What is the conclave?

The conclave is the assembly of cardinal electors for the purpose of electing a pope.  The word also describes the secure enclosure in which the Cardinals live and meet during the time it takes to elect the pope.

The word “conclave” is derived from two Latin words: com (“with”) and clāvis (“key”), referring to the practice of locking the door of the room where the Cardinals meet for the papal election.  In the very first conclave, in the 13th century, the cardinals were locked into a confined space by local officials in order to force them to fill a two-year papal vacancy.  The conclave is still locked for two main reasons: to prevent the cardinals from communicating with the outside world and to preserve the secrecy of the election process.

For More Information:

For a history of the origins of the conclave and how the conclave rules have changed through the centuries, see the old 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia "Conclave" article at New Advent.  The current conclave rules are in the 1996 document "Universi Dominici Gregis" promulgated by Pope John Paul II.

The definition of the word "conclave" on dictionary.com

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