Many of the procedures followed at the time of a pope's death were specified
by Pope John Paul II in the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis,
which he completed in 1996. The specific procedures are often modified to meet
requests that the pope has made while alive. For example, there was speculation
that Pope John Paul II might be buried in his native land, Poland. This will not
The following sequence is typical:
John Paul II specified that "No one is permitted to use any means
whatsoever in order to photograph or film the Supreme Pontiff either on his
sickbed or after death, or to record his words for subsequent reproduction."
Photos after death are only permitted when the pope's body is dressed in
pontifical vestments and then only with the permission of the Cardinal
Camerlengo. He is the cardinal who has the responsibility of administering
the Vatican while no pope is in office.
As the pope approaches death, the cardinal major penitentiary invokes
the intercession of the angels and saints, and recites the ritual "Go
forth, Christian soul, from this world..."
The attending physician holds a lighted candle at the mouth of the pope.
If the flame no longer flickers, he checks for heartbeat. If there is none,
then the physician pronounces that the pope is dead.
Those in the room fall to their knees and begin the ritual responsory: "Come
to his aid, Saints of God." Each, in order of rank, kisses the hand of
The death of the pope is announced to the world.
The senior chamberlain covers the face of the pope with a white veil.
The penitentiaries of the Vatican Basilica -- the priests who hear
confession in St. Peters -- assemble and keep watch over the body.
A prelate begins the first of a continuous series of Requiem Masses in
the papal apartment.
A detachment of the Swiss Guards leads the cardinal camerlengo to the
room where the body of the pope lies. He identifies the pope and confirms
his death. One of the prelates lifts the veil covering the face of the pope.
The cardinal calls the pontiff by his first name, three times. In previous
years, he would tap the body on the forehead with a silver hammer in an
attempt to produce a response if the pope still lived. Receiving no reply,
he declares "The Pope has truly died." He falls to his knees and
recites Psalm 130 "Out of the depths." He removes the popes ring
and smashes it.
The notary of the Apostolic Camera creates a legal record of the events.
The bells of St. Peter's Basilica are rung to inform the public of the
The body is given to the embalmers.
After embalming, the body is dressed in a white papal cassock, and is
carried by eight Swiss Guards to the Sistine Chapel, along with cardinals
The next morning, the pope's body is transferred to the Chapel of the
Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter's Basilica where it lies in state
for three days.
The body is then transferred to the Chapel of the Canons, where
it is placed inside a wooden casket which fits into a lead casket, which in
turn fits into a burnished pine casket.
The triple casket is wheeled in front of the main altar of St. Peter's
and is then lowered into a temporary tomb in the crypt.
The casket is transferred to the pope's final tomb when the latter has
Nine days of mourning are observed, starting four to six days after
death. Funeral masses are "offered for the repose of the deceased."
The next pope is elected by those cardinals who are under the age of 80 in
a process called a "conclave."
It begins between 15 and 20 days after the death of the pope.