According to Vatican Radio, the College of Cardinals attended a Mass together, “for the election of a pope,” on Tuesday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, in advance of the voting process that will ultimately determine the next successor to St. Peter and the leader of the Catholic Church.
Wearing red vestments, the cardinals processed into the Basilica as Psalm 27 was intoned:
The Lord is the strength of His people, a saving refuge for the one He has anointed.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Dean of the College, delivered a homily that received thunderous applause when he expressed thanksgiving for the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. Sodano spoke about the messages of love, unity, and the mission of the Pope. He put forward the notion that the successors of Peter are called to preside over the Church in charity and love.
“The basic attitude of every Shepherd is therefore to lay down one’s life for his sheep,” Sodano said.
The cardinal continued his thoughts about the mission of the pope in serving the international community:
This also applies to the Successor of Peter, Pastor of the Universal Church. As high and universal the pastoral office so much greater must be the charity of the Shepherd… Let us pray that the future Pope may continue this unceasing work on the world level.
Following the Mass, the cardinals returned to the Santa Marta residence on the edge of the Vatican gardens. At 4:30 p.m., the cardinals process into the Sistine Chapel, as they intone the Litany of Saints, the Gregorian chant calling upon the saints to guide their voting.
Each cardinal takes an oath of secrecy, and, after a meditation, the master of papal liturgical ceremonies gives the order, “Extra omnes,” or, “Everyone out.” All but those cardinals who will vote must then leave the Sistine Chapel.
As the voting proceeds, each cardinal will write his choice on a piece of paper inscribed with the words, “Eligo in summen pontificem,” which is Latin for, “I elect as Supreme Pontiff.”
Each cardinal holds his ballot up as he approaches the altar, places it on a saucer, then tips it into an urn, intoning the words:
I call as my witness, Christ the Lord, who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one who, before God, I think should be elected.
Once the votes are counted and announced, the paper ballots are sewn together with needle and thread, placed in a cast-iron stove, and burned with a special chemical. The six-foot high copper chimney erected on top of the Sistine Chapel will signal black puffs of smoke if there is no pope yet elected. White smoke signifies to the world that a new pope has been elected.
The first puffs of smoke are anticipated at around 8:00 p.m. If they are black, voting will continue, four rounds each day, until the new pope is elected.