The first decision that the college of cardinals will take when it meets in the Vatican on Monday 4 April is to decide the time of the transfer of the body of Pope John Paul II to St Peters basilica where it will lie in state until his funeral. It will also decide the day and the time of his funeral, which has to take place not less than four days and not more than six from the time of the pontiffs death. The cardinals will also hear any documents that John Paul II has left for them, and it will arrange for the destruction of the Fishermans ring that John Paul II always wore and his seal for all papal documents.

At this meeting, or in one soon after, it will choose two ecclesiastics to lead the meditations of the cardinals on the present state of the Church and the considerations to be taken into consideration when electing the new pope. It will also set in motion the preparations for the accommodation of the cardinals who will elect the next pontiff only those less than 80 years old the day before the death of John Paul II and it must also set the date for the beginning of the conclave that will elect the new pope.

During the period between the death of one pope and the election of the next the ordinary management of the Church comes under the control of the general congregation of the college of cardinals, but the college only has the power to manage ordinary affairs; it may not make any decisions that might normally come under the power of the pope. An even smaller body, called the 'particular congregation', undertakes much of the day-to-day administration during the period of the Vacant See. This body is made up of the cardinal chamberlain and three cardinals chosen by lot from those already present in Rome. These cardinal assistants stay in office only three days, after which another three cardinals are chosen in the same way for another three days.

During the meetings of the general and particular congregations of cardinals they must wear black cassocks with piping and a red sash, with skull cap, pectoral cross and ring.