There are some things in this world that are wondrous to behold, even if one is not a believer in their context or even point. Coronations and royal weddings are among the most popular, but they tend to pale next to the rituals of the Vatican.
Those lucky enough to be in Rome this Friday and Saturday will be able to see one of the finest examples of pomp and spectacle steeped in arcane tradition when Pope Benedict XVI presides over the first consistory of his rule.
Weather permitting, and it has not been a fine Roman spring so far, the ceremony Friday and Mass on Saturday will be held in the piazza in front of St Peter's Basilica. In the event of rain, it will move to a hall in the Vatican.
In either venue, the panoply of red robes, hats and paraphernalia of the cardinals is a sight to behold.
Benedict has called the cardinals, the so-called "princes of the church," for a ceremony in which he will exercise the prerogative that is the Pope's alone, naming new members to the group whose principal job is to choose his successor.
Among them are two Americans. Archbishop William Levada is now Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful position Benedict XVI held when he was merely Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The job makes Levada the highest-ranking and most influential American in the Roman Curia, the government of the Catholic Church.
The rank of cardinal basically goes with the job, but others have been honored for their service to the church, or to make what Father Dennis Gill, Director of Liturgy at Rome's North American College, called a political point "in the best sense of the word 'political.'"
"There is something on the level of making a statement which is for the particular good of the people associated with the person named cardinal," Father Gill said.
The choice of Bishop Joseph Zen of Hong Kong might fall into that category. Bishop (or cardinal as of Friday) Zen said the Vatican and mainland China have begun talks to reestablish ties between the two that were severed when the Vatican recognized Taiwan after it split from mainland China in 1949. Ties with China would necessitate ending diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Also getting his red hat will be Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston, who has been handling the fallout from the sex abuse scandal in the United States. His appointment sends a message to the troubled diocese of Boston that Benedict is taking their problems seriously and is trying to rebuild.
Elevated too is Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the long-serving faithful secretary of the late Pope John Paul II.
Many among those who cover the Vatican had rather hoped that the amiable and able Archbishop John Foley, who heads one of the two Vatican Press offices, would be rewarded too, but alas, not this time around.