In the courtyard, the head of state finds the following people lined up: a double squad of the Swiss Guard in Grand Gala uniform, the Gentlemen of His Holiness with the Prefect of the Papal Household, and the General Councilor of the State, and the commander of the Swiss Guard. The flag of the guest’s nation is raised on a flagpole.
According to canon law, the Gentlemen of His Holiness are “lay dignitaries of the Papal Household.” Paul VI established the title of Gentlemen of His Holiness in the motu proprio Pontificalis Domus, issued on March 28, 1968. With that document, Paul VI reformed the Papal Household, streamlined the list of titles, and generally overhauled the whole structure and ethos of the papal court.
The Gentlemen of His Holiness are under the Prefecture of the Papal Household. They are summoned to receive and accompany the pope’s guests: heads of state and government, ambassadors to the Holy See, and other prominent international personalities.
The Prefect of the Papal Household introduces the guest to the dignitaries and the Gentlemen of His Holiness. After the introductions, the pontifical band plays the guest’s national anthem, and the guest is then seated in a living room next to the elevators.
“Today,” Sanchirico notes, “the delegations go up on the elevator, but previously they arrived in the Second Loggia [on the second floor] via the papal staircase.”
Each member of the guest’s delegation is assigned to a Gentleman of His Holiness.
The procession is formed in the Second Loggia, the floor where the papal library is located.
The procession is led by the commander of the squad of the Swiss Guard, who is a sergeant major. The Sediari pontifici follow. They are members of the Papal Antechamber (Anticamera Pontificia) and their role is strictly connected with the service to the pope. In the past, they carried the sedia gestatoria, or gestatorial chair, bearing the pope.
After the Sediari, other figures in the papal court join the procession, including the Decano di Sala dell’Anticamera Pontificia, who is responsible for the public part of the papal apartment and coordinates the Sediari. The Decano is followed by the Addetti di Anticamera di Sua Santità, who are also part of the Papal Family (Familia Pontificalis.)
Then there is a squad of eight Swiss Guards, in the center of which is the guest with the Prefect of the Papal Household on his right, then the spouse of the head of state, and the commander of the Swiss Guard.
Immediately behind this group are the members of the entourage of the head of state, each accompanied by a Gentleman of His Holiness.
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Sanchirico says that “the procession reaches the Sala Clementina, where a section of the Swiss Guard pays the honors. During the state visit, the delegation is welcomed by the lay head of the Papal Family, the Assistant Prince to the throne. He takes the place of the dignitary who accompanies the president [head of state], who shifts his position close to the president’s wife.”
The Papal Almoner, who is part of the Papal Family, also joins the procession.
“Formally, the Almoner is a prelate of the Antechamber, a member of the participating secret chamber,” notes Sanchirico. This is because “the Almoner was a reality of charity that emanated directly from the pope; it has no universal characteristic.”
The procession leads through from the Sala dei Sediari to the Sala di Sant’Ambrogio, where there is a small passage that leads directly to the pope’s library, then to the Sala dei Papi, and the Hall of the Urban VIII Chapel.
Step by step, the procession thins out, with the guest ultimately finding themselves alone with the pope.
First, the Sediari leave the procession, then the Addetti di Anticamera, and finally the Gentlemen of His Holiness. The latter wait in the “Room of the Ambassadors,” while the spouse of the head of state stays in the “Sala Della Consorte” (Consort’s Room).