The Papal Interregnum
is an expression derived from Latin which means the period
between the reign of one Pope and another. It is the time of the
vacancy of the Apostolic See, that is, from the moment a Pope
dies to the moment of election of his successor.
when the Pope dies?
The Cardinal who is Camerlengo, or
Chamberlain, of the Holy Roman Church, is notified.
In the presence of the Master of Papal
Liturgical Ceremonies, the Cleric Prelates of the Apostolic Camera,
and the Secretary and the Chancellor of the Apostolic Camera, he
officially ascertains that the Pope is dead. The Chancellor draws up
the official death certificate, and the Camerlengo seals the Pope’s
bedroom and study.
the Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica, and the Cardinal Vicar of
the Diocese of Rome, who announces it to the People of Rome.
The Camerlengo takes
custody of the Apostolic Palaces of the Vatican, the Lateran Palace
and Castel Gondolpho. After the Pope’s funeral he seals the entire
Papal Apartment, having found quarters for those who had resided
there to serve the Pope.
during the Interregnum?
The day of the Pope’s
death is counted as the first day of the Interregnum or Vacancy.
Three phases can be identified.
1) The 9 Day Period of Mourning, or Novendiales. The Pope is
laid in state in St. Peter’s Basilica, permitting the faithful to
pay their respects. Every day each Cardinal celebrates a Memorial
Mass. Between the fourth and sixth day of this period a Solemn
Funeral is celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica by the Dean of the
College of Cardinals, with the other Cardinals. The deceased Pope is
then buried, most likely in the crypt of St. Peter’s. The mourning
period then continues until the nine days are completed.
2)The Conclave preparation period, from Day 10 to the beginning
of the Conclave.
3)The Conclave itself, from the time the Cardinals enter the
Conclave until the one elected accepts his election.
What is the
Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis?
Promulgated by Pope
John Paul II in 1996 it is the current law of the Church governing
the entire period of the vacancy, from the death of the current Pope
to the election of a new one. In general, Pope John Paul II’s
Constitution continues the traditional practices of election, with a
few changes, such as the elimination of election by acclamation and
by consensus. It spells out in detail the authority of the College
of Cardinals, prohibits all but the most ordinary business of the
Holy See, and provides for penalties if its norms are broken.
What are the
This is the nine day
period of mourning for a deceased Pope. During this time funeral
rites are celebrated daily in Rome by the Cardinals, and Masses are
offered for the repose of his soul throughout the world. The body of
the Pope lies in state in St. Peter’s Basilica until between the
fourth and the sixth day after his death, unless unusually
circumstances require the Cardinals to choose a different date, at
which time his funeral is held and he is buried in accordance with
to those in Office in the Roman Curia when the Pope dies?
Since supreme teaching,
legislating and judicial authority rests with the Pope, all but the
most ordinary business of the Holy See comes to a stop. The highest
office holders, such as the Cardinals who are Prefects of
Congregations and Presidents of Pontifical Councils and Commissions,
all lose their offices with the death of the Pope.
There are two
exceptions 1) the Cardinal who is Camerlengo or Chamberlain of the
Holy Roman Church, an office which deals primarily with the period
of the Papal Interregnum or Vacancy, and 2) the Cardinal who is the
Major Penitentiary, and responsible for matters concerning the
internal forum of conscience (e.g. absolution from excommunications
reserved to the Holy See).
What is the
The Apostolic Camera is
the department of the Roman Curia which exists to ensure the
continued functioning of the Holy See upon the death of the Pope. It
is headed by the Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, of the Holy Roman
Church who, assisted by the Vice-Camerlengo and other officials.
What does the
Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church do?
The Camerlengo, or
Chamberlain, of the Holy Roman Church presides over the Apostolic
Camera. It is the Camerlengo who certifies the death of the Pope.
During the period of vacancy the Camerlengo and his assistants
gather reports from the departments of the Holy See so that the
College of Cardinals is able to manage the ordinary affairs of the
Church. This is necessary because all department heads lose their
offices with the vacancy of the Roman See, except for the Camerlengo
and the Major Penitentiary.
Who is the
The Major Penitentiary
is in charge of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the dicastery of the
Holy See responsible for indulgences, the provision of confessors
for the patriarchal basilicas in Rome, and judging questions of
conscience, called internal forum, submitted for adjudication to
the Holy See. These latter including dispensations and absolution
from sanctions, such as excommunication, which are reserved in law
to the Holy See (e.g. a priest who breaks the seal of confession).
