Friday, March 16, 2007

"Take a Deep Breath. Not You -- Me."

"Two hundred cathedrals in the United States..." one ranking cleric mused yesterday after returning home from Bishop John Wester's installation, "...and who would've ever thought that, of them all, Salt Lake City would be the one to lead us?"

Inaugurating his ministry as Utah's ninth bishop before an exceptional turnout of almost 60 bishops, a couple hundred priests and a capacity congregation of 1,100, the new arrival who's been introducing himself around town as "Bishop John" delivered one of the most impressive installation homilies of a US prelate in recent years. Papal nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi continued his national lovefest by picking up yet another new bevy of admirers, opening his remarks at dinner by apologizing to the gathered for "inflicting upon you my Oxford accent." The eighth shepherd of Mormon Country's Catholic fold, now Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco, returned with his pallium, caught up with old friends and took one last spin in the chair he held for eleven years. And, his second stint as diocesan administrator finally at an end, the beloved Msgr J. Terrence Fitzgerald -- the heart and soul of the church in Utah, they all say -- was said to look as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. Again.

But more than any of these, the day belonged to the cathedral.

Salt Lake's Cathedral of the Madeleine has long been respected far and wide, both as a historic treasure and for its latter-day, top-shelf program of worship. An artistic marvel, the US' sole diocesan seat where daily Lauds and Vespers are celebrated is also home to one of American Catholicism's handful of choir schools where, in the great European tradition, the immense cultural heritage which is ours is preserved and passed forward for our own place and in our own time.

Not bad for a parish of around a thousand families.

With chops of said grade consistently on display, the framework for a stellar installation is already well in place long before the event's final run-up. Even so, however, the Utahns outdid themselves, channeling thousands of hours of preparation into a liturgy that offered precision and emotion, prayer and enrichment, the best of old, new and the magic that happens when a cathedral church lives and breathes its mission as a sacrament in the world. Just a day after Benedict XVI held up the Eucharist as a mystery that is to be believed, celebrated and lived, a local church comprised of a small minority in a place founded by the pioneers of another religious tradition known for its zeal and works of education and charity showed the rest of the Catholic world that not only is it possible to do an exemplary job of it amid circumstances some might find daunting, but that the keys to the task lie not in building up grandiose institutions or hoarding vast pools of resources, but in those simple things that, sometimes, can be even harder to muster: faith, vision, cooperation and commitment.

Luckily, thanks to the wonders of the age, you can see it all for yourselves. The Intermountain Catholic -- brilliant website, they've got -- is keeping the installation up as an on-demand stream, every Sunday Mass from the Madeleine is similarly streamed and archived, and a live feed of Wednesday's liturgy was watched by over 1,100 net-dwellers the world over.

...and all that comes courtesy of a staff of three.

One-fifth of the American hierarchy converged on the Wasatch to perform what's been called an "act of homage" to a cardinal-prefect who wasn't even there. Here's hoping they didn't just enjoy what they saw, but, as with any great manifestation of who we are and what we do, that it gets carried home, carried forward and is made to spread.

Every installation is a celebration of the church's life in a particular place, and that community's place in the life of the body universal. Each one shows the best of what each is and what makes it unique. That said, armed simply with a webstream and several accounts of the day, this one was clearly one to remember, and one to exalt.

So take a bow, Salt Lake -- Greg Glenn, first of all. Not just on installation day, thanks for showing the rest of us the way through what you do and how you do it: from liturgy and technology, to outreach and spirit.

As we've been graced to witness these, so may we learn. And so, too, may we follow.

SVILUPPO: A number of readers have checked in to note the presence of not one, but two other choir schools in the US -- the archdiocese of Boston's at St Paul's in Cambridge, and another at St Cecilia's Cathedral in Omaha.

...and while we're at it, continued props to the eminent choir school of St Michael's Cathedral in Toronto, which played a key part in making TC's installation such a beautiful experience, and a luminous, uplifting window onto the New Jerusalem.

AP/Douglas C. Pizac
PHOTOS 3-4: Robert Johnson/The Standard