A meeting of the College of Cardinals to elect the next pope will be held. The gathering is known as a "conclave."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said there would be elections some time in March and he anticipated that there would be a new pope before Easter.
Lombardi said Vatican scholars were studying the constitution to determine exactly when the conclave would begin.
What is the election process?
By law, the conclave begins in the Sistine Chapel. On that morning, the cardinals will celebrate the Votive Mass, "Pro Eligendo Papa." That afternoon, the cardinals begin the election process.
The cardinals draw lots to select three members to collect ballots from the infirm, three "tellers" to count the votes and three others to review the results.
Blank ballots are then prepared and distributed. The ballots are rectangular in shape and must bear in the upper half, in print if possible, the words "Eligo in Summum Pontificem," meaning "I elect as supreme pontiff." The electors write the name of the candidate on the lower half and fold it in two.
After writing the name of one man on his ballot, each of the active cardinals -- those under 80 years of age -- walks to an altar in order of seniority and pledges to perform his duty with integrity. Each cardinal then places a folded ballot containing his choice onto a small disc made of precious metal and drop it inside a chalice.
After all votes are cast, the tellers tally the ballots and the result is read to the cardinals. If a cardinal receives two-thirds plus one of the votes, he is the new pontiff.
If there is no winner, another vote is taken. If there is still no winner, two more votes are scheduled for the afternoon.
How is the result of the vote broadcast?
After the votes are counted each time, the ballots are burned. If there has been no winner, a chemical is mixed with the ballots to produce black smoke when they are burned.
Sight of the black smoke emerging from the roof of the Vatican Palace tells those waiting in St. Peter's Square that a pope has not yet been selected.
When a winner has been selected, the ballots are burned alone, and the white smoke indicates there is a new pope.
What will the pope do until he officially steps down?
Lombardi said the pope's appointments up until the end of February -- including audiences with the presidents of Romania and Guatemala -- had been confirmed.
On February 27, the pope's last general audience will take place. Lombardi said the Vatican was trying to arrange for it to be held in St Peter's square so that more people could attend and "to make it a sort of tribute to the holy pontiff."
What will Pope Benedict do after his resignation?
Lombardi said it was expected that Pope Benedict would devote his time to reflection and prayer.
In his statement, Benedict said he wished "to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."