On Consistory Eve, Back to "College"
As they've been carried out in the past, the sessions – which run into the night in the Vatican's Synod Hall – focus on a handful of specific topics of the pontiff's choosing. At the gathering before February's consistory, Benedict upended Vatican protocol by tapping one of the incoming class, now Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, to give the day's keynote on the topic of the New Evangelization. Prior cardinals-only meetings have focused on topics ranging from sex-abuse in the church and international religious freedom to an idea for extending the retirement age for bishops, which – five years after it was taken up – remains fixed at 75.
As a matter of practice, the entire College of Cardinals is summoned to Rome for the reception of new members into the "world's most exclusive club." Barring reasons of illness or other inability to travel, all the world's 200-plus red-hats are expected to attend.
As Dean of the College prior to becoming the post's first holder to ascend to the papacy since the 1600s, Benedict presided over the daily General Congregations of all the cardinals which governed the church between the death of Blessed John Paul II and the 2005 Conclave. The key conclusion of the sessions was that the group – who John Paul only convoked for actual discussion on just six occasions spread over his 27-year reign (the last in 2001) – didn't know each other terribly well.
Clearly, the Consistory Eve sit-downs are a reflection of Benedict's intent to remedy that; in a marked contrast from his predecessor, the coming "pre-consistory" would stack up as the the College's fifth meeting for talks in Joseph Ratzinger's seven-year pontificate.
Given the Pope's age and increasing signs of a physical slow-down, even if it hasn't happened twice in the same year since 1929, it's indeed very possible that B16's desire to quickly re-convoke the group which will elect his successor that they might increasingly size each other up provides a key to this morning's surprise announcement.
On the ritual side, meanwhile, while the new intake's formal celebrations will close with the traditional Mass of Thanksgiving concelebrated by Benedict and the new class on the 25th – the feast of Christ the King – it bears recalling that, per the revised liturgical norms for the creation rites first used earlier this year, the Neo-Porporati will receive both their scarlet birette and the freshly-redesigned cardinal's ring (right) within the context of the Public Consistory itself. (For most of the post-Conciliar period, the ring had previously been "consigned" at the next day's Mass, apart from the red hat itself.)
Even if their names were disclosed this morning as intended nominees to the College of Cardinals, the designates announced today bear none of the rights or privileges of the office – above all, the right to elect a Pope – until the Consistory itself takes place.
PHOTOS: Reuters(1,2); The Catholic Register(3)