Quantcast
Latest Stories

Secret oaths, chants in ritual to choose Pope


VATICAN CITY—It’s a ritual as rich in tradition and symbolism as the Catholic Church can muster: secret oaths, hypnotic Gregorian chants, scarlet-decked cardinals filing through the Sistine Chapel—all while the public outside in St. Peter’s Square watches for white smoke or black to learn if it has a new Pope.

Much of the ritual’s current incarnation is the work of Archbishop Piero Marini.

The Vatican’s master of liturgical celebrations for two decades under Pope John Paul II, Marini organized the funeral rites for the late Pontiff and the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI. He was by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s side minutes after the election when the new Pope uttered the words “I accept”—officially launching his papacy on April 19, 2005.

“I still remember, with some emotion, the silence that there was—the participation of the cardinals,” Marini recalled in an interview in his Vatican offices. “It was an event that had been prepared with great care.”

Next month’s conclave to elect the 266th leader of the world’s billion Catholics will have all the grand trappings of papal elections past—with the added twist that this time around the current Pope is still alive.

Benedict’s resignation, the first papal abdication in 600 years, has caused chaos in the Vatican: Nobody knows for sure what he’ll be called much less what he’ll wear after Feb. 28.

But one thing is clear: The rules and rituals to elect his successor will follow Marini’s “bible” of how to run a conclave—a dense tome of footnoted decrees, floor plans, directions and photos. The book will serve as a guide when 117 cardinals gather in the Sistine Chapel to elect Benedict’s successor.

The Vatican said on Saturday that the Holy See in the coming days or weeks would publish an update to the main apostolic constitution that guides the papal transition with some ceremonial tweaks, perhaps taking into account the influence of Benedict’s more tradition-minded master of liturgical ceremonies who replaced Marini in 2007. But the fundamentals will likely remain.

Vow of secrecy

The conclave begins with the cardinals in their red cassocks filing into the Sistine Chapel, chanting the monophonic Litany of Saints followed by another sacred song, “Veni, Creator Spiritus,” imploring the intervention of the Holy Spirit and saints as they take their places before Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment.”

The cardinals place their hand on the Gospel and promise to observe absolute secrecy both during and after the conclave, and to “never lend support or favor to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention … in the election of the Roman Pontiff.”

While the Vatican is notoriously obsessed with secrecy, there are actually good historical reasons why conclave proceedings are kept quiet and why cardinals promise to vote independently, said Msgr. Robert Wister, professor of Church history at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Up until the early 20th century, papal elections could be vetoed by the kings of France, Spain or the Holy Roman Emperor, Wister noted. The power was rarely invoked but was used in the 1903 conclave to replace Pope Leo XII. Leo’s No. 2, the Vatican’s secretary of state, was in the lead when his election was blocked by Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph.

The eventual winner, Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, took the name Pius X—and promptly abolished the veto power. Still, the memory of outside intervention has continued to weigh over the College of Cardinals, leading them to be sequestered until they have a Pope.

Now they have a Vatican hotel to stay in while not voting, but are forbidden from having any contact with the outside world: no phones, no newspapers, no tweeting.

“There is that fear,” Wister said. “Going back previous centuries, kings did interfere, sometimes with an army.”

Ineligible cardinals

Secrecy under penalty of excommunication also ensures that the winner doesn’t know who among his cardinals voted against him—an important element going forward to keep the Church’s top leadership unified.

“It’s not the Renaissance where he’d be poisoned, but it’s a matter of human respect,” Wister said.

Once the final oath is taken, the master of liturgical ceremonies gives the order “Extra omnes” (everyone out) and all those not taking part in the conclave leave the frescoed walls of the chapel.

An elderly cardinal, over age 80 and thus ineligible to participate, remains and reads a meditation about the qualities a Pope should have and the challenges facing the Church, after which he and the master of ceremonies leave the cardinals to begin voting.

On Day 1, only one round of balloting is taken; after that cardinals cast two votes in the morning, two in the afternoon until they have a victor. A two-thirds majority is necessary.

Each cardinal writes his choice on a paper inscribed with the words “Eligo in summen pontificem,” or “I elect as Supreme Pontiff.” They approach the altar one by one and say: “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 folded ballot is placed on a round plate and slid into an oval urn. After the votes are counted and the outcomes announced, the papers are bound together with a needle and thread, each ballot pierced through the word “Eligo.”

