Sede Vacante, Conclave, and Habemus Papam – What’s a priest to do?!

I never thought I’d have a conclave during my first year of priesthood!  What’s a parish priest to do?!  I remember visiting a parish youth group retreat during the interregnum and conclave that elected Benedict.  The priest was wearing red vestments and praying to the Holy Spirit to assist the cardinals as they tried to fill the shoes of the only pope most of us had even known.  Ultimately I think they did.  Benedict has been an incredible Pope.  It’s been said over and over again that people came to see John Paul, but they came to hear Benedict.

The image of that priest saying that special Mass for the election of a new pope stuck with me.

As Benedict leaves the Vatican for the last time as Pope on February 28th, as the lights of the Apostolic Palace are darkened, and as the Camerlengo (Cardinal Bertone) seals the Apostolic Palace what are we throughout the world left to do?

Ultimately, I’ve been wondering what I should do as a parish priest in these exciting days.  The answer always comes back to prayer.  What good is a priest if he doesn’t encourage and assist his people to prayer?!  Since the Holy Father’s shocking announcement of his resignation I’ve mentioned him and the Cardinal –Electors during the Universal Prayer at Mass.  I’ve encouraged everyone at Mass to offer prayers and some type of sacrifice for both Benedict and those that will elect his successor.  I’ve preached about Benedict’s incredible courage and humility  - his teaching us all a final lesson.

The ever helpful USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship put together a package of Liturgical Notes and resource Materials for use upon the Resignation of the Pope.  Click the Link to open up a VERY helpful PDF.

That package included two sets of prayers for Masses to be said in the coming days – the first for use Upon News of the Pope’s Resignation and the second for Masses said During the Time of Election of a New Pope.  Ultimately these Masses may only be celebrated “at the direction of the Diocesan Bishop or with his permission” (GIRM, no. 374) because Lenten weekdays rank high in the liturgical hierarchy.
As the Cardinals enter into the Sistine Chapel the Litany of the Saints is going to be chanted.  As the Cardinals enter into that sacred place, looking upon the scene of the Last Judgment, they will be calling upon the help of all God’s holy Angels and Saints.

Back in 2005, I was in college watching this happen with rapt attention.  Now, all the more will I be watching.  More to pray along with then rather than for the spectacle of what is happening.  Let’s all join in prayer with them, in anticipation of one of the most moving scenes of our lifetime.

Watch the Cardinals enter into the conclave that elected Benedict XVI:

YouTube Preview Image

Its always been the tradition that upon the white smoke coming from the Sistine Chapel indicating a newly elected Holy Father that the bells of the worlds Catholic Churches be rung.  I eagerly anticipate running over to the Church to ring the bells for all to hear.  I remember being in college and everyone thinking I was nuts for yelling Habemus Papam in the hallway of the dorm- I didn’t know what else to do!  Now, I can’t wait to ring those bells!  It’s also customary, but again, not mandated for Catholic Churches to place gold and white bunting over the doors of the Church, signifying the great joy of a new Pontiff.

These last days of Benedict Pontificate are tinged with sadness.  We are indeed saddened to see him leaved.  But as they say in Rome, when one Holy Father dies, we make another one [I guess we’ll have to update that saying!]. The anticipation and excitement of a conclave and new Holy Father will soon replace those feelings of sadness.  Until then lets all commit ourselves to offering small sacrifices and prayers for the intentions of Pope Benedict, for the Cardinal-Electors, and for whomever the new Holy Father will be.

The Knights of Columbus and Archbishop Lori have put out a moving prayer to be said during this time of transition for our Church.  Maybe we can make it part of our Lenten practices this year.

“O Lord Jesus Christ , Supreme Pastor of Your Church,

we thank you for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI

and the selfless care with which he has led us

as Successor of Peter, and Your Vicar on earth.

Good Shepherd, who founded Your Church

on the rock of Peter’s faith and have never left Your flock untended,

look with love upon us now, and sustain Your Church in faith, hope, and charity.

Grant, Lord Jesus, in Your boundless love for us,

a new Pope for Your Church who will please You

by his holiness and lead us faithfully to You,

who are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Amen.”

  • Anthony Gentile

    Great Post Father.

    I’ll never forget when Benedict was elected either. I was working as the full time sacristan at St. Kilian, Msgr. Swaider was Pastor at this point. Once he heard the news he called me and told me to drop the mop(i Had been waxing the Sanctuary) and ring the bells!!!! All of Farmingdale was alerted to the joyous news HABEMUS PAPEM!!!! It was incredible. There was such an air of joy, it was almost tangible. I’ll nevber forget I got to ring the bells when Benedict was elected….
    My family will be joining you (and millions of our catholic family) in saying these prayers…

    Peace,
    Anthony Gentile

  • Mike

    My parish does Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on First Fridays. We typically end each hour with prayers for the pope to gain a partial,indulgence. What is the norm of the Church when we are in the situation we have now- with no Pope? C

    • Fr. Michael F. Duffy

      I’m not sure, i would assume we would instead pray for the College of Cardinals as they prepare to elect the new Pope…


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