A Consistory Celebration-November 20-21

Fr. Carter Griffin, Parochial Vicar at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill shares with us a first-hand account of the Consistory.

Saturday, November 20

The day began for the priests and seminarians of Washington with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal-designate Wuerl at the Pontifical North American College.  The NAC, as it is sometimes called, is where men are prepared in Rome for service to dioceses in the United States, and will serve as a “hub” for several events surrounding the Consistory.

Under a cloudy sky, Washington pilgrims made their way from their hotels to St. Peter’s square to arrive early for the 10:30 Consistory.  Unfortunately, there were far more tickets provided to pilgrims than the Basilica could accommodate, so by 8:30 am the church was full.

Rain, and then thunderclouds, rolled over the Vatican, serving as a dramatic audible backdrop to the Consistory.  The twenty-four Cardinal-designates processed to their seats in a semi-circle around the main altar, followed by the Holy Father and his masters of ceremonies.  After introducing the sacred rites and those who were to be made Cardinals, the Pope listened to an address by Archbishop Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and one of the Cardinal-designates.  Speaking on behalf of all the soon-to-be Cardinals, Archbishop Amato noted that the men surrounding him were from different geographic regions, had walked different paths in the priesthood, and were engaged in different ministries on behalf of the Church, but all of them were united in the same faith in the Triune God and in their obedience to the successor of Peter.

The Scriptural readings followed, notably the Gospel in which the apostles James and John ask Jesus to place them at His side in the Kingdom of Heaven.  In reflecting on this Gospel passage, the Holy Father observed that Jesus took advantage of the opportunity to explain to his apostles the meaning of true greatness in the Church.  James and John, Jesus teaches, were looking for honor and for greatness according to the standards of the world.  He lifts their eyes to a higher vision of discipleship, inviting them to follow Him by giving themselves entirely to the will of God the Father, by serving their brothers and sisters without reservation.  The Pope continued that ministry in the Church must follow this “new logic, this new model” of greatness, which is the logic of servanthood.  He who would be first, as Jesus explains, must be a servant, must be the slave of all.  Thus the aim of ministry is not to fulfill one’s own will or to satisfy one’s own ambition, the Pope continued, but to fulfill the will of God the Father as Jesus Himself did.

In concluding his homily, the Holy Father asked for prayers for the new Cardinals who were being entrusted with a particular new ministry in the Church.  He reminded everyone present that tomorrow, on the Feast of Christ the King, he will bestow on each of them a special ring that will be a sign of their fidelity, a sign of their willingness to follow Jesus to the Cross even, if necessary, at the cost of their own blood, symbolized by their new red vesture.

Following the homily, the new Cardinals professed their faith in the Nicene Creed and affirmed their fidelity to the teachings of the Church and to the successor of St. Peter.  Each was then presented to the Pope in person, who placed on their heads their red zucchettos and birettas, the “red hats” that are worn only by Cardinals.  At the same time, the Holy Father announced which parish in Rome would be designated as each Cardinal’s “titular church”, the church for which he would be particularly responsible and which associates him in a concrete way with the Diocese of Rome and the ministry of the Pope.

To the joy of everyone in our pilgrimage group, Cardinal Wuerl received as his titular the ancient and beautiful basilica of Saint Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) near the Roman Forum and which contains, according to tradition, the chains that bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem as well as those from his imprisonment in Rome – the two having miraculously fused together when Pope Leo I held them together.  The fifth-century church makes tangible in a striking way Cardinal Wuerl’s new relationship to Rome, to the Pope, and indeed to the titular church’s own patron, St. Peter himself.

Following the ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Wuerl and the pilgrims from Washington and elsewhere him made their way to the North American College for a reception in which His Eminence was able to greet his visitors.

Finally, later in the afternoon all the new Cardinals returned to the Vatican, either in the Apostolic Palace or in the Paul VI Auditorium, to greet their visitors and all the well-wishers from Rome who wished to meet them.  One young married couple, both Americans who live in Italy, had a particular reason for gratitude: they first met each other at a Theology on Tap in which Cardinal Wuerl spoke some four years ago!  Greeting hundreds more people, Cardinal Wuerl – with great fortitude after such a long day! – remained in his place to see all those who had traveled far and wide to see the new Cardinal Archbishop of Washington.

In the course of these visits in the Paul VI Auditorium, the Cardinal expressed his deep appreciation for the prayers not only of those accompanying him to Rome, but of those who could not come, and his desire to join with their prayers in thanksgiving for the great blessings bestowed today on the Archdiocese of Washington.

Reading of the Biglietto from Rocco Palmo on Vimeo.