First public consistory of Pope Pius X

In the Roman Catholic Church a consistory is a formal meeting of the College of Cardinals called by the pope. There are two kinds of consistories, extraordinary and ordinary.[1] An "extraordinary" consistory is held to allow the pope to consult with the entire membership of the College of Cardinals. An "ordinary" consistory is ceremonial in nature and attended by cardinals resident in Rome. For example, the pope elevates new cardinals to the College at a consistory;[2] Pope Francis has called consistories for ceremonies of canonization.[3][4]

A meeting of the College of Cardinals to elect a new pope is not a consistory, but a conclave.


The term consistory comes from the Latin: con-sistere; "stand together".[5] Early popes conferred with their Roman presbytery which included the deacons appointed to oversee different parts of Rome. This tradition continued as deacons were replaced with cardinals and those cardinals (from among whom the pope was chosen) continued to meet at the request of successive popes.[citation needed]

Consistories became an opportunity for the pope to decide matters of state and dispense justice directly, with the support and advice of Roman bishops and those bishops from other regions who happened to be in Rome. Pope Leo IV ordered that consistories be held twice weekly. Pope John VIII relaxed that edict slightly and an order of twice-monthly consistories.[5] With the Gregorian Reform, the Church limited outside influences on the papacy and the selection of popes and the power of cardinals increased. Tradition developed that the pope would use consistories (closer to twice-yearly by the 17th century) to reveal a list of those that were to be elevated to the rank of cardinal.[citation needed]

Eventually, responsibility for matters of justice was transferred to the Roman Rota and the functions of the Church were transferred to the Roman Curia reducing the need for regular consistories. Subsequently, consistories became primarily ceremonial in function.[5]

Consistory for the creation of cardinals

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Medal of the consistory of Pope Paul II (c. 1466 or 1467)

At a consistory for the creation of cardinals, the pope creates new cardinals in the presence of a number, if not all, of the cardinals. Though the names of the new cardinals have been announced in advance, they only become cardinals at the consistory when the pope formally publishes the decree of elevation, even if the new cardinal is not present.[a]

New cardinals present are presented with their rings, zucchetto (small skullcaps), and biretta (four-cornered silk hats) by the pope.[b]

The zucchetto and the biretta are scarlet, the distinctive color of cardinals' vesture.

At the consistory new cardinals, with certain exceptions, are assigned titular churches in the Diocese of Rome.[c]

Recent consistories

Pope Benedict XVI created cardinals at five consistories.[6] In 2007 and 2010 he held a day-long meeting with the entire College, the cardinals designate, and various advisers on the day preceding the Consistory of Creation.

Pope Francis followed this custom for his first two consistories.[7] His 2014 consistory for creating new cardinals was preceded by an extraordinary consistory where Cardinal Walter Kasper gave an address designed to launch the discussions of the Synod on the Family held later in the year. In 2015 a similar extraordinary consistory on the eve of a consistory to create cardinals discussed the reform of the Roman Curia just a few days before Francis formed the Council of Cardinals to advise him on that reform.[8] Francis has created cardinals at eight consistories at roughly annual intervals, as of August 2022.[9]

See also


  1. ^ For example, Bishop John Fisher was imprisoned by King Henry VIII on 26 April 1534. A year later, in May 1535, Pope Paul III created Fisher a cardinal. King Henry, however, forbade the cardinal's hat to be brought into England, declaring that he would send the head to Rome instead. Cardinal Fisher was beheaded a month later on 22 June.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Formerly they also received an elaborate broad-brimmed tasseled hat, the galerum rubrum, at the ceremony, but Pope Paul VI abolished this in 1967 and those cardinals who want these obtain them privately from a maker in Rome.
  3. ^ Pope Paul VI abolished their functional involvement in the governance of these churches; the cardinals formally "take possession" of these churches at a later date.


  1. ^ Code of Canon Law Canon 353.
  2. ^ "Announcement of the Consistory of 29 June for the creation of new Cardinals, 20.05.2018" (Press release). Holy See Press Office. 20 May 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  3. ^ "Pope Convokes Consistory for Canonization of Little Shepherds of Fatima". Zenit. 11 April 2017. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Causes of Saints: Consistory for the Canonizations of Paul VI and Bishop Romero on May 19th". Zenit. 3 May 2018. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Papal Consistory by Kevin Knight (Catholic Encyclopedia, 2009)
  6. ^ Senz, Paul (31 December 2022). "A numerical look at the legacy of Pope Benedict". Our Sunday Visitor. Retrieved 26 April 2023.
  7. ^ Reese SJ, Thomas J. (14 November 2010). "Thomas Reese on the Consistory". America. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  8. ^ Gagliarducci, Andrea (18 November 2016). "So what is a consistory, anyway?". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  9. ^ White, Christopher (27 August 2022). "Pope Francis exhorts San Diego's McElroy, new cardinals to practice 'unassuming power'". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 26 April 2023.
Additional sources