According to the Vatican’s press office director Father Federico Lombardi, “the rapidity of the vote shows it. Making use of the 'Infirmarii' (those who bring one of the voting urns to any cardinals who are too ill to attend the proceedings in the Sistine Chapel) would require more time.”
In fact, all 115 cardinal electors are present in the Sistine Chapel, even though one African cardinal is in a wheelchair and Cardinal Ivan Dias is using arm braces to walk.
They each required a nurse to help them into the conclave, and those medical assistants remained with them inside, Fr. Lombardi said at a March 13 press briefing.
The smoke, known as the “fumata” in Italian, was originally forecast to be visible around noon and 7:00 p.m. any day after the first evening of the conclave.
Last night’s smoke was expected around 8:00 p.m. because the conclave heard a meditation before its first vote.
But the first black smoke appeared at 7:42 p.m., almost 20 minutes early.
The next signal would normally have been seen at close to noon, however it rose from the smoke stack at 11:40 a.m., in keeping with the pattern of the night before.
Fr. Lombardi also mentioned that the Vatican received numerous phone calls from concerned locals who thought that the amount of smoke must have meant that something went wrong and that it also got inside the chapel.
“The smoke didn't damage any of Michelangelo's frescos or endanger the health of the cardinals,” he said.
“The prelates are all doing well, are in good spirits, and this morning some even walked to the Pauline Chapel, where they celebrated Mass before entering the Sistine Chapel,” Fr. Lombardi added.
The stove that generates the smoke is outfitted with a device that accepts a cartridge containing five doses of a chemical compound that will produce about seven minutes of black or white smoke that mingles with the smoke from the ballots.
The black smoke is produced by a mixture of potassium perchlorate, anthracene, and sulphur, while the white smoke is made by burning a mixture of potassium chlorate, lactose, and rosin – a natural amber resin.
The smoke signals that indicate whether or not a new Pope has been chosen might be earlier than in the past because there are no cardinals in the infirmary.
Pope, Conclave, College of Cardinals