A cardinal-archbishop like none before him

Pope Benedict XVI places the red biretta on the head of Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley at the March 24 consistory. Pilot photo by Gregory L.Tracy

VATICAN CITY — Once more, the Archdiocese of Boston has a cardinal-archbishop — yet one unlike any of his predecessors. For the first time in the history of the Archdiocese of Boston — and only the 10th time in Church history — the Holy Father has elevated a Capuchin friar to the position of cardinal.

On March 24, Cardinal-designate Seán P. O’Malley, together with 14 other cardinals-designate was elevated to become a prince of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI in a consistory at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.

Foul weather plagued Vatican City the days preceding the consistory, and the dark threatening clouds looming overhead indicated rain would not be far away. Nevertheless, the entire College of Cardinals, hundreds of bishops and thousands of invited guests, many of them waving flags from their native countries, filled the seats in St. Peter’s Square to witness this pontiff’s first Ordinary Public Consistory.

As the choir sang the words of Psalm 32, “Exult you just in the Lord; to Him give praise,” the 15 cardinals-designate clad in their scarlet robes processed into St. Peter’s Square to animated applause and cheers. Cardinal-designate O’Malley, smiling widely, periodically paused in the procession to greet friends and family members.

Once the cardinals-designate concluded their procession to their seats of honor in front of the basilica, Pope Benedict XVI entered the square through the center doors of St. Peter’s and processed to his chair.

“In this the vigil of the Annunciation of our Lord, we are gathered, my dear brothers and sisters, to offer prayers and supplications to almighty God, through the intercession of Mary, that we can be accompanied with His grace,” Pope Benedict XVI prayed in Latin. “Therefore, with the authority of Almighty God, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I create and solemnly proclaim the title of Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church to these our brothers.”

The pontiff then read the names of the 15 men, representing 11 countries from four continents.

Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addressed the Holy Father on behalf of the new cardinals.

“It is with a heart full of gratitude and of fear, that in the name of the cardinals created by Your Holiness, I wish to express our sentiments in this hour both so significant and so solemn for our poor existence,” he began.

“In this the first year of your pontificate, we are the first group of cardinals created to continue, together with the College of Cardinals, the work of collaborating with Your Holiness” in the universal Church, Cardinal Levada said.

“We profoundly feel the grave responsibility” of this great role, “and we pledge our total love and unconditional fidelity to Christ the Lord and to the Christian people,” he continued. “We pray that with the help of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of the Apostles, in this vigil of the Solemn Liturgy of the Annunciation, that your ‘fiat’ may also be ours.”

Following Cardinal Levada’s address, two readings — an epistle and a Gospel — were proclaimed in Latin, after which Pope Benedict XVI delivered his homily.

“The penitential mood of Lent makes way for the feast: today, the College of Cardinals is to gain 15 new members,” he began. “The Ordinary Public Consistory is an event that manifests most eloquently the universal nature of the Church, which has spread to every corner of the world in order to proclaim to all people the Good News of Christ.”

Although the College of Cardinals has changed over the centuries “the substance and essential nature of this important ecclesial body remains unaltered,” the pontiff continued.

“Its ancient roots, its historical development and its composition today make it a truly a kind of ‘senate,’ called to cooperate closely with the successor of Peter in accomplishing the tasks connected with his universal apostolic ministry,” the pope explained.

“Total and generous availability to serve others is the distinctive mark of those in positions of authority in the Church, because it was thus for the Son of Man,” he said.

“The pope must be the first to make himself the servant of all,” he declared, adding that being a cardinal is also a call to be a servant.

“More closely linked to the successor of Peter, you will be called to work together with him in accomplishing his particular ecclesial service, and this will mean for you a more intense participation in the mystery of the cross as you share in the sufferings of Christ,” Pope Benedict said. “May the scarlet that you now wear always express the ‘caritas Christi,’ inspiring you to a passionate love for Christ, for His Church and for all humanity.”

Pope Benedict XVI then exhorted the cardinals, “I am counting on you, venerable brothers … to proclaim to the world that ‘Deus caritas est,’ and to do so above all through the witness of sincere communion among Christians.”

“I am counting on you, dear brother cardinals, to ensure that the principle of love will spread far and wide... I am counting on you to see to it that our common endeavor to fix our gaze on Christ’s open heart will hasten and secure our path towards the full unity of Christians. I am counting on you to see to it that the Church’s solicitude for the poor and needy challenges the world with a powerful statement on the civilization of love,” he continued.

“All this I see symbolized in the scarlet with which you are now invested,” he concluded.

Following the Holy Father’s homily, the new cardinals professed their faith, reciting the creed and promising obedience and faithfulness to the successor of Peter.

The pope then prayed, “Receive this red biretta, as a sign of the dignity of the office of a cardinal, which signifies that you will act with fortitude, even to the point of shedding your blood, for the increase of Christian faith, for the peace and harmony among the people of God and for the freedom and the spread of the Holy Roman Church.”

One by one each new cardinal approached the Holy Father and knelt in front of him. The pontiff then placed the biretta on the cardinal’s head and handed him a scroll with the assignment of a titular church in Rome, as a sign of the cardinal’s participation in the pastoral care of the pope for his city. Cardinal O’Malley was assigned the titular church of Santa Maria della Vittoria (St. Mary of the Victory).

Following the presentation of the scroll each new cardinal exchanged a kiss of peace with the pope and then went on to exchange peace with the other members of the College of Cardinals.

While exchanging a sign of peace, Cardinal O’Malley frequently paused to greet many of his fellow cardinals.

Speaking after the consistory, Cardinal O’Malley shrugged saying, “I guess I was talking to long to them because one of the ushers came up to me and said, ‘Hurry up!’”

As the ceremony came to a close, the prayers of the faithful were recited in their native langages by representatives from France, the Philippines, the United States, Poland, China and Spain. The liturgy concluded with the recitation of the Our Father and a final blessing.

Cardinal O’Malley later described the consistory as a “very moving moment,” stressing that he found the Holy Father’s homily “inspiring.”

“Love is the very essence of our religion. At times the demands may seem overwhelming... but we are called to love God above everything else and to express that love to each other,” he said.

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