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Procedures involved in the death of a pope

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At the time of death:

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 happen.

The following sequence is typical:

bullet 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.
bullet 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..."
bullet 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.
bullet 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 deceased.
bullet The death of the pope is announced to the world.
bullet The senior chamberlain covers the face of the pope with a white veil.
bullet The penitentiaries of the Vatican Basilica -- the priests who hear confession in St. Peters -- assemble and keep watch over the body.
bullet A prelate begins the first of a continuous series of Requiem Masses in the papal apartment.
bullet 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.
bullet The notary of the Apostolic Camera creates a legal record of the events.
bullet The bells of St. Peter's Basilica are rung to inform the public of the pope's death.
bullet The body is given to the embalmers.
bullet 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 and prelates.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet The casket is transferred to the pope's final tomb when the latter has been prepared.
bullet Nine days of mourning are observed, starting four to six days after death. Funeral masses are "offered for the repose of the deceased." 1
bullet 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.

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Reference used:

  1.   John-Peter Pahm, "Heirs Of The Fisherman: Behind The Scenes Of Papal Death And Succession," Oxford University Press, (2004), Pages to 10 to 36. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Copyright 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-APR-02
Latest update: 2005-APR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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