Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Now, This Is Coming Home": In Gotham, A Red-Letter Day

A hundred and forty-seven years ago, history happened in downtown New York: for the first time in the 1,500-year line of clergy to bear the title "Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church," the symbol of the office was sent across an ocean, destined for the head of the city's archbishop.

Four years after receiving his scarlet biretta in the Old Cathedral on Mott Street, John Cardinal McCloskey would dedicate a new St Patrick's, two decades in the making, three miles to the north.

As it rose, the massive Gothic replacement for the humble founding seat was still seen as his predecessor's "folly." Today, though, it'd be a tall order to find anyone who'd posit a different spot as the best-known, and arguably most-loved, house of worship on these shores.

And yet, for all the days The House That Hughes Built has seen since 1879, precious few have been anything like this.

Riding home on a skyscraper-high wave of Roman rapture and Gotham glee following the most high-profile elevation of an American cardinal in recent times, the seventh New York prelate to follow in McCloskey's stead formally marked his own return to Fifth Avenue today with a Big Apple-sized flourish.

It took not one, but two ticket-only events -- each overflowing the 2,700-seat cathedral -- to fully pack in Timothy Cardinal Dolan's official welcome wagon, and the USCCB president responded by sending his normally high intensity levels into overdrive.

To lay out the day, a brief word on each of its twin ceremonies, with fullvideo of two very different messages from the new cardinal.

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Focused more on the ad extra side of the 2.6 million-member archdiocese's life, the homecoming's first liturgy -- Midmorning Prayer from the Divine Office -- attracted a significant cadre of ecumenical leaders and, to a particular degree, public officials.

Just in the two front pews, among the politicos present were Dolan's prime opponent in last year's battle over New York state's eventual legalization of same-sex marriage, Governor Andrew Cuomo; the state's senior US senator, Chuck Schumer, the city's Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who tweeted a congratulatory photo) and two of his three predecessors, Ed Koch and David Dinkins; the city's Police, Fire and Education chiefs, and the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an openly-gay Catholic who's reportedly set to wed her longtime partner in a civil ceremony later this year.

Dedicated to the