means of two instruments, the General and the Particular
Congregation, the College of Cardinals governs the Holy See during
a Papal Interregnum, within the limits of authority granted it by
the Pope. This authority permits no changes to what a Pope has
already decided, or any innovation or disposition with respect to
the spiritual or even the material patrimony of the Holy See. The
Cardinals could not, for example, grant new indulgences, or make
treaties, or sell the paintings in the Vatican Museum.
A General Congregation
is a meeting of all the Cardinals who are not legitimately impeded.
A Cardinal could be legitimately impeded by sickness or feebleness,
by being in transit, or by a government not permitting him to
travel. A Cardinal who is not eligible to elect (i.e. 80 years of
older) may choose not to participate.
General Congregations meet in the Apostolic Palace and are
Presided over by the Dean of the College, or in his absence by the
Vice-Dean, or if one or the other is not an Elector, the senior
Elector present. They are to meet daily and vote on the more serious
business "in a manner that ensures secrecy". In the first such
General Congregation the Cardinals swear an oath to maintain secrecy
in all matters concerning the election of the Pontiff.
A Particular Congregation is a smaller group of Cardinals,
established to handle the less important business. It is composed of
the Camerlengo and three Assistants, a Cardinal Bishop, a Cardinal
Priest and a Cardinal Deacon, chosen by lot from among the Cardinal
Electors present in Rome. They are elected to office for a term of
three days, after which a new election is held. Assistants are
chosen throughout the period of the Interregnum, and serve also
during the Conclave.
The decisions of a Particular Congregation cannot be altered or
reversed by another Particular Congregation, but can be referred to
the General Congregation for a decision.