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In the beginning the cardinals hear two sermons before the election: one before actually entering the conclave, and one once they are settled in the Sistine Chapel. In both cases, the sermons are meant to lay out the current state of the Church, and to suggest the qualities necessary for a pope to possess in that specific time.

On the morning of the day designated by the Congregations of Cardinals, the cardinal electors assemble (PRE-DD in St Peter's Basilica) to celebrate the Eucharist. Then, they gather in the afternoon (PRE-DD in the Pauline Chapel of the Palace of the Vatican), proceeding to (PRE-DD in the Sistine Chapel) while singing the Veni Creator Spiritus. The Cardinals then take an oath to observe the procedures set down by the apostolic constitutions; to, if elected, defend the liberty of the Holy See; to maintain secrecy; and to disregard the instructions of secular authorities on voting. The Cardinal Dean reads the oath aloud in full; in order of precedence, the other cardinal electors merely state, while touching the Gospels, that they "do so promise, pledge and swear.”

After all the cardinals present have taken the oath, the Master of the Papal Liturgical Celebrations orders all individuals other than the cardinals and conclave participants to leave the Chapel—traditionally, he stands at the door of the Sistine Chapel and calls out or states "Extra omnes", Latin for, roughly, "Everybody else, out!" He then closes the door.

The Master himself may remain, as may one ecclesiastic designated by the Congregations prior to the commencement of the election. The ecclesiastic makes a speech concerning the problems facing the Church and on the qualities the new Pope needs to have. After the speech concludes, the ecclesiastic leaves. Following the recitation of prayers, the Cardinal Dean asks if any doubts relating to procedure remain. After the clarification of the doubts, the election may commence. Cardinals who arrive after the conclave has begun are admitted nevertheless. An ill cardinal may leave the conclave and later be readmitted; a cardinal who leaves for any reason other than illness may not return to the conclave.

Each cardinal elector may be accompanied by two attendants or conclavists (three if the cardinal elector is ill). The Secretary of the College of Cardinals, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, two Masters of Ceremonies, two officers of the Papal Sacristy and an ecclesiastic assisting the Dean of the College of Cardinals are also admitted to the conclave. Priests are available to hear confessions in different languages; two doctors are also admitted. Finally, a strictly limited number of servant staff are permitted for housekeeping and the preparing and serving of meals. Secrecy is maintained during the conclave; the cardinals as well as the conclavists and staff are not permitted to disclose any information relating to the election. Cardinal electors may not correspond or converse with anyone outside the conclave, by post, radio, telephone or otherwise and eavesdropping is an offense punishable by excommunication latae sententiae—in fact, before the conclave Chapel of Election was "swept" using the latest electronic devices to detect any hidden "bugs" or surveillance devices (there were no reports that any were found, but in previous conclaves there were discovered press reporters who had disguised themselves as conclave servants). Universi Dominici Gregis specifically prohibits media such as newspapers, the radio, and television.


On the afternoon of the first day, one ballot may be held. If a ballot takes place on the afternoon of the first day and no-one is elected, or no ballot had taken place, four ballots are held on each successive day: two in each morning and two in each afternoon. Before voting in the morning and again before voting in the afternoon, the electors take an oath to obey the rules of the conclave. If no result is obtained after three vote days of balloting, the process is suspended for a maximum of one day for prayer and an address by the senior Cardinal Deacon. After seven further ballots, the process may again be similarly suspended, with the address now being delivered by the senior Cardinal Priest. If, after another seven ballots, no result is achieved, voting is suspended once more, the address being delivered by the senior Cardinal Bishop. After a further seven ballots, there shall be a day of prayer, reflection and dialogue. In the following ballots, only the two Cardinals who received the most votes in the last ballot shall be eligible, and a two-thirds majority of the votes shall not be required. However, the two Cardinals who are being voted on shall not themselves have the right to vote.

Acceptance and proclamation[]

Once the election concludes, the Cardinal Dean summons the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations into the hall. The Cardinal Dean then asks the Pope-elect if he assents to the election, saying in Latin: "Acceptasne electionem de te canonice factam in Summum Pontificem ? (Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff ?)." There is no requirement that the Pope-elect do so: he is free to say "non accepto" (I don't accept). In practice, however, any potential Pope-elect who intends not to accept will explicitly state this before he has been given a sufficient number of votes to become Pope. This has happened in modern times with Giovanni Cardinal Colombo in October 1978. The only significant case where a cardinal did refuse the Papacy after being given a sufficient number of votes was Charles Borromeo in the sixteenth century.

If he accepts, and is already a bishop, he immediately takes office. If he is not a bishop, however, he must be first ordained as one before he can assume office. If a priest is elected, the Cardinal Dean ordains him bishop; if a layman is elected, then the Cardinal Dean first ordains him deacon, then priest, and only then bishop. Only after becoming a bishop does the Pope-elect take office.

(The above functions of the Dean are assumed, if necessary, by the sub-Dean, and if the sub-Dean is also impeded, they are assumed by the senior cardinal-bishop in attendance. Notice that in 2005 the Dean himself—Joseph Ratzinger—was elected Pope.)

Since 533, the new Pope has also decided on the name by which he is to be called at this time. Pope John II was the first to adopt a new papal name; he felt that his original name, Mercurius, was inappropriate, as it was also the name of a Roman god. In most cases, even if such considerations are absent, Popes tend to choose new papal names; the last Pope to reign under his baptismal name was Pope Marcellus II (1555). After the newly-elected Pope accepts his election, The Cardinal Dean again asks him about his papal name, saying in Latin: "Quo nomine vis vocari ? (By what name you will be called ?)." After the papal name is chosen, the officials are readmitted to the conclave, and the Master of Pontifical Liturgical Ceremonies writes a document recording the acceptance and the new name of the Pope.

Later, the new Pope goes to the "Room of Tears", a small red room formally next to the Sistine Chapel. The origin of the name is uncertain, but seems to imply the commixture of joy and sorrow felt by the newly chosen holder of the monumental office. The Pope dresses by himself, choosing a set of pontifical choir robes (white cassock, rochet and red mozzetta) among the three sizes: small, medium and large. Then, he vests in a gold corded pectoral cross and a red embroidered stole. He wears a white zuchetto on his head.

See also[]