Titular Church of San Pietro in Vincoli

His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl Took Possession of the Titular Church of San Pietro In Vincoli, Rome on May 8, 2011.

What is a Titular Church?

During the third and fourth centuries, as regions of Rome were divided into ecclesiastical districts, the word “titulus” referred to the early Christian churches located around Rome. “Titular” denoted the name of the founder or proprietor who held property for the Universal Church. Today, the granting of a titular church signifies the bond of unity between a particular local church and the Church of Rome. The patronal relationship of a Cardinal Priest to his titular church includes the inscription of his name and coat of arms on a plaque within the church, in addition to maintenance and restoration responsibility.

Significance for the Archdiocese of Washington

In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic visit to Washington, D.C. highlighted the special bond of faith, hope, and charity, between this capital city and the Church of Rome. While elevating Archbishop Donald Wuerl to the College of Cardinals on November 20, 2010, Pope Benedict blessed the Archdiocese of Washington by assigning to him the titular church of San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains or S. Petri ad vincula). This ancient Roman church is especially significant due to its antiquity, artistic renown and the fact that it is the second church in Rome dedicated to Saint Peter. On May 8, 2011, the Archdiocese of Washington reaffirmed our bond of unity in faith as His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl took possession of Saint Peter in Chains.

The Rite of Possession

The Rite of Possession of a titular church takes place within the context of a solemn celebration of the Eucharist. The rite begins when a representative of the pope formally welcomes the cardinal at the door of the church. The cardinal reverences a small crucifix presented to him on behalf of the pope and sprinkles the congregation with holy water. After processing to the tabernacle, the cardinal kneels in a moment of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Following the entrance hymn, the Sign of the Cross and the introductory liturgical greeting, a papal bull assigning the titular church to the cardinal is read aloud. A solemn celebration of Mass follows, highlighting the Eucharist as the source and summit of life in the Universal Church.

What is a Cardinal Priest?

There are three orders within the College of Cardinals: Cardinal Bishop, Cardinal Priest, and Cardinal Deacon. Cardinal Bishops are those who serve as prefects of Vatican congregations, such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Priests serve as metropolitan archbishops. The lowest ranking cardinals, Cardinal Deacons, are either officials of the Roman Curia or theologians who have been honored by the pope for their contribution to the Church.