At eight o'clock in the evening tonight, local time in Rome, the Throne of St. Peter will be vacant.
The other day when I was watching the press conference in the back of All Saints Church with Cardinal Rigali, I noticed that His Eminence mentioned to the gathered reporters that His Holiness' pontificate will end at 8:00 pm, Rome time. I knew that, but I was surprised that no reporter asked what I thought would be an obvious question: "Why eight o'clock?"
Why not midnight? Or even sunset? After all, there are points during the twenty-four hour interval that has symbolism and significance. Eight o'clock, at least to an America, is the start of prime time television. There is a coffee called Eight O'Clock. There is a movie called "Dinner at Eight."
But that should give you a clue as to why eight o'clock. Because for the Pope . . . it's the end of his work day. During his pontificate, eight o'clock in the evening would be when he finished his day's work snd "close up shop," so to speak, to retire to his apartment for his evening meal, reading, prayer, maybe even some piano playing with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger.
So to leave the papacy at eight o'clock in the evening is fitting for this humble man. His long day's work is done and without hoopla, just quietly retires as he has done before. There is no pomp or special ceremony, because his work is not ended - just that day's work, and the next morning he rises to continue, only in the position of Bishop Emeritus of Rome, praying for God's people and ready to serve his successor as a faithful priest.
At 2:00 pm today, local time in Knoxville, that corresponds to 8:00 pm in Rome, I will be in prayer. I confess, even as I write this my eyes are tearing because I love my Pope. But I know what he wants me to do is to pray - in union with him - for the Church and that the Cardinals open themselves to the Holy Spirit and elect a man who will reign on the throne in holiness.