This ordinary work continues during the vacancy of the Roman See, so
that souls may continue to benefit. The Major Penitentiary is one of
two curial department heads who do not lose their offices with the
vacancy of the Holy See. The other is the Camerlengo.
What is a Cardinal?
The ecclesiastical rank
of Cardinal dates from the time of Pope Sylvester I, around 315 AD.
It was given to the closest advisors of the Pope. With time it came
to be reserved to those whom the Pope had given pastoral
responsibility for the 7 suburban dioceses of the Roman Province, as
well as the Roman churches, and deaconries. Today the Cardinals each
possess only a titular office as a bishop,priest ordeacon of Rome, but without actual responsibility for the
dioceses, parishes and deaconries. The actual offices held by
Cardinals today are within the Roman Curia or as archbishop of an
important diocese. Cardinals, therefore, are generally bishops,
though the Popes may grant exceptions. In recent decades this
exception has been granted for theologians the Popes have wished to
honor. Under current law, a Cardinal must at least be a priest.
What is the College
The College of
Cardinals is composed of the men whom the Pope has elevated to the
dignity of Cardinal, entrusting them with the duty to be his close
advisors and collaborators, and to elect his successor. The
decisions of the College are made collectively, and ratified by the
Pope, unless of course there is no Pope. During such a Papal
Interregnum the Cardinals gather in General Congregation to decide
by majority vote on the funeral of the Pope, the beginning of the
Conclave to elect a new Pope, as well as any ordinary business of
the Holy See which cannot wait, in keeping with papal law, currently
the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.
What is the history
of the College of Cardinals?
Close advisors to the
Pope were called Cardinals, from the Latin for hinge, since the 4th
century. Since 1059 Cardinals have served as the exclusive electors
of the Popes, and the College itself was given its current form in
1150. Over the centuries the number of Cardinals was held below 70,
a biblically significant number, since there were seventy elders
assisting Moses in leading Israel and assisting Jesus in His
ministry (Luke 10:1). However, both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul
II went beyond this number in order to internationalize the College
with bishops from around the world. Today there are up to 120
Electors, and sometimes more, and as many Cardinals as 170, a number
which include those who have reached the age of eligibility to vote,
What is the Dean of
the College of Cardinals?
The Dean of the College
of Cardinals is a Cardinal Bishop who is elected by his fellow
Cardinal Bishops and confirmed in office by the Pope. Although he
presides over the consistories and congregations of the College, he
has no authority over other Cardinals. The decisions of the College
are entirely collegial (collective). The Dean of the College
convokes the Cardinals when the Pope dies and presides over their
Congregations and the Conclave. He is the one who asks the electee
to accept election as Pope.
What is a Cardinal
Cardinals who hold the
more important offices in the Roman Curia or who, being Patriarchs
of Eastern Catholic Churches, have been granted equivalent dignity
in law since Pope Paul VI, are called Cardinal Bishops. The smallest
of the three ranks of Cardinals it traces its history to the role
played in the early Church by the bishops of 7 dioceses surrounding
Rome, called the suburcarian (suburban) Sees of Rome.
Cardinal Bishops are said to hold the title, as opposed to
the actual office, of those 7 Sees. The Cardinal Dean holds two
titles, Ostia and the one he holds at the time of his promotion to
Dean. Thus, there are only such six Cardinal Bishops at a time, plus
however many Eastern Patriarchs there are.
What is a Cardinal
Cardinals Priests are
those Cardinals who hold the middle, and by far the most numerous,
rank of the College of Cardinals. They include officials of the
Roman Curia, as well as Archbishops of major dioceses from around
the world. Cardinal Priests hold title to a particular church
of the Roman See, a dim historical reflection of the very early
practice of the clergy of Rome participating in the election of the
Pope. Within the rank of Cardinal Priest cardinals hold seniority
based on date of appointment, and may even advance by promotion by
the Pope to the higher grade of Cardinal Bishop.
