What are the rules and customs that are in place when the Holy See falls vacant after the death of a Pope?
Pope John II himself had promulgated a revised apostolic constitution in 1996 that govern the Catholic Church
after the Pope dies.
The apostolic constitution is known as the Unversi Dominici Gregis.
It stipulates procedures for electing a Pope when the Holy See falls vacant.
It says that after the Pope's death, the College of Cardinals has no power on the papal office. The constitution stipulates that "such matters are to be reserved completely and exclusively to the future Pope."
During a papal vacancy, the College of Cardinals can only carry out ordinary business and matters that cannot be postponed for the governance of the church.
When the See is vacant, laws issued by the Popes "can in no way be corrected or modified, nor can anything be added or subtracted, nor a dispensation be given even from a part of them, especially with regard to the procedures governing the election of the Supreme Pontiff."
After a Pope's death, two types of Congregations of the Cardinals are set up -- General Congregation and the Particular Congregation.
The general congregation comprises all the cardinals. This congregation meets before the beginning of the election.
All cardinals, who are not legitimately impeded, must attend the General Congregations, once they are informed of the vacancy of the Apostolic See.
However, cardinals above 80 years, who are not eligible to vote in a papal election, can stay away from these meetings, if they prefer.
The other congregation, the Particular Congregation, is made up of four cardinals. The first among them is the Cardinal Camerlengo, (Italian word for Chamberlain), who is the administrator of the property and revenues of the Holy See.
The other three are chosen, one from each order of cardinal deacons, cardinal bishops and cardinal priests. Cardinal electors already present in Rome choose them from among themselves.
During the papal election, the assembly of the Cardinal electors deals with important matters, if necessary, while the particular congregation attends to ordinary affairs.
In the General and Particular Congregations, during the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the cardinals have to wear their ceremonial dress, black cassock with piping and the red sash, with skull-cap, pectoral cross and ring.
The constitution stipulates that the General Congregations of Cardinals be held in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican or, if circumstances demand it, in another place judged more suitable by the Cardinals.
The Dean of the College of Cardinals chairs these meetings, and in his absence, the sub-dean. If one or both of these, are eligible to vote in the election, the senior cardinal elector will preside over the assembly, according to the customary order of precedence.
The cardinals have to meet daily even before the election process begins.
Such "preparatory" meetings starts from the day fixed by the Camerlengo and senior cardinals from each three Orders among the electors.
In the first meeting, the cardinals take an oath to observe the rules and to maintain secrecy.
In the meeting that immediately follows the oath, the cardinals, on the basis of a prearranged agenda, will take the more urgent decisions regarding the beginning of the election.
That includes fixing the day, hour and manner in which the body of the deceased Pope shall be brought to the Vatican Basilica in order to be exposed for the homage of the faithful.
They will also make all necessary arrangements for the nine-day funeral rites for the departed pontiff. The will have to fix the agenda in a that the burial takes place, between the fourth and the sixth day after the death.
Exceptions are allowed in special circumstances.
A commission, made up of the Cardinal Camerlengo and the Cardinals who had formerly held the offices of secretary of state and president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, ensures that rooms for cardinal electors are ready.
It should also make all necessary arrangements to prepare the Sistine Chapel so that the election process can be carried out in a smooth and orderly manner and with maximum discretion.
The general congregation would entrust to two ecclesiastics known for their sound doctrine, wisdom and moral authority the task of presenting to the Cardinals two well-prepared meditations on the problems facing the
Church at the time and on the need for careful discernment in choosing the new Pope.
They shall approve -- at the proposal of the Administration of the Apostolic See or, within its competence, of the Governatorato of Vatican City State -- expenses incurred from the death of the Pope until the election of his successor.
They shall read any documents left by the deceased Pope for the College of Cardinals.
They shall arrange for the destruction of the Fisherman's Ring and of the lead seal with which Apostolic Letters are dispatched.
They shall make provision for the assignment of rooms by lot to the Cardinal electors.
They shall set the day and hour of the beginning of the voting process.
At the death of the pope all the heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia --the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Cardinal Prefects, the Archbishop Presidents, together with the members of those Dicasteries -- cease to exercise their office.
An exception is made for the Camerlengo and the Major Penitentiary, who continue to exercise their ordinary functions, submitting to the College of Cardinals matters that would have had to be referred to the Supreme Pontiff.
The Camerlengo of the Church must officially ascertain the Pope's death, in the presence of the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, of the Cleric Prelates of the Apostolic Camera and of the Secretary and Chancellor of the same.
The Camerlengo must put seal on the Pope's study and bedroom, making provision that the personnel who ordinarily reside in the private apartment can remain there until after the burial of the Pope, at which time the entire papal apartment will be sealed.
The Camerlengo must notify the Cardinal Vicar for Rome of the Pope's death, whereupon the latter informs the people of Rome by a special announcement.
During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the Camerlengo has the duty of safeguarding and administering the goods and temporal rights of the Holy See, with the help of the three Cardinal Assistants.