With Pope Benedict XVI leaving the papal office after resigning two weeks ago, the Catholic Church will have to rush to pick his replacement before Easter.
Normally, the College of Cardinals is not allowed to select a new pontiff until 15 to 20 days after the office becomes vacant -- usually when the previous pope has died.
Benedict's resignation is a rare exception. The last man to quit the head of the Catholic Church did so 600 years ago.
The situation calls for some rule bending, and having the current pope involved is proving advantageous.
He has slightly amended the 500-year-old policy on pope selection to get a successor into place more rapidly.
The cardinals may to be able to pull it off before March 15, according to Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.
This would give the new pontiff a little over a week to prepare for the next mass, Palm Sunday celebrations, on March 24.
While Benedict won't be directly involved in his successor's selection, his influence will undoubtedly be felt. He appointed 67 of at least 115 cardinals set to make the decision.
The pope gives his last audience Wednesday morning. His last day on the job is Thursday.
Here's a look at the process of electing a new pope:
What has to happen first?
There were traditionally three methods of choosing a new pope, but the church abolished two -- leaving cardinals to pick a peer via paper ballot only.
When a pope dies, the dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals calls for a meeting of all cardinals eligible to vote -- those under age 80.
They have to vote in person. Although some work at the Vatican, most are spread out worldwide running dioceses or archdioceses, and will have to travel to Rome.
Once they get there, they can't leave until the process is done and aren't allowed to talk with anyone outside of the conclave.
Though Benedict left the rules greatly untouched, experts on the Church's constitution will comb through the section on the "Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff" (how to elect a new pope when the office is vacant) and interpret proper protocol for the election.
Benedict's predecessor, the widely popular John Paul II, made a number of changes to the voting process in 1996 to make it less taxing on the cardinals.
Will the world get to see the process?
Although the procedure is transparent to participating cardinals, no one else is supposed to find out about the vote.
In his amendments to voting procedures in 1996, John Paul II anticipated modern forms of communication and forbade any recording devices. He ordered that technicians check the Sistine Chapel for hidden microphones or cameras before the balloting begins.
The new pope would be called to deal with violators personally.
"They will be subject to grave penalties according to the judgment of the future pope," the former pontiff wrote.
Notes cardinals make during the voting must be burned with the ballots.
The final declaration of a winner is sealed in an envelope and archived. It may only be opened by order of the pope.
What does balloting look like?