5 Euro Coin
2005 Sede Vacante
THE SEAT OF ST. PETER IS EMPTY
In the United States, should the President become incapacitated or die, there is a constitutionally defined line of succession: first then Vice-President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives, then the Secretary of State, and so on down the line through the Cabinet and I suspect after that there is even a list of more officials who would take over. The point is: the country is never left without an active leader. The Office of the President is always occupied, after the next person in line is sworn into office
When the Pope dies, there is a different process. One of the Cardinals will have already been designated as the “Camerlengo”: this Cardinal prepares the Pope’s funeral and handles other housekeeping details that must be done in running the Vatican. He is not able, as far as I know, to sign treaties with other nations, issue encyclicals or other important documents, or in general wield the major powers of the papacy.
Going back many centuries, there are Sede Vacante coins and even more recently Sede Vacante stamps. These are tangible reminders to the world that business is continuing. Although a Pope has just died, there will soon be an election and another Pope will preside over the Church. The Apostolic Succession, starting with St. Peter, will continue. The Italians have another way of saying this: “When the Pope dies, they make a new one.”
On one side of this coins is the Coat of Arms of the Cardinal Camerlengo, and in the 2005 Conclave this was Cardinal Ratzinger. The back of the coin is a dove, reminding me that the Church continues to be under the protection and wise guidance of the Holy Spirit. The obverse side of the coin indicates the human being who is the temporary guardian of the Papal throne; the reverse reminds us not to forget Divine Providence which we may not see or hear but is tremendously powerful.