Whole church called to enter conclave in prayer, archbishop says

People walking through St. Peter's Square are seen from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 11, the day before the world's cardinals gather for the conclave in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope. (CNS photo/Eric Gaillardi, Reuters)
People walking through St. Peter’s Square are seen from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 11, the day before the world’s cardinals gather for the conclave in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope. (CNS photo/Eric Gaillardi, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Although there will only be 115 cardinals in the Sistine Chapel voting for a pope, the whole church joins them in prayer and expectation, said the archbishop who spearheaded the design of the conclave rites and prayers.

Archbishop Piero Marini, currently president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, was master of ceremonies for Blessed John Paul II and coordinated the development of the prayers and Masses that will guide the cardinals entering the conclave March 12.

“The spirit of expectation is part of this period” in the life of the church, Archbishop Marini told reporters March 9 during a media briefing organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Pontifical North American College.

“The event of a conclave doesn’t just involve a small circle of particular people who gather to make their own little decision. It’s an ecclesial event at which the cardinals represent the entire College of Bishops,” he said.

Catholics are called to enter spiritually into the Sistine Chapel with the cardinal electors, he said.

“With our hearts we are all in the Sistine Chapel to await, through the voting, the Lord’s indication of who the next pope should be,” he said.

Archbishop Marini also headed the group of liturgical and theological experts who designed the Mass for the installation of a new pope. The text was not approved by Blessed John Paul in 1998 when he approved the rites for a conclave, Archbishop Marini said, because the late pope did not want to dictate how his successor would initiate his ministry.

One important value in designing the Mass, which was approved by Pope Benedict XVI the day after his election, was to ensure that the gestures associated with the papal installation — like receiving the fisherman’s ring and the pallium — were connected to the Gospel passages that inspired them, Archbishop Marini said. In 2005, the pope received the symbols immediately after the Gospel reading.

The Gospel text foreseen for the Mass is from John 21, which includes Jesus telling his disciples to cast their nets into the sea, as well as Jesus telling Peter, “Feed my sheep.” The fisherman’s ring depicts Peter casting out his net to be a fisher of men; and the pallium, a wool band worn around the shoulders, evokes a shepherd carrying his sheep, Archbishop Marini said.

The consignment of the symbols right after the reading, he said, highlights the fact that the Gospel is not “simply an account of events that occurred long ago, but is a message that continues to have relevance today. The words said to Peter are said again today to the successor of Peter.”

Archbishop Marini’s successor, Msgr. Guido Marini, who is not related, told the Vatican newspaper that continuing a process begun under Pope Benedict, gestures — like giving the new pope the ring and pallium — that are not sacramental would take place before the Mass begins.

Msgr. Marini, the current master of ceremonies, said Pope Benedict ordered the changes shortly before resigning Feb. 28.

The new pope’s installation, he said, also would include a return to the practice of all the cardinals present publicly paying homage and promising obedience to the new pope. During the installation Mass, Archbishop Marini designed for Pope Benedict, 12 people were chosen to represent all Catholics: three cardinals, a bishop, a diocesan priest, a transitional deacon, a male religious, a female religious, a married couple and a young man and a young woman recently confirmed.

Archbishop Marini said it was Pope Benedict himself who thought a “symbolic” number was better than having all the cardinals come up to him, otherwise the procession would “unbalance” the Mass. Besides, the archbishop said, there will be the 114 other electors, plus possibly another 65 cardinals over 80 at the Mass. If each cardinal took 30 seconds to pay homage, that part of the celebration alone would last 90 minutes.

But Msgr. Marini told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that returning to the practice of all the cardinals paying homage publicly was a way to illustrate the universality of the church.

Msgr. Kevin W. Irwin, a professor of liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America, joined Archbishop Marini for the press briefing March 9.

He explained that the conclave begins with a procession from the Pauline Chapel in the Apostolic Palace to the Sistine Chapel as a reminder that all people are on a pilgrimage from one place to another on this earth as they make their way home to God.

The entire conclave, he said, “is liturgy. It’s prayer from beginning to end.”

The conclave handbook, Msgr. Irwin said, emphasizes that the conclave “is not only a juridical action — how to do your hanging chads, it’s not about that. It’s about prayer.”

Australian Jesuit Father Richard Leonard, author of the new book “Why Bother Praying,” said when Catholics pray for the cardinals, “The thing we’re primarily doing is asking God to give them the greatest insight into who the Holy Spirit wants to lead the Catholic Church right now.”

“We’ve had bad conclaves … when God looks to have been more absent than present,” he said. “Some Catholics live under the false impression that every conclave has been open to the Holy Spirit, but anybody who knows church history knows that’s just not true,” even if the Holy Spirit still ensured that those popes could not destroy the church.

Praying that the Holy Spirit assist the cardinals, he said, “also changes me, changes us.” People praying may have a favorite candidate, but asking God to guide the conclave makes them recognize that the key value is not so much who walks out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as the new pope, as but that “the Gospel be most clearly proclaimed to the world.”

— By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service