What is a Cardinal
Cardinals Deacons hold
the lowest of the ranks of Cardinals. There ranks include officials
of the Roman Curia, and theologians honored by the Pope for their
contribution to the Church. In the early centuries there were 7
deacons who administered seven districts of the Roman diocese, as
well as 7 deacons who assisted in the papal household. Although the
rank of Cardinal Deacon numbers more than 14 today, they hold
title as if assigned to a church in one of three deaconries of
Rome. Cardinal Deacons may advance by promotion by the Pope to the
higher ranks of the College of Cardinals.
What is a
The gathering of the
Cardinals to advise the Pope, or assist him in his duties, is called
a Congregation. Also, the major departments of the Roman Curia are
called Congregations because they are made up of a number of voting
Cardinals headed by a Cardinal Prefect. During the vacancy of the
Apostolic See, from the time of the death of the Pope until the
beginning of the election of his successor, the decisions regarding
the ordinary affairs of the Holy See, as well as the funeral, burial
and election of the Pope, are decided by such gatherings of the
What is a General
are meetings of all the Cardinals who are not legitimately impeded
from attending by sickness or other lawful reasons. They decide the
more significant matters related to the Papal Interregnum. The scope
of their authority is entirely governed by the Apostolic
Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, which permits
absolutely no innovations in the functioning of the Holy See while
there is no Pope. The General Congregation, however, can decide
disputed points of interpretation of the law.
What is a Particular
Congregations are composed of the Camerlengo (Chamberlain) of the
Holy Roman Church, and 3 other Cardinals, called Assistants, chosen
by lot from each of the three ranks of Cardinals. These Particular
Congregations handle the ordinary business of the Roman Church,
referring anything significant to the General Congregation. New
Assistants are elected by lot after they have served for three days.
What is the
Conclave is the unique
name given to the gathering of the Cardinals to elect a Pope. The
Cardinal Electors, as they are known, along with certain assistants,
are sequestered away from any contact with the outside world,
in living quarters inside Vatican City. The secrecy of the Conclave
is absolute, even from other Cardinals not themselves Electors. Only
a Pope can grant the faculty of discussing the Conclave with anyone
Who can be a
The Cardinal Electors
are those Cardinals who are under the age of 80 on the day on which
the Pope dies. All such Cardinals, even if their selection as
Cardinal has only been announced, are obliged to participate in the
Conclave as Electors. The exceptions are those who are legitimately
prevented by illness or other circumstances, those who have been
canonically deposed by the Pope, or from whom the Pope has accepted
the renunciation of the cardinalate.
When may the
From the time of the
vacancy of the Apostolic See until the beginning of the Conclave, no
less than 15 full days, and no more than 20, may elapse. This means
that the Conclave may begin no earlier than the 16th Day
of the Interregnum, nor start later than the 21st Day.
May a Cardinal enter
the Conclave after it has started?
Cardinal Electors who
have been legitimately delayed, or who leave for a reason recognized
in law, may enter, or re-enter, the Conclave while it is in
progress. The judgment regarding whether the reason is legitimate
rests with the majority of the Cardinal Electors who are present.
Who remains within
the sealed area of the Vatican?
In addition to the
Electors, the following are sequestered within the Conclave area:
the Secretary of the College of Cardinals, who acts as Secretary for
the electoral assembly, the Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies,
two Masters of Ceremonies, two Religious from the Papal Sacristy,
and an ecclesiastic to assist the Cardinal Dean.
Also, several priests
must be available to hear confessions in different languages, two
doctors, kitchen and housekeeping staff, and any nurses who may be
needed to assist ailing Cardinals. These individuals must be
previously approved by the Camerlengo and his three Assistants, and
all must take an oath not to discuss what they may hear with anyone.
Where do those who vote or assist in the
The Cardinal Electors
live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the St. Martha’s Residence,
within Vatican City. They are transported to the Sistine Chapel of
the Apostolic Palace for the voting sessions. All other individuals
are lodged in appropriate quarters within Vatican City.
What ceremonies attend the beginning of the Conclave?
As a rule, on the
morning of the first day of the Conclave the Cardinal Electors
gather in St. Peter’s Basilica, or another place as may be
determined, to celebrate a Votive Mass for the Election of the Pope.
In the afternoon they
gather in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. Invoking the
assistance of the Holy Spirit with the Veni Creator Spiritu, they
process to the Sistine Chapel. There they take a solemn oath to
observe the prescriptions of the law governing the election, to
observe the secrecy obliged, to not assist any secular power which
may try to influence the election, and if elected to faithfully
carry out the Petrine Office, and to protect the spiritual and
temporal rights of the Holy See.
