Congregations, General and Particular

By means of two instruments, the General and the Particular Congregation, the College of Cardinals governs the Holy See during a Papal Interregnum, within the limits of authority granted it by the Pope. This authority permits no changes to what a Pope has already decided, or any innovation or disposition with respect to the spiritual or even the material patrimony of the Holy See. The Cardinals could not, for example, grant new indulgences, or make treaties, or sell the paintings in the Vatican Museum.

General Congregation

A General Congregation is a meeting of all the Cardinals who are not legitimately impeded. A Cardinal could be legitimately impeded by sickness or feebleness, by being in transit, or by a government not permitting him to travel. A Cardinal who is not eligible to elect (i.e. 80 years of older) may choose not to participate.

General Congregations meet in the Apostolic Palace and are Presided over by the Dean of the College, or in his absence by the Vice-Dean, or if one or the other is not an Elector, the senior Elector present. They are to meet daily and vote on the more serious business "in a manner that ensures secrecy". In the first such General Congregation the Cardinals swear an oath to maintain secrecy in all matters concerning the election of the Pontiff.

Particular Congregation

A Particular Congregation is a smaller group of Cardinals, established to handle the less important business. It is composed of the Camerlengo and three Assistants, a Cardinal Bishop, a Cardinal Priest and a Cardinal Deacon, chosen by lot from among the Cardinal Electors present in Rome. They are elected to office for a term of three days, after which a new election is held. Assistants are chosen throughout the period of the Interregnum, and serve also during the Conclave.

The decisions of a Particular Congregation cannot be altered or reversed by another Particular Congregation, but can be referred to the General Congregation for a decision.


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