Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Traditions and history behind the conclave

Photo credit: http://vaticanvisitor.wordpress.com 
Anytime a conclave takes place, the entire world it seems is focused on Vatican City and the small chimney above the Sistine Chapel where the cardinals are gathered in complete secrecy discerning the will of the Holy Spirit and electing our next Holy Father.

The Catholic Church is awash in tradition and a conclave is certainly no exception. The handwritten ballots from each cardinal are burned in a special furnace after each vote - when a new pope is chosen, white smoke emerges from the chimney and when there is no decision, black smoke appears.  The tradition of letting the world know what is happening inside the conclave with smoke signals is a relatively new one in Church history.  A brief and interesting history can be found at the St. Michael Society blog here: http://stmichaelsociety.com/2013/03/12/the-traditions-and-history-behind-the-white-smoke-over-the-vatican/.

And what about the actual politicking, so to speak, of choosing a new pope. Do the cardinals have heated debates inside the conclave? Not really. The atmosphere is truly one of prayer and contemplation as the cardinals open their hearts and mind to the will of the Holy Spirit. After the first ballot is taken and the results come in, the cardinals can get a feel for which candidates have the higher vote totals and proceed from there. However, a certain amount of campaigning can take place during the dinners and lunches during breaks in the conclave. This article from John Thavis, a Catholic journalist, answers some of these questions in more detail: http://www.johnthavis.com/conclave-day-1-praying-and-politicking

And lastly, we need to pray for the cardinals as they choose our next Holy Father. It is an enormous responsibility. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York who is experiencing his very first conclave, wrote early this morning on his blog asking for prayers: “…ask the Lord to send His grace and His mercy upon His Holy Church, and upon us cardinals who have the frightening task of electing a new Bishop of Rome!”

Come Holy Spirit and watch for the white smoke!

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