When finally the white smoke wafts from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, Vatican-watchers the world over will expect to see the new Pope emerging to wave to the crowd from the central balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
Unlike in past papal elections, though, the faithful gathered to catch a glimpse of the new Pope will have to wait about 50 minutes from the time they first see the white smoke, until Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran announces “Habemus Papam” (We have a Pope).
Why does it take so long?
Once the Cardinal electors reach a 2/3 majority, the Cardinal Deacon, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, will ask the candidate whether he accepts his “canonical election as Supreme Pontiff.” If the candidate declines—which is his right—the cardinals will return to prayer, discussion and voting. If he accepts, Cardinal Battista Re will ask him what name he will use as Pope; and the white smoke will be sent up.
Only then will the newly elected Pope go to the Room of Tears, where he will choose from the small, medium and large vestments hanging on a rack. He will also choose his new red papal shoes from a range of sizes which have been custom-made for the pontiff.
Dressed for the first time in papal white, the Pope will return to the Sistine Chapel where the Cardinals will hold a small ceremony which includes prayer and reading of the Scriptures. Each of the Cardinals will personally congratulate the new pontiff, then all will join in singing the Te Deum, the Church’s traditional hymn of thanks to God, and begin the procession out of the chapel.
And here’s where things are different from past elections: In the past, the Pope has then walked directly from the Sistine Chapel, past the Pauline Chapel, to the loggia, the balcony where he will be presented to the people for the first time. This time, reports Vatican press office director Father Federico Lombardi, the pope will stop along the way at the Pauline Chapel, where he will spend time in personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
How fitting is that! In the Middle Ages, the Rule of St. Benedict which defined the structure of monastic life called the Benedictine monks to “Ora et Labora” (prayer and work). First, though, was the prayer—before beginning any good enterprise, the monks turned to God.
Likewise our new Pope, before addressing the people “urbi et orbi” (in the Church and the world) for the first time, will first address his thanks and supplications to God. Rather than brushing past the chapel and saying to God, in effect, “I’ll be right back, after I talk to the people”, the new Pope will precede his first official audience with adoration.
So be patient: We won’t see him for a few minutes, but that’s okay. He’ll be talking to his Boss—praying for you and me.