After the last Cardinal
Elector has taken the oath, the Master of Papal Liturgical
ceremonies gives the order Extra omnes, commanding everyone
not authorized to remain to leave the Chapel. Besides the Electors,
only the Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies and the ecclesiastic
chosen to give a meditation to the Cardinals on the seriousness of
their duties, remains. When the meditation has been concluded, both
of these men depart the Sistine Chapel.
After the Cardinals
recite prayers provided in the proper Ordo for the Conclave, the
Cardinal Dean inquiries if any Electors have questions concerning
the norms and procedures. Once these are clarified, if a majority of
the Cardinals agree the election can begin.
remains in the Conclave during the election?
Only the Cardinal Electors may remain in the
Sistine Chapel during the actual voting, which by law is from after
the ballots have been distributed until after they have been
tabulated and checked. Outside of the time of actual voting, the
Secretary of the College, the Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies
and the 2 Masters of Ceremonies are present to assist the Conclave.
How many ballots are there each day in
On the first day of the
Conclave, that on which the opening rites are carried out, only one
ballot is permitted. On the other days of the Conclave, two ballots
are permitted in the morning session and two are permitted in the
What is the Election Procedure?
There are three phases
to the election process.
1)Pre-Scrutiny, during which ballots are prepared and
distributed, and, 9 Electors are chosen by lot to serve as 3
Scrutineers, 3 Infirmarii and 3 Revisers.
2)Scrutiny, during which the ballots are ceremoniously placed
in a receptacle on a table in front of the altar and beneath
Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, then are mixed and counted.
3)Post-Scrutiny, during which the ballots are counted, checked
are the Scrutineers?
The Scrutineers are
three Cardinal Electors chosen by lot to gather and count the
ballots. They stand at the altar as the Electors come up
individually to deposit their votes. One of them also collects the
votes of those present who are not physically able to come up to the
altar. Afterwards, sitting at a table in front of the altar they
tabulate the ballots to determine if an election has occurred.
are the Infirmarii?
The Infirmarii are
three Cardinal Electros chosen by lot to take ballots to Electors
who although within the enclosure of the Conclave are too sick to be
present in the Sistine Chapel. They take with them a locked box
which, having been shown to the other Electors to be empty, receives
the votes of the infirm. They return it unopened to the Scrutineers.
are the Revisers?
The Revisers are 3
Cardinal Electros chosen by lot to check the ballot count and the
notes of the Scrutineers to determine if the tabulation of the
ballots was carried out exactly and faithfully.
is the vote counted?
After all ballots are
in, including those brought from the sick by the Infirmarii, the 1st
Scrutineer shakes the receptacle several times to mix the ballots.
Then the 3rd Scrutineer counts them, placing them in a
second, empty, receptacle. If the number of ballots does not equal
the number of electors, they are burned, and a second vote taken
immediately. Otherwise, the Scrutineers proceed to tabulate the
Sitting at a table in
front of the altar, the 1st Scrutineer silently reads the
name on a ballot, passes it to the 2nd Scrutineer who
does likewise, and then passes it to the 3rd Scrutineer,
who reads the name aloud and then writes it down. Each Elector also
writes it down on a sheet provided for this purpose. The ballot is
then pierced with a needle and placed on a thread for security.
When all ballots have
been read the Scrutineers tabulate the vote by individuals receiving
votes. They do this on a separate sheet of paper from that on which
they were first listed. The Revisers then verify the results. If
two-thirds of the votes have been cast for the same person an
election has occurred. In which case, the Scrutineers, with the
assistance of the Secretary of the Conclave and the Masters of
Ceremony, who are re-admitted to the Conclave at this point, proceed
to burn the ballots. However, if no election occurred and it was the
first ballot of the session they proceed to vote again. After the
second ballot the ballots of both sessions are burned, whether an
election occurred or not.
What happens when an election occurs?
After the junior
Cardinal Deacon has re-admitted the Secretary of the College and the
Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies, the Cardinal Dean, or, the
Cardinal who is first in order and seniority, goes to the one
elected and asks,
Do you accept your
canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?
With consent he becomes
Bishop of Rome and Pope. The Cardinal Dean then asks,
By what name do you
wish to be called?