Then they are burned with a chemical to send black smoke (meaning no) or white (meaning yes) out of the Sistine Chapel’s chimney.

All too human 

On April 19, 2005, a stunned Ratzinger accepted the charge and was brought into a side room to change into the white vestments of the papacy. Off came the scarlet cassock; underneath was the simpler black clerical garb of a cardinal.

“Naturally the Pope couldn’t change completely at that moment, so he went out with those black sleeves—we could see his sweater!” Marini recalled. “But even that was a human gesture of how he was dressed as a cardinal.”

Marini accompanied Ratzinger out onto the loggia of the basilica overlooking St. Peter’s Square where a cardinal announced “Habemus Papam” (We have a Pope) to the thousands of people below.

The cardinal announced Ratzinger’s name in Latin, and then Benedict uttered his first public words as Pope, saying he was but a “simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”

Marini noted that that first encounter of the new Pope with his flock traces its history to the ancient tradition that the bishop of Rome is elected by the people.

“This appearance by the Pope on the balcony, the applause and cheers of joy that erupt when he comes out,” he said, “in some way represents the Roman people accepting their Pope.”

It’s one of the potent symbols of a tradition-drenched conclave.

“A religion relies on its customs and practices,” said Msgr. Kevin Irwin, former dean of theology at Catholic University of America and professor of liturgy. “This is not like putting up posters and getting a poll of who is winning. This is an act of God.”


Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: election of pope , Religion , Roman Catholic Church , Vatican




Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. 12 senators on Napoles ‘pork’ list, says Lacson
  2. Save the queen? Aide takes fall for Enrile, Gigi Reyes
  3. Palace prepared to charge its allies
  4. Senator’s kickback from pork bigger than those of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – Lacson
  5. Napoles turnaround alarms whistle-blowers
  6. What Went Before: Malacañang allies alleged involvement in pork scam
  7. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  8. Timeline: Napoles tell-all
  9. HK apology: Why Estrada and not Aquino?
  10. Cedric Lee’s cohort flies out of PH despite look-out order – De Lima
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. 12 senators on Napoles ‘pork’ list, says Lacson
  3. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  4. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  5. Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  6. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  7. Cedric Lee’s cohort flies out of PH despite look-out order – De Lima
  8. Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
  9. Reckless driver endangered lives of Aquino, entourage–report
  10. Lawyer: Napoles ‘will tell all’
  1. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  2. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  3. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. 12 senators on Napoles ‘pork’ list, says Lacson
  8. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  9. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  10. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
Advertisement

News

  • Obama: US will defend Japan vs China
  • Santiago accuses Lacson of fronting for Enrile, Gigi Reyes
  • Name names, Lacson told
  • Ukraine FM: We are ready to fight Russia
  • Slain officer’s ‘diagram’ rocks PNP
  • Sports

  • Sharapova advances to Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • Galedo caps ride of redemption
  • Beermen, Express dispute second semis slot today
  • Lady Agilas upset Lady Bulldogs in four sets
  • NLEX roars to 7th D-League win
  • Lifestyle

  • How Jing Monis Salon gave Krissy the pixie
  • Want to be a supermodel? Work on your inner beauty, says Joey Espino
  • Denims that keep you cool–literally
  • 10 essential summer skin savers
  • Here’s your visual guide to all things cool, hot in summer fashion
  • Entertainment

  • Kristoffer Martin: from thug to gay teen
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Cris Villonco on play adapted from different medium
  • OMB exec’s assurance: We work 24/7
  • Business

  • Bangko Sentral readies new bank lending rules
  • Gaming stocks gain, PSEi eases on profit-taking
  • Cebu Pacific flew 3.74M passengers as of March
  • Corporate bonds sweeteners
  • Professionals in the family business
  • Technology

  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Opinion

  • Editorial Cartoon, April 25, 2014
  • No deal, Janet
  • Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang
  • MERS-CoV and mothers
  • A graduation story
  • Global Nation

  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 American doctors
  • Career diplomat is new PH consul general in Los Angeles
  • US4GG: Aquino should ask Obama for TPS approval, drone technology
  • Complex health care system for California’s elderly and poor explained
  • Tiff with HK over Luneta hostage fiasco finally over
  • Marketplace
    Advertisement