DEAR FATHER | Learning more about the history of the cardinals

In St. Louis, when we think of cardinals, we immediately think of the best team in Major League Baseball. A few might still think of the professional football team, the Big Red, even though they split to Arizona 30 years ago. Around here, our minds don't immediately go to the men known as "The Princes of the Church." With 14 new cardinals elevated in a consistory on June 29, it's a good time to look a little deeper at the role of the cardinals.

Though we might not readily think of them, the cardinals of the Church are important. Not only do they elect the successor to St. Peter, they also form a senate of advisers to the Holy Father and occupy key offices in the Vatican and significant dioceses throughout the world.

The title of cardinal comes from the Latin word meaning hinge. From the earliest bestowal of this title, it was understood to be a title of honor to clergy of the Diocese of Rome. Pope Sylvester I is documented as appointing cardinals to take care of the churches and larger areas known as deaconaries in Rome in the early 300s. As the Church grew over the centuries, the role of a cardinal changed. The title was still bestowed upon senior clergy by the pope, which made them clergy of the Diocese of Rome and eligible to vote for the next pope. Being in Rome became less of an issue as bishops from outside of Rome were named cardinal. Between 1000 to 1400, the title cardinal became understood to be the highest honor one receives in the Church after the pope.

With this honor comes the charge of being a great witness for the Gospel. This is symbolized for the cardinal in wearing red. It symbolizes and reminds cardinals of their call to witness the faith to the point of shedding their blood. Red also hearkens to Pentecost and their call to be a member of the College of Cardinals, guided by the Holy Spirit under the Pope.

When addressing a cardinal, it's appropriate to address him as "Your Eminence," or "Cardinal (last name)." A letter might addressed His Eminence, (first name) Cardinal (last name), (title of current office), with the greeting of, "Your Eminence" or "Most Eminent Cardinal." In writing, one may see printed Cardinal (first and last name) or (first name) Cardinal (last name). This latter, more formal way of addressing a cardinal, came from when last names were less common in favor of people being known by their occupation. Today, it is seen as an act of humility by a cardinal to use this form over the other, but both are appropriate.

Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael Parish in south St. Louis. 

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