The Master of Papal
Liturgical Ceremonies, with the witness of the two Masters of
Ceremonies (who are now summoned), draw up a document certifying the
consent of the one elected and the name he has chosen.
formalities prescribed in the ritual for the Conclave, each Cardinal
comes forward in turn and makes an act of homage and obedience to
the new Pope. An act of thanksgiving is then made.
Following the vesting
of the Pope the senior Cardinal Deacon announces from the loggia of
St. Peter’s to those gathered in the Square that we have a Pope
(Habemus papam) and what name he has taken. The newly elected Pope
then comes out to address and bless the City and the World (Urbi et
Can someone not in
the Conclave be elected Pope?
Yes, a Cardinal who is not an Elector, a
bishop who is not a Cardinal, a priest, or theoretically a layman,
could be elected Pope. If he is not present in the Vatican the
ritual for the Conclave specifics a procedure for obtaining his
consent. If he is not a bishop he would have to be ordained one
before he would become Pope.
When is the Conclave
The Conclave is
concluded when the new Pope assents to his election, unless he
determines to keep it in session longer for some reason.
What does Black or
White Smoke signify?
If any ballot produces
an election those ballots are burned in a stove set up in the
Sistine Chapel together with a chemical which produces a white
smoke. This signals to Rome and the World that a Pope has been
elected. If, however, the first vote of a session does not produce
an election they proceed to a second vote. If that, too, fails to
elect a Pope, the ballots of both votes are burned with wet straw,
producing black smoke.
What is the Sistine
The Sistine Chapel is a
chapel of the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican built for Pope Sixtus
IV, after whom it was named. In 1508 Pope Julius II commissioned
Michelangelo Buonarroti to decorate its vault, a task he completed
in 1512. Between 1536 and 1541, Michelangelo painted the Last
Judgment on the altar wall for Pope Paul III. It is in this Chapel,
before the imposing painting of the Last Judgment, that the Cardinal
Electors gather to choose a Pope. It is also here where the newly
deceased Pope is viewed by the members of the Papal Household and
the College of Cardinals, before being taken to lay in state in St.
Peter’s Basilica for public visitation.
Who is the Pope?
Pope means father. In ancient Greek it
was a child's term of affection (papa), but was borrowed by Latin as
a title of honor. Both Greek-speaking Eastern, and Latin-speaking
Western, Christians applied it to priests, bishops and patriarchs in
the early Church. Even today, the faithful of the Orthodox Churches
of Greece, Russia and Serbia call their parish priest pope.
Gradually, however, Latin usage became restricted. At the beginning
of the 3rd century, papa was a term of respect for churchmen in high
positions; by the 5th century, it was applied particularly to the
Bishop of Rome; and since the 8th century, as far the
West is concerned, the title has been exclusively his.
Does the Pope have
First and foremost he
is the Bishop of Rome. From this office derives all the other
offices and titles he holds. As the Roman bishop he is the
Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province. He is the Primate
(First Bishop) of Italy. He is the Patriarch of the West, that is,
of the Western or Latin Church. As Successor of Peter, he is the
Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Supreme Pontiff, and Pastor of the
Universal Church. He is also known as the Servant of the Servants of
God. As spiritual father to all Christians he is called Pope or
papa, and Holy Father and Holiness, not because he is holy but
because the things of Christ which he administers are holy. In
worldly matters, he is the Sovereign of the Vatican City State. All
of these offices belong to the man elected Bishop of Rome.
What does the title
Supreme Pontiff mean?
A Pontiff, from the
or bridge builder, was the title given in ancient Rome to priests,
the mediators between the gods and men. In Christian teaching
Christ is the one mediator between God and man. He alone is
necessary, since He alone is the God-Man who reconciles mankind to
the Father. However, He places human beings in roles of secondary
mediation in order to effect His plan of salvation throughout human
history. Applied to the Bishop of Rome,
Pontiff points to the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ which he
exercises as a bishop. As Pope he is said to be the Supreme Pontiff
because he is the pastor not only of his own diocese, but of the
universal Church, and thus his authority is supreme over the
pontiffs, the bishops of the Church.
