the appointed day for the voting will begin with the Mass Pro Eligendo Pontifice (for the Election of the Roman Pontiff) concelebrated by all the cardinals at midmorning in St Peter's Basilica.
Then, late Tuesday afternoon, the electors will gather in the Pauline Chapel, processing from there into the Sistina as the Litany of the Saints is chanted.
Following the oath taken by each voter, the traditional "Extra omnes" – "Everybody out" – is sounded, the chapel's doors are locked, and the first ballot is taken; only then, as Cardinal Francis George of Chicago recently said, does "what everybody really thinks" become clear.
Over the subsequent days, two ballots are taken each morning and two more in the late afternoon until a cardinal attains the required two-thirds margin (in this instance, 77 votes) and accepts his election. Should the 266th Pope not be chosen after three full voting days, the process is halted for a day of talks and reflection.
Especially given the lack of a papal funeral and a longer-than-usual timeframe for the electors to prepare, the Conclave is not expected to last longer than three full days. In addition, a protracted vote will likely be avoided as it would subject the new Pope to the impression of having been a "compromise" choice.
As agreed to, the schedule gives the majority of the electors who head the world's dioceses the near-certain ability to be home in time for Holy Week – the most significant and intense period of the church year – which had been a prominent concern among the cardinals in the days leading up to the decision.
Accordingly, the widespread projection and hope has been that the last de rigeur event for the College to attend – the new pontiff's first public Mass to inaugurate his Petrine ministry – will, at the latest, take place on the 19th's solemnity of St Joseph, the patron of the universal church.
The ability for the cardinals to begin the election earlier than the traditional 15-day period from the triggering of the vacancy was provided for in a last-minute motu proprio Benedict issued before his 28 February resignation. The move could only be taken, however, once every elector who intended to participate had arrived, and only then by a majority vote favoring an expedited timeline.
An extension from the prior 10-day wait, the 15-day norm had been introduced after the Conclave of 1922, when several American cardinals crossing the Atlantic by ship failed to arrive before Pope Pius XI was elected.
Over the pre-vote weekend, meanwhile, in an unusual move agreed among the College, the cardinals will each celebrate Sunday Mass in their respective titular churches, the honorary pastorates of which are the source of their millennium-old prerogative to elect the next bishop of Rome.
Lastly, on two timing notes, first it bears reminding that as the US' shift to daylight savings this weekend doesn't occur in Italy until the end of the month, all Stateside time-zones will be an hour closer to Rome time for the events.
And indeed, as many have asked, the experience of the past has been that the Sistine chimney communicates the result of the balloting sessions at some point around Noon and 6pm Vatican time.
PHOTO: Getty File