Conclave of Cardinals, Vatican (Exterior)

Conclave of Cardinals, Vatican City


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Conclave of Cardinals
Location: Vatican City
Date of visit: Tuesday, 12 March 2013, 3:00pm

The building

The conclave was held in the chapel (known as the Sistine Chapel) of what used to be called the Papal Court. The chapel occupies one of the buildings that comprise the Palace of Sixtus V (not to be confused with Quintus VI), which is the official residence of the Pope. The palace was begun in 1589 to replace earlier papal apartments that had fallen into disrepair. Aside from its world-famous frescoes by Michelangelo, Botticelli and others, the Sistine Chapel is best known for a motet, the Miserere, which was written for the chapel choir by the late Renaissance composer Gregorio Allegri and is sung there every year during Holy Week. For many years it was forbidden to make copies of the manuscript of the Miserere under pain of excommunication, and it was not performed outside the Vatican until after 1770, when a 14-year old boy by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart transcribed it note-perfect from memory after hearing it sung.

The church

The College of Cardinals advises the Pope on church matters when summoned to do so, giving new meaning to the expression "When I want your advice, Ill ask for it." One of its other functions is to arrange to have the papal throne reupholstered whenever the condition known as sede vacante occurs.

The neighborhood

The Vatican, a walled enclave surrounded by the city of Rome, is the smallest sovereign state in the world. It is approximately 110 acres in size and has a population of around 800. Created by treaty in 1929, Vatican City is strictly speaking not a vestige of what were once called the Papal States; it is, however, all that remains of the Pope's worldly dominions.

The cast

His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and titular bishop of Ostia, presided. He was assisted by three Cardinal Scrutineers who were elected on the spot to supervise the voting, and by the Revd Msgr Guido Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies.

What was the name of the service?

Papal Conclave

How full was the building?

There were 115 robed clerics, constituting the College of Cardinals (well, most of them, anyway). The one or two of us in attendance who were not members of that elite body tried as best we could to make ourselves inconspicuous, for reasons that should be all too evident.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. In fact, we had a distinct feeling that the cardinals would have preferred that we not be there!

Was your pew comfortable?

I had to sit in a corner at the rear of the chapel on a small three-legged stool (about which more later) into which the initials "R.H." had been carved. By tradition, observers always sit on this stool, so it stands to reason that I would also. Its use is thought to be sanctioned by scripture, specifically Psalm 110. It was pretty much as comfortable as one would expect. The cardinals, on the other hand, sat in specially constructed stalls that looked rather plush.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Hushed but expectant.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

They were in Latin: Extra omnes. I confess that Latin is not one of my strong points, but as one of the Swiss Guards was taking dinner orders as the master of ceremonies spoke those words, I assumed the good monsignor was trying to say that he wanted to super-size his meal. I did note that many of the cardinals, apparently hoping for a quick balloting, declined to order dinner. The Swiss Guards left with order book in hand, shutting the doors behind them.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Freshly printed hardbound copies of Ordo Rituum Conclavis and Liturgia Horarium had been placed in front of each cardinal's chair. I also spotted well-worn, dog-eared copies of John Collins' Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin tucked inconspicuously into the folds of the mozzettas of many of the cardinals.

What musical instruments were played?

Harmonica, but only for one number (see below). Mores the pity, as I thought Their Eminences could have used a little help staying on pitch as they sang the opening Veni Creator Spiritus.

Did anything distract you?

Michelangelos fabulous fresco of the Last Judgment was a major distraction. I kept wondering which (if any) churchmen Michelangelo would have consigned to the, erm, other place if he were creating the fresco today. And during a particularly heated moment of debate, I thought I heard "Shine Jesus Shine" being played on a digital synthesizer. When I saw one of the cardinals reach surreptitiously under his robes and pull out a cell phone, I realized I had been mistaken.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was actually rather lively and animated, considering that the participants consisted almost entirely of elderly celibate men in lace-trimmed gowns. I had previously written the name of my favorite candidate on the back of the Mystery Worship calling card, and I managed to slip the card in the plate during the balloting that turned out to be the final vote. As the Cardinal Scrutineer was counting the tally, he suddenly held up the calling card and, with a surprised but relieved look on his face, announced, "A Spiritu Sancto decretum est: habemus papam!" The dean then led us all in a feisty rendition of "Cum sancti gradientes progrediuntur", which again could have stood some instrumental support, and which I somehow think would have sounded better in its original English. Oh, if Louis Armstrong had only been there!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

45 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

3 – I thought the new Popes sermon sounded very much like the ecclesiastical equivalent of an Academy Awards acceptance speech, complete with some really obnoxious Catholic name-dropping and accompanying shout-outs. All that was lacking was the wrap-up music.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His Holiness managed to thank everyone who had exerted any influence whatsoever in his upbringing, education, and ministry, from the nanny who had sterilized his baby bottle nipples to the master of ceremonies who held his crosier for him at mass (using the vimpa, of course).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

As the new Pope returned from the robing chamber resplendent in his white soutane, one of the American cardinals whipped out a pocket harmonica and struck up a bouncy rendition of "Hail to the Chief." He was quickly silenced, however, by a glare from the Cardinal Dean a heavenly gesture for which we were all grateful. As the cardinals walked up to kiss the Popes hand as a sign of respect, I was reminded somehow of the ascendancy of Michael Corleone at the conclusion of The Godfather, one of my favorite films. Also, I could be imagining things, but I thought I saw His Holiness slip what appeared to be a small rectangle of colored paper with architectural designs and numbers engraved thereon into the left hand of several of the cardinals while they kissed his right hand. How heavenly of him to present his brothers with a souvenir, I thought.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Those of you who object to the sweet smell of incense have had nothing to object to until youve smelled the pungent odor of paper ballots being burned with special chemicals to turn the smoke black.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I remained seated on the three-legged stool, but I was aware of several curious glances cast in my direction by the cardinals. Finally one of them came up to me and whispered in my ear, "Cave Kalendas Aprilis." Again, my Latin is weak, but I think he was advising me to carve a calendar for April. Exactly what he meant by that remark, I have no idea.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The new Pope heated up some leftover fugazzeta de verdura at the furnace where the ballots had been burned and took great pleasure in serving us all. It was delicious, but unfortunately this delayed the Holy Father's appearance on the balcony for over an hour. When he finally stepped out to bless the assembled throngs, the rest of us adjourned to the chapels caffeteria, where hot, strong espresso was served up in proper demitasse cups onto which the letters "FPM" had been emblazoned. The Vatican pottery shop sure works fast! Also available were some delicious cannoli and bomboloni. The cardinals freely indulged, especially those who had foolishly foregone ordering dinner. Judging from some of Their Eminences waistlines, the caffeteria must have been one of their favorite hangouts during the past several weeks.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

N/A – Its not something that happens every day, Deo gratias.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What do you think?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Cave Kalendas Aprilis.

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