What are the Keys of
In the ancient world the keys
were associated with the royal office of the Vizier, what we might
today call both prime minister and treasurer. He literally carried
the keys of the king attached to his belt. Thus, when Jesus said
that He would give Peter the Keys of the Kingdom, which would “open
and no one could close, and close and no one could open,” this image
would have been readily understood. In Scripture only the Messiah
and Peter are spoken of as having such authority. Peter is Christ’s
Vicar, who with his successors in every age represents Christ, and
opens and closes the treasury of heaven in His name.
What is the Papal
The Papal Tiara is a tri-layered crown
symbolizing the threefold authority of the Pope. The top crown
represents universal pastoral authority, the middle crown universal
jurisdiction in the Church, and the bottom crown, temporal
authority. Of this last, only the Vatican City State remains from
the papal states of the medieval era.
The triple tiara can also be understood
to have a purely spiritual interpretation, Christ’s three-fold
office of Priest, Prophet and King. The Lord communicated these
offices to the Apostles, and in a particular way to Peter, so that
they could sanctify, teach and govern in His name and by His
While the tiara remains a symbol of the
papacy, appearing in the papal crest, the actual crown has not been
worn since Pope Paul VI, who set aside many of the imperial
trappings of the papacy.
Who is the Vicar of Christ?
The papal title
Vicar of Christ is closely associated with Our Lord’s titles
Son of David and King of Israel. It was foretold to David
that a descendant of his would reign on his throne forever. This
King is Jesus Christ, who reigns in an eternal spiritual Kingdom.
Every King has a prime minister, a vizier or vicar, who carries out
his will and who speaks in his name. Although the Kingdom of God has
no material treasures to guard and dispense, it has spiritual
treasures: the faith, the sacraments, the unity of the Church. These
were committed to Peter by Our Lord under the symbol of the keys, a
treasury and responsibility which is passed to those who follow
Peter in his office as Vicar of Christ.
What is Papal
Papal Primacy refers to the supreme,
immediate and ordinary authority of the Pope over everyone in the
Church. Although the doctrine was only defined by the First Vatican
Council in 1870, this primacy of jurisdiction has been exercised by
St. Peter and the Bishops of Rome from the beginning of the Church.
This can be seen in the norms announced by the Apostle at the
Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, in the letter of his successor,
Pope Clement, to Corinth from about 85 AD, in the dictum of St.
Cyprian of Carthage “Rome has spoke, the case is closed,” and other
examples from the early Church in which the Bishop of Rome acts as
the highest authority in the universal Church.
What is the Petrine
The Petrine Charism
to the unique grace, or charism, which the Lord promised to St.
Peter to assist him in his role as the Chief among the Apostles. In
Mt 16:18, the Lord stated that hell would not prevail against the
Church He would establish upon Peter. In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus says
how He will bring it about that Peter will prevail over the Enemy –
He will pray and obtain the grace for Peter to be unwavering in
matters of Faith. This charism enables Peter to confirm his fellow
apostles in the Faith, and through them us. Without a secure
doctrine of the Faith the Church rests on shifting sands. With it,
it is secure like a house built upon a Rock.
What is Papal
The charism of
infallibility is the means by which Christ guarantees the unity of
faith. Christ committed this task to Peter, when He gave him the
responsibility to confirm the brethren in the faith (Lk. 22:31-32).
Thus the Pope is preserved from error by the grace of Christ in his
handing on of the apostolic faith and especially when he intends to
define or clarify its meaning for the good of the Church. This
charism of infallibility does NOT mean that he is personally sinless
or always prudent in his moral judgments. The First Vatican Council
solemnly defined Papal Infallibility in 1870.
What is the
Those to whom Our Lord
committed his prophetic office are said to have a Magisterium, from
the Latin word for teacher, Magister. This office was given
to the apostles, who committed it to their successors, the bishops.
Each bishop is the Magister for his own diocese. The entire body of
the bishops, acting in union with the Pope, are official Teachers to
the whole Church; that is, they have a Universal Magisterium.
Peter, however, was
given the charism to teach even his fellow apostles. Thus, the Papal
Magisterium is itself a Universal Magisterium. Furthermore, only the
Successor of Peter has a personal charism of infallibility which
protects him from error in teaching and defining the faith. The same
is true of the Magisterium of the College of Bishops collectively,
as in an Ecumenical Council.
