The doors of the Sistine Chapel will be closed this evening with the declaration “extra omnes” – everyone out, beginning the Conclave that will choose the next Pope.
The ceremony, called the “Rite for Entrance into Conclave,” will begin with a procession from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel, a walk of about 50 yards through Regia Hall.
The procession will be led by the cross, followed by the Book of Gospels, the Secretary of the Conclave, Cardinal Prosper Grech – who will lead the final meditation before the voting starts – and finally the rest of the cardinals in the reverse order of their hierarchical precedence (deacons, priests, bishops).
The first person in today’s procession will be American Cardinal John M. Harvey and the last one will be Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.
There are three orders of cardinals – deacons, priests and bishops – and their rank generally corresponds to the type of ministry they are engaged in.
Cardinal deacons lead departments within the Roman Curia, cardinal priests shepherd the dioceses around the world, and cardinal bishops are senior members of the College of Cardinals who are engaged in full-time work with the Curia. The Pope also gives Eastern Catholic patriarchs the title of cardinal bishop.
As they process from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals will sing the Litany of the Saints, asking for their prayers as they head into the Conclave.
Once the cardinals reach the Sistine Chapel they will sing the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit), and then proceed to take their oaths of secrecy, which have both a general and individual component.
The papal master of ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, will then declare “extra omnes” and the doors will be closed.
The cardinals could vote tonight, but they are not required to, Vatican press office director Father Federico Lombardi told the press on March 12.
The first smoke is expected to appear around 8:00 p.m. Rome time.