Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Why a Pope?
Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world yesterday when he announced that he would resign the Papacy effective 8PM on February 28, 2013. This is the first time in over 700 years and the first in modern history that a Pope has resigned. It is important to note that Canon Law (the Church’s code of laws) allows for this to happen. In fact, the Holy Father, both as Pope and before has suggested that it might be appropriate and even an obligation in modern times. The rules that guide the Church in electing a new Pope uses the language “Sede Vacante”, that is, Vacant See and suggests that there are ways besides death that that could occur.
This has renewed interest in the institution of the Roman Pontiff not only for Catholics, but people of all faiths. This might be a good time to remind ourselves what we are talking about when we speak of the Pope.
Why a Pope?
Catholics believe that Jesus established the Church, the Communion of believers, to continue his work of proclaiming the Gospel to all people. It is the mechanism through which He continues to make himself known in the world and to His people. In Matthew 18:20, Christ is quoted as saying, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
It is from this community that some are called to roles of leadership. The Evangelist Luke writes in 6:13 that Jesus called some from His disciples to be Apostles. After Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, the apostles carried on the work of evangelization by founding and serving as the heads of local Churches. As time went on and the apostles began dying, bishops were appointed to take their place. Priests and deacons assist the bishop in his ministry to a particular church (what we would call a diocese). The bishop has authority only when in union with his brother bishops and the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.
Peter founded the Church in Rome and it is where he was martyred for the faith. He was an apostle like the others, but considered the leader of the Twelve. In Matthew, we hear Jesus confirm this in his words to Peter: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Mt. 16:18).
The successor of Peter, the following bishops of Rome, assume the leadership position that Peter had over the early Church. It is important to realize that he functions within the confines of Catholic doctrine and Canon Law. This may seem a bit institutional, but it is a mechanism to protect the Tradition of the Church. Papal infallibility does not mean the Pope can’t make mistakes.
The Papacy (as it has come to be called) is a visible unity of the Churches as the Body of Christ on earth.
What does the Pope do?
The Pope serves as the Bishop of Rome and has similar responsibilities in that capacity as any bishop. In addition, he is also responsible for the Pastoral Care of all the faithful. He accomplishes this by daily praying for the people of the world, maintaining relations with the countries of the world, appointing bishops, overseeing various Vatican councils, committees and offices, teaches through letters, homilies and speeches, and visits the faithful around the world. In addition, he also serves as the Head of State of the Vatican, which is a sovereign country.
What happens now?
On February 28, 2013 at 8PM (Roman Time), Benedict XVI’s reign as pope ends. The protocol is for the Cardinal Chamberlain (Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone) to destroy the Pope’s ring (so no fraudulent documents may be issued) and the Papal Apartments sealed. He will then call the world’s cardinals to Rome and being preparations for the Conclave to elect a new pope.
According to current regulations, the Conclave cannot open until 15 full days after the vacancy has occurred and must begin within 20 days. In this case, that means the Conclave would begin sometime between March 15 and March 20. There are some wondering whether Benedict XVI will adjust the rules to allow the conclave to occur earlier as the funeral rites and period of mourning following the death of a Pope aren’t necessary. However, according to the regulations the purpose of the 15 days isn’t for the funeral rites, but to give the Cardinals adequate time to arrive.
Once the Conclave begins, the Cardinals will be locked in the Sistine Chapel for their deliberations and votes. After each vote, the ballots are burned, generating the black smoke, a signal to the world that a vote has occurred but no successor elected. When someone receives a 2/3 majority and then accepts the election result, the ballots are burned with a chemical that creates white smoke.
This is an exciting time for the Church. Please pray for Benedict, for the Cardinal-electors and for the whole Church during this time of transition.