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Covering the Vatican



The consistory itself, when the pope officially creates, or invests, the new

cardinals, usually takes place in St. Peter’s Square. It is a Liturgy of the Word

service, not a Mass, meaning there is no eucharistic celebration. During the

consistory, each new cardinal kneels as the pope places a red, three-ridged

hat called a


on his head. The phrase “getting the red hat” as a descrip-

tion of becoming a cardinal now refers to this moment, although historically

it referred to the conferral of the


, a broad-brimmed red hat with tassels

hanging from each side, that popes gave cardinals from 1245 until Pope Paul

VI suppressed the practice in 1969. In ecclesiastical heraldry cardinals may

still use the galero with tassels over their coat of arms to symbolize their rank,

but the pope no longer confers it when he makes a man a cardinal. While

bishops may wear purple hats and robes, red is reserved to cardinals to rep-

resent their dedication to the church “

usque ad effusionem sanguinis

”—to the

point of shedding their own blood.

Each new cardinal is assigned a “titular” church in Rome. While they

obviously are not expected there on Sundays to celebrate Mass and preach,

cardinals often pay a visit to their titular churches when they’re in town. The

titular churches make them titular clergy of Rome, hearkening back to an ear-

lier time when the chief electors of a new pope were the clergy of Rome, the

bishops of Rome’s neighboring dioceses, and a few close advisors in the papal

Curia. Eastern patriarchs in the College of Cardinals are not assigned a titular

church in Rome; and since they do not normally wear Latin-style vestments,

some Eastern-church leaders also may not receive a red biretta, or they may

receive a red version of their own style of headdress.

The day after the consistory, the pope concelebrates Mass with the new

cardinals, presenting each of them with a gold ring, another sign of their spe-

cial communion with the church of Rome.

Ahead of the consistory itself, the pope may meet with the College of

Cardinals and the cardinals-to-be in a closed-door assembly. Part of the meet-

ing often focuses on a particular theme, with time set aside for less structured

discussion. Check the


for whatever information the press office


An ordinary public consistory in which sainthood causes are formally

concluded typically involves only cardinals living in Rome. The meeting

establishes the date of the canonization Mass, at which the pope officially

declares the person a saint.

An extraordinary consistory involves all cardinals physically able to make

the trip to Rome. The pope calls such a meeting as a consultative session on

a specific topic. Among the six convened during Pope John Paul II’s pontifi-