Roman Catholic cardinals gathered in the Vatican have announced that the conclave to choose a new pope will begin after the morning mass, on Tuesday, March 12.
The 115 cardinals will then head to the Sistine Chapel, famed for its Michelangelo frescoes, to elect one of their peers as the next leader of the Church.
Behind closed doors, they will designate the 266th successor to St Peter.
No clear favourite has emerged. The voting continues until one man receives a two-thirds majority.
Over before Easter?
The cardinals are likely to hold just one ballot on the first day and up to four ballots each day thereafter.
Benedict was elected in barely 24 hours in 2005. His predecessor, John Paul II, became pope after eight rounds of voting spread over three days in the 1978 conclave.
The cardinals have made clear they want another quick conclave this time to make sure they can all return to their dioceses in time to lead Easter celebrations – the most important event in the Roman Catholic calendar.
In the past cardinals were locked into areas around the Sistine Chapel and not allowed out until they had chosen a new pontiff.
The rules were changed before the 2005 conclave and the prelates will stay in a comfortable Vatican hotel when they are not voting in the chapel itself.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Friday the cardinal electors would draw lots to see which rooms they would sleep in, with all external contact, including emails and telephone calls, forbidden.
Jamming devices will also be installed around the Sistine Chapel and the hotel to stop outsiders eavesdropping and to prevent mobile phone usage in the area.