The current number of cardinals eligible to choose the next Pope stands at 118 out of a possible 120 as set by Pope Paul VI. By canon law, the consistory must be scheduled within 20 days of the fact that the See of St Peter stands vacant which will occur with the resignation of Benedict XVI. From an Irish perspective, Cardinal Sean Brady will be eligible to be present and voting at the conclave.
Full text below:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
Deacon Greg has links to all the major news channels but also an interesting analysis of the resignation of Popes by Fr Thomas Reese
These images show how Benedict XVI, in a calm and surprising manner, announced in Latin that he will be resigning as the Successor of Peter.
The Pope explained that, “In order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
Pictures of a tired and frail looking Pope Benedict XVI at Vatican Radio Facebook page
Legally (in the sense of canon law) we are into uncharted territory for the church - Church law surrounding papal resignation "uncharted waters"
The Anchoress has some thoughtful words and a great round up
A humerous take on things from Dan Horan:
Frank Webster over at Patheos has an interesting round up here but ends it with the following prayer:
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.