All Dressed Up

Last month’s consistory in Rome, in which John Paul II elevated forty-four men to the College of Cardinals, received a good deal of media coverage, especially in New York and Washington, D.C. That’s not surprising, since the archbishops of both cities, Edward Egan and Theodore McCarrick, were among those "getting the red hat," as was Fordham University theologian Avery Dulles, S.J. Local TV news in New York couldn’t seem to get enough of all the arcane Roman "pageantry." Egan’s every move was covered, from the moment he left the city to a press conference upon his return. Newspaper stories and TV and radio commentators went on endlessly about the "biretta," the "zucchetto," the "mozzettas," the gold ring, the red carpet, the pope’s shimmering robes and white velvet throne. February can be a slow news month, and Roman pomp and circumstance is still an eye-catching version of pomp and circumstance. It is also an easy story to cover. The pictures from Saint Peter’s Square on an unusually warm and bright day were sharp and colorful, the rows of scarlet-robed prelates encircling the pope’s chair a strong visual sign of Catholic solidarity and order.

Up to a point, that is.

There’s a place for pageantry and for grand ecclesiastical ritual. Honoring bishops and priests in great formal ceremonies is one way the church expresses its deepest understanding of itself. Gold rings and elaborate garments...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.