What is a Papal
An Encyclical is
perhaps the most familiar category of papal document. The name
indicates a circular letter, after the pattern of the
Catholic epistles of the New Testament. It expresses the mind of the
Pope on matters of faith or morals. Although Encyclicals may contain
fresh insights, they do not typically express new doctrine, but
re-state for the entire Church, or a particular people, the Church’s
constant teaching. Although an Apostolic Constitution is a higher
category of document, it is used primarily for juridical acts, such
as promulgating laws or establishing dioceses, and for Solemn
Magisterial Teaching, such as a dogmatic definition. Thus,
Encyclicals are the highest ordinary form of papal teaching
document. Lower forms include Apostolic Letters, Exhortations,
Homilies, Audiences, Discourses and Messages.
Holy See & Vatican
What is the Holy See
or Apostolic See?
A See is a seat
of authority, from the Latin sede. Jesus said the Pharisees
sat on the chair of Moses (Mt. 23:2f). Judges sit on a
bench, representing the authority of the state. Professors hold
chairs of academic authority. And in the Church bishops possess
chairs of spiritual authority. Thus, a diocese is called a See.
The Roman diocese has been called the Apostolic See from ancient
times. It is the seat of authority of the chief Apostle Peter and
where the Apostles Peter and Paul were martyred. It is the Holy See,
since its bishop has Christ’s authority over holy things. These
expressions apply not only to the Pope, but also to those who assist
him in governing the universal Church. [Code of Canon Law c.
What is Vatican City
The Vatican City State
is the world’s smallest sovereign state and where the Pope resides.
It has its own diplomatic corps, passport, laws, police, stamps,
money and head of state, the Pope. The Vatican Concordat with Italy
in 1928 established the City State, restoring the political autonomy
of the Pope which he had enjoyed for centuries as sovereign of the
Papal States. These States, which occupied a large region of central
Italy, protected the Church from secular leaders who sought to
manipulate her for their own purposes. They were lost to the Church
when the forces of Italian unification entered Rome in 1870, causing
Pope Pius IX to retreat to the Vatican. The Vatican Concordat
settled the unresolved issue of the Pope’s temporal authority, by
securing for him sovereignty over the Vatican, and certain other
properties in and around Rome.
Where does the Vatican get its name?
The Vaticanus is
small hill across the Tiber River from the center of Rome. In the
first century it contained a palace and circus, belonging to the
Emperor Nero. It was in Nero’s Circus (an oblong racetrack) that St.
Peter was martyred, crucified upside-down. He was buried in a
near-by garden containing other graves. A shrine indicating Peter’s
presence was erected over the grave around 150 AD, and Peter’s bones
hidden in a wall to protect them from desecration. After the Edict
of Milan in 311, the Emperor Constantine gave this imperial property
to Pope Sylvester. The first, or Constantinian, Basilica was built
on the site. In the 16th century this Basilica was torn
down and the current one erected. Excavations under the main altar
since the 1940s have revealed the pagan graveyard, the shrine over
Peter’s grave, as well as discovered the bones of St. Peter, along
with the ancient graffiti Petrus ibi est (Peter is here).
What is the Roman
Curia is a Latin term
for a ruling body and its place of
assembly. In ancient Rome the Senate met in the Curia, which can
still be seen among the ruins of the Roman Forum. Within the Church
the term is used for those who assist a bishop in the governance of
his diocese. Thus, with respect to the Bishop of Rome, it applies to
the members of the various Roman Congregations, Tribunals, Councils,
Offices, Commissions and Committees who assist the Pope in the
governance of the universal Church. The current authority,
structure, responsibilities and operation of the Roma Curia is
established in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Pastor
Bonus of 1998, which continued the process of renewal of these
institutions begun by Pope Paul VI. [see Code of Canon Law
What is a Dicastery?
A Dicastery, from the
Latin word dicasterium, is an office or department of the Roman
Curia. The mission of the Roman dicasteries is to assist the Supreme Pontiff in his role as the
principle of unity in the Church. Among the dicasteries are the
Secretariat of State, the Congregations, such as the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Tribunals, such as the Apostolic
Signature, the Councils, such as the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity, and the Offices, such as the Apostolic
Camera (which administers the goods of the Holy See during a
vacancy). Each dicastery is headed by a Cardinal, entitled Prefect
or President, or presided over by an Archbishop. In addition they
are composed of a body of cardinals (who meet periodically for the
more important business), bishops, and other officials, consultors
and employees, both clergy and laity.