(RNN) - Steeped in thousands of years of tradition, the Catholic Church finds itself in transition, temporarily without a leader. Around 115 Catholic cardinals will soon conclave at the Sistine Chapel - sequestered from the eyes of the world - to begin the process of choosing a successor to Pope Benedict XVI and the new leader of the world's more than 1 billion Catholics.
So what exactly is a conclave? In short, it is a meeting held to elect a new pope.
A date for the conclave has not been set. It's expected to be announced Monday.
A new pope is elected after cardinals from all corners of the globe fly to Vatican City and meet in secret, voting four times a day - twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.
They continue the process until they reach a two-thirds plus one majority vote.
While cardinals can technically vote for any baptized Catholic male, historically they choose one of their own, the man they feel God would have them elevate to the position of pontiff.
Cardinals must be under the age of 80 to vote, which means the new pope will certainly be under the age of 80.
Only a handful of popes throughout history have been non-cardinals. The last non-cardinal pope was Urban VI, elected in 1379.
Ballots are burned after each vote.
The only signal the waiting world has about how things are going is the burning of the ballots. If black smoke appears from the chimney of the chapel, it's a sign the cardinals have not reached a consensus. If white smoke appears, a new pope has been elected.
Conclaves are usually held under much more somber circumstances - the death and burial of a pope. Since Benedict is the first pope in 598 years to resign, there isn't a mourning period. And thanks to some last-hour tweaks to the rules by Benedict saying the cardinals don't have to wait the customary 15 days after the last pope's official last day to gather, the conclave could begin much sooner than usual.
The rules change could help the Church have a new pope in place ahead of the Holy Week, which begins on March 24, Palm Sunday.
The Holy Week marks the final days of Christ's life, leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.
The week officially ends Saturday ahead of Easter Sunday, one of the two most important dates on the Christian calendar, along with Christmas.
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