You can read much about the Church and the workings of the Church during these days of papal transition, and I would encourage you to do so (with the caveat that I spoke of a few days ago which reminds us that while there is fact and truth out there, there is also a multitude of conjecture and misinformation ... so be cautious). What I hope to do in these upcoming days is to give a little background, a little info on the what and why of things taking place in Rome, and provide a little help in understanding wonderfully rich, tradition shaped, and the sometimes mysterious actions of a Church in transition during the "sede vacante".
First, the terms: "interregnum" comes from the Latin and means "between reigns", describing the time between the pontificates of two popes. It is called a reign because at one time the pope was not only a spiritual leader, but also a head of State and ruler of the Papal States which comprised nearly half of present day Italy. This was true until the Lateran Treaty of 1929, when Vatican City State was established and the Papal States incorporated into Italy. The more accurate description of this transitional time is "sede vacante" which from the Latin means "the empty (vacant) chair of Peter" - the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Pope. The present "sede vacante" will be in effect from this past Thursday, February 28th (2pm ET) until the new pope is elected and says yes, accepting the invitation to follow in the footsteps of Peter.
A question that I have been asked is "Who is running the show?" The answer is that normal operations are on hold, but that the everyday governance of the Church rests with the College of Cardinals who meet daily during this period to handle what needs to be done. The "chamberlain" or "carmelengo" - Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of State - guides the Cardinals in this responsibility. Another key player is the Dean of the College of Cardinals - presently Cardinal Sodano, the former Secretary of State. The Church is in good hands in this time of transition as we await the Conclave that will elect the new pope. The date for the start of the Conclave should be decided early next week.
In the next "sede vacante" post, I will share some information about the College of Cardinals and their role in the life of the Church. Until then, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.