There used to be a small silver mallet that was ceremonially tapped three times on the forehead of the dead pope while his baptismal name was called out, to make sure he was dead and not asleep.
Today, the papal physician declares to the senior ranking cardinal when the pontiff is medically dead. In turn, this cardinal notifies all the eligible cardinals in the world (less than eighty years of age) and tells the world that the pope is dead.
The actual funeral and burial of the pope take place four to six days after his death. This is followed by a nine-day period of mourning (called the novemdiales, Latin for “nine days”). The papal conclave to select a successor normally takes place fifteen days after the death of the pope, but it may be extended to a maximum of twenty days in order to permit other cardinals to arrive in the Vatican City.
Conclave is a word that comes from the Latin (cum + clave = with + key) since they literally lock the doors of the Sistine Chapel until the cardinals elect a new pope. There are no primaries, no campaigns, no debates. The cardinals can vote for anyone they choose. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they choose another cardinal, since they know each other to a degree; however, theoretically, any bishop, priest, deacon, or layman can be elected.
A two-thirds majority of the ballots cast are needed to elect a new bishop of Rome and pope of the Catholic Church. All votes are secret and if no one is elected, wet straw is mixed with the paper ballots and they are burned so the smoke which can be seen outside by the crowds gathered in Saint Peter’s Piazza appears black in color, to signify that there is no pope yet. If a two-thirds majority is given to one man, then that cardinal is asked if he accepts. If he does, he is asked what name he will go by (like John Paul II or Benedict XVI) and the ballots are burned without wet straw so that the smoke seen outside by the crowds is white, meaning, “we have a new pope.” Bells are rung to let the people know for sure.
Two votes take place each day, and if there is no one with two-thirds majority by the twenty-second ballot, then whoever receives a simple majority (50 percent plus one) wins. Once the winner accepts and chooses a name, the announcement is made on the balcony of Saint Peter’s: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam! (“I announce to you with great joy: we have a pope!”)
If the cardinals elect a man who is not a bishop, then before being installed as pope, he must be ordained and consecrated a bishop, since the pope is always simultaneously the bishop of Rome. If a layman, he would need to be ordained a deacon, a priest, and then a bishop before being installed as pope.
Traditionally, the triple tiara (triple crown) was used for centuries to “crown” popes, and the ceremony was called a papal coronation until recently when John Paul I declined to be crowned as did his next two successors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They preferred to have the pallium put on them, which is a stole-like band of lamb’s wool that symbolizes the rank of metropolitan. Future popes, however, can certainly restore the practice of coronation, since the pope is the one who makes the rules. The reason for a triple crown dates back to the Middle Ages.
In the days of the Holy Roman Empire, a single-level crown was worn by kings, and a double crown was worn by the emperor. The pope acquired a triple crown to signify his autonomy from secular control and his superior spiritual authority over the secular world. The crown also symbolized that in the papacy there was one person who embodied the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches of power.