Order Matters

The excitement began when Pope Benedict XVI announced on the Solemnity of the Epiphany the list of 22 cardinals that he would create today. I planned to write several articles on different aspects of the cardinals, but time did not permit me to do so. While anxiously awaiting the live TV/internet coverage of the consistory in a few hours, I can afford to write on an interesting topic.

The order in which the cardinals are created in a consistory is significant and determines their ecclesiastical precedence. Within the Church, regulations governing precedence are historically defined. In formal liturgical celebrations, the precedence determines the celebrant and the order of procession. As an example, when a higher-ranking prelate is present in a Mass in another diocese where the Bishop is the celebrant, he does not concelebrate, which would be liturgically incorrect, but rather presides or participates in choir.

The Pope holds the highest precedence as the Head of the Universal Church, while Cardinals, his closest collaborators, follow him. The list continues thus: PatriarchsMajor Archbishops, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, Territorial Prelates, Territorial Abbots, Abbots, Exarchs Apostolic, Prefects Apostolic, Apostolic Administrators, Personal Prelates, Protonotaries Apostolic de numero, Protonotaries Apostolic supernumerary, superiors of religious orders, Canons, Prelates of Honour, Chaplains of His Holiness, Vicars General, Vicars Forane, Vicars Episcopal, other priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters. Within each category, precedence is derived from the date of episcopal or sacerdotal ordination or promotion to that rank.

Within the College of Cardinals, the Cardinal-Bishops are accorded the highest precedence, followed by the Cardinal-Priests and then Cardinal-Deacons. When promoted to Cardinals, residential Bishops become Cardinal-Priests, while others are made Cardinal-Deacons (see the Cardinals created by John Paul II and by Benedict XVI). Within the Order of Cardinal-Priests (or Cardinal-Deacons), the cardinals who were elevated in an earlier consistory precede the ones in later consistories. Within the same consistory, the precedence is governed by the order in which the cardinals were created in that consistory. This is precisely what I want to comment on regarding the consistory of 2012. See the full list of precedence.

Only since 1994, it has been the custom for (1) bishops serving in the Roman Curia to appear first in the biglietto, followed by (2) local Pastors, and then (3) those who are over 80 of age or older. Within each category, the Latin-rite Patriarchs and Archbishops go first, followed by Bishops. (The order of Eastern-Rite Patriarchs is in effect irrelevant, as they become Cardinal Bishops and outrank the rest.) This is more or less the order in which cardinals are created. But more interestingly, it is only in this year's consistory that the precise order in the list is most logical.

Except for Cardinal-designate Filoni, for the first time, the order in the 3 categories follows exactly the ecclesiastical precedence of the prelates at the time of announcement. In Category 1, except for Filoni, the order is determined by the date of episcopal consecration. In Category 2, the Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop is first, followed by the Archbishops in order of their dates of episcopal ordination, followed by the Bishop of Hong Kong. In Category 3, the Romanian Major Archbishop goes first, followed by Monsignor Julien Ries (Prelate of Honour), Father Prosper Grech (ordained in 1950) and lastly Father Karl Becker (ordained in 1958). This orderly sequence, which is predictable and does not exhibit favouritism, is indeed desirable.

In each consistory, the first Cardinal to be created is given the responsibility of addressing the Pope. The choice of Fernando Filoni as the first Cardinal and deviation in the order is not surprising. Informally known as the "red pope", the President of the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples is often reckoned to hold the fourth most important position in the Roman Curia (after the Secretary of State, the President of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and the President of the Congregation of Bishops), responsible for selecting bishops in missionary dioceses (i.e. half of the world). Fernando Filoni also enjoys the trust of Pope Benedict, having acted as Apostolic Nuncio to many countries and the informal delegate to China and served as the #3-official in the Secretariat of State.

In due time (in November 2020 to be exact), when the 2010 class of Cardinals opt for the class of Cardinal-Priests, he will become the Cardinal Protodeacon, the Cardinal-Deacon who holds the highest precedence. By Canon 355, this senior Cardinal-Deacon will have the privilege to announce "Habemus Papam" and the name of the new pope to the world following a papal election. The Protodeacon will also have the power to confer the pallium on metropolitan archbishops or to their proxies. His office of course will not last long, for in February 2022, he too will be promoted to the presbyteral order. If a papal conclave happens during this short 15-month window, Filoni will be announcing the name of Benedict XVIII or Pius XIII or Paul VIII from St. Peter's balcony just like Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez announced about the Ratzingerian papacy:

It seems that it is only since the pontificate of Benedict XVI that Cardinal-Deacons have restored the practice of wearing dalmatics when assisting the Pope (but not concelebrating). The dalmatic is the proper liturgical vestment of deacons, a sign of service, dedication to the Gospel and to others. Bishops are required to wear the dalmatic underneath their chasuble in pontifical Masses. (How many bishops follow this rule?) If  Cardinal-Deacons are concelebrating, they should wear the chasuble instead, the vestment proper to priests.

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