With the death of John Paul II, the Church enters a state known as “Sede Vacante,” the principle of “no innovar” is invoked and most of the Vatican offices of the Roman Curia become vacant until the election of the new Pontiff.
According to the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis issued by Pope John Paul II in 1996, the government of the Church is entrusted to the College of Cardinals solely for the dispatch of ordinary business and of matters which cannot be postponed , and for the preparation of everything necessary for the election of the new Pope.
Paragraph 1 states, “The College of Cardinals has no power or jurisdiction in matters which pertain to the Supreme Pontiff during his lifetime or in the exercise of his office, such matters are to be reserved completely and exclusively to the future Pope.”
While the See is vacant, there are two kinds of Congregations of the Cardinals: General Congregations, which include the whole College and are held before the beginning of the election, and Particular Congregations
All the Cardinals who are not legitimately impeded must attend the General Congregations, once they have been informed of the vacancy of the Apostolic See. Cardinals who do not enjoy the right of electing the Pope are not required to attend the General Congregations, should they prefer.
The questions decided by the congregations, by simply majority, include fixing the day, hour and manner in which the body of the deceased Pope shall be brought to the Vatican Basilica in order to be exposed for the homage of the faithful; making all necessary arrangements for the funeral rites of the deceased Pope; organizing accomodations for the Cardinal electors at the Domus Santa Marta; entrusting to two ecclesiastics known for their sound doctrine, wisdom and moral authority the task of presenting to the Cardinals two well-prepared meditations on the problems facing the Church at the time and on the need for careful discernment in choosing the new Pope; approving expenses incurred from the death of the Pope until the election of his successor; reading any documents left by the deceased Pope for the College of Cardinals; and arranging for the destruction of the Fisherman's Ring and of the lead seal with which Apostolic Letters are dispatched
The Particular Congregations are made up of the Cardinal Camerlengo and three Cardinals, called Assistants, chosen by lot. The Particular Congregations are to deal only with questions of lesser importance which arise on a daily basis or from time to time.