This Time, There's A Whole New Ring To It
For starters, with Pope Benedict's liturgy team seeking to douse impressions that elevation to the College somehow constitutes a "sacrament," the 22 incoming "Princes of the Church" will receive their rings at Saturday's consistory together with the red biretta, which has served as the office's central symbol since the 30-tasseled galero was removed from the ceremonial at its revision in 1967.
Secondly, though, the just-released worship aid for the rites indicates that the bas-relief circular band depicting the Crucifixion (below) -- given to practically every new cardinal in the post-Conciliar period -- is being replaced by a brand-new design, intended to underscore in gold the particular link of the Papal "Senate" to the church of Rome, born from the witness and martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul.
Of course, the cardinals of the Roman church constitute the historic successors of the city's first clergy, hence the body's responsibility to elect the local bishop (i.e. the Pope), and each member's assignment to a titular church, where he serves as honorary pastor -- and, in most cases, is financially responsible for the building's upkeep.
For several centuries, the ring given a new cardinal on his elevation consisted of a sapphire -- the stone traditionally reserved to the rank -- often surrounded by diamonds. After the reforms of the liturgy and ceremonies in the wake of the Council, the far simpler, modern band was adopted by Paul VI, and conferred in the context of a concelebrated liturgy, which came to be known as the "Mass of the Rings."
Even as the Pope's bestowal of the rings will now be folded into the Public Consistory itself, the new intake will still celebrate Mass with Benedict on Sunday morning, which is being observed in the Vatican as the feast of the Chair of St Peter.
This year, the Pope-centric celebration's usual date of 22 February is overtaken by Ash Wednesday. The three-day lapse notwithstanding, this weekend's gathering will mark the first induction of new cardinals on the feast since 2001, when Blessed John Paul II brought 44 new members into the College, inflating its electoral contingent to an all-time high of 135, exceeding by fifteen the supposed statutory maximum set by Paul in 1975.
While the hypothetical voting College -- that is, the group's members younger than 80 -- will top out at 125 as of Saturday, 13 more cardinals will become ineligible to enter a Conclave over the year following this Consistory simply on grounds of age.
Come late July, once Cardinals Edward Egan and Francis Stafford reach their 80th birthdays, the Stateside church will be left with just 10 electors. And with the sudden vanishing of a "queue" for an American Red Hat -- at least, under the protocols long in force -- the door opens for some very interesting possibilities.
The back part of the ring represents a stylized column like those found in Saint Peter’s Basilica, while the face is a bas-relief in the shape of a cross.
On the face are figures of Saints Peter and Paul, modeled on their statues located in front of the Basilica, representing faith and missionary proclamation.
Between the two Saints, as if to illumine them, is placed an eight-pointed star, a clear reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Inside the ring, beneath the face, are the arms of Pope Benedict XVI in bas-relief.
In yet another innovation, though -- and one that should particularly be of interest to Stateside readers -- the rites of creation will be immediately followed by the entire College's approval of several canonizations, including those of Blesseds Kateri Tekakwitha and Marianne Cope.
While B16 approved the final miracles clearing Hawaii's servant of lepers (the successor of St Damien de Veuster on Molokai) and modern-day New York's Algonquin convert-catechist for sainthood in late December, a consistory's approval is always the final requisite formality before the process' conclusion. Normally, consistories for canonizations take place in the Apostolic Palace and are attended only by the cardinals resident in Rome.
At the close of the second part of Saturday's rites, the Pope will announce the date on which Kateri, Marianne and five other blesseds "are to be enrolled among the Saints."
As of this writing, however, the first-ever elevation of two American saints at once is most widely tipped to take place on either October 14th or 21st, during the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization.
And lastly, lest anyone's planning watch parties for the weekend's ceremonies, Saturday's Consistory begins at 10.30am Rome time, with the following day's Mass an hour earlier.
Just in case, webstreams will abound; for those, and all the rest, stay tuned.