Sunday, March 03, 2013

Conclaves: the second great act of faith

Plan du conclave avec touttes les cérémonies observées à l'élection du nouveau Pape fait pendant le siége vacant du Pape Clément IX qui la tenu 11 ans V moys XIX jours dans lequel Messeigneurs les cardinaux sont entrez le XX Décembre 1669 oû le cardinal Altieri Romain a esté eleu le 29 avril 1670 sous le nom de Clément X
Print engraving
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Sebastiano Ricci 1659 –  1734
Il Conclave  
1686 - 1688
Oil on canvas 126 x 87 cm
Palazzo Farnese - Musei Civici Autore, Piacenza

The Conclave to elect Pope Alexander VII
Print engraving
317 cm. x 230 cm
From Giovanni-Dominico De Rossi`s Album Louis-Philippe
Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles

Christoph Weigel 1654 – 1725
Der Grund-Riß der Conclave und die Beschreibung aller Solennitaeten, welche in Rom nach Absterben eines Pabstes und bey der Erwählung seines Nachfolgers vorzugehen pflegen
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg

Hans Makart (1840-1884)
A Conclave 
Oil on canvas 
49.3 cm. x  78.3 cm
Neue Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich

Conclaves have always made good copy. For centuries

The whiff of intrigue, secret deals and other secular practices in the guise of religious ritual: conclaves have always been seedy by those outside the conclave  in these terms

In an inter-regnum in an system of elective autocracy, imagination and speculation can and do run amok

The newspapers and other media on the 24 hour news cycle cannot be really be blamed. They simply reflect the popular taste and demand. But soon fortunately it will be back to normal

The Holy See Press Office has a special microsite on the College of Cardinals with factual information so that journalists and others do not go too far astray

It tries its best but it is like the infamous Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke against a great tsunami

As for the Holy season of Lent, well... gone for a burton really despite the sterling efforts of Father Z and others

On 23 February 2013 the Secretary of State published a statement on this subject:
"Over the course of the centuries, Cardinals have had to face many forms of pressures, exerted upon individual electors or upon the College of Cardinals itself, that sought to influence their decisions, following a political or worldly logic.  
If in the past the so-called powers, i.e., States, sought to influence the election of the Pope, today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion, which is often based on judgements that do not capture the typically spiritual aspect of this moment that the Church is living"

What has been lost in the current news coverage of the Conclave is the spiritual purpose of this stage in the process to elect a new Pope.

The rules are set out in Blessed Pope John Paul`s Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis as amended

It is a document well worth the reading

It is a codification and updating of past rules written in the style of an explanatory commentary
At the very beginning of the document it states:
"The Shepherd of the Lord's whole flock is the Bishop of the Church of Rome, where the Blessed Apostle Peter, by sovereign disposition of divine Providence, offered to Christ the supreme witness of martyrdom by the shedding of his blood. It is therefore understandable that the lawful apostolic succession in this See, with which "because of its great pre-eminence every Church must agree", has always been the object of particular attention. 
Precisely for this reason, down the centuries the Supreme Pontiffs have deemed it their special duty, as well as their specific right, to establish fitting norms to regulate the orderly election of their Successor"
Unfortunately few in the media appear to have read it. Indeed a number of clergy and church dignitaries who have been quoted in the Press appear not to have read it either

From this weekend`s press coverage, the following paragraphs appear to have been overlooked:

"80. In the same way, I wish to confirm the provisions made by my Predecessors for the purpose of excluding any external interference in the election of the Supreme Pontiff. Therefore, in virtue of holy obedience and under pain of excommunication latae sententiae, I again forbid each and every Cardinal elector, present and future, as also the Secretary of the College of Cardinals and all other persons taking part in the preparation and carrying out of everything necessary for the election, to accept under any pretext whatsoever, from any civil authority whatsoever, the task of proposing the veto or the so-called exclusiva, even under the guise of a simple desire, or to reveal such either to the entire electoral body assembled together or to individual electors, in writing or by word of mouth, either directly and personally or indirectly and through others, both before the election begins and for its duration. I intend this prohibition to include all possible forms of interference, opposition and suggestion whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree, or any individual or group, might attempt to exercise influence on the election of the Pope. 
81. The Cardinal electors shall further abstain from any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons. If this were in fact done, even under oath, I decree that such a commitment shall be null and void and that no one shall be bound to observe it; and I hereby impose the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae upon those who violate this prohibition. It is not my intention however to forbid, during the period in which the See is vacant, the exchange of views concerning the election. 
82. I likewise forbid the Cardinals before the election to enter into any stipulations, committing themselves of common accord to a certain course of action should one of them be elevated to the Pontificate. These promises too, should any in fact be made, even under oath, I also declare null and void. 
83. With the same insistence shown by my Predecessors, I earnestly exhort the Cardinal electors not to allow themselves to be guided, in choosing the Pope, by friendship or aversion, or to be influenced by favour or personal relationships towards anyone, or to be constrained by the interference of persons in authority or by pressure groups, by the suggestions of the mass media, or by force, fear or the pursuit of popularity. Rather, having before their eyes solely the glory of God and the good of the Church, and having prayed for divine assistance, they shall give their vote to the person, even outside the College of Cardinals, who in their judgment is most suited to govern the universal Church in a fruitful and beneficial way."

As well as the rules of Canon Law and the terms of the Apostolic Constitution, this period is of great Liturgical significance. There is a special Ordo Rituum Conclavis

Universi Dominici Gregis states in chapter 5 that for the Pope’s Funeral and the Conclave the two rites Ordo Exsequiarum Romani Pontificis and Ordo Rituum Conclavis are to be carefully followed (cf. n. 27).

The Constitution also establishes certain norms with regard to the duties of the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations during the Vacant See and the services to be rendered by the Masters of Ceremonies in the places destined for the Cardinal electors during liturgical celebrations and the election of the new Pope (cf. n. 46).

In 2005, the then Master of Liturgical Celebrations, Archbishop Piero Marini published a detailed article on the importance of the liturgical rites during this period

"A second powerful moment of faith is demanded of the Church during the period of the election of the Successor of Peter. At this time the Church must be deeply united with the Bishops and above all with the Cardinal electors in imploring «from God the new Supreme Pontiff as a gift of his goodness and providence. Indeed, like the first community of Christians described in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 1:4), the whole Church must persevere in prayer with one accord in spiritual union with Mary, mother of Jesus, to obtain from the Lord a worthy Shepherd»."

To compare the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to a CEO of a State or large corporation resigning or the election of a new Pope to the selection of a new President of a state or CEO of a multinational corporation by its board of directors is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Papacy and the Church and how it does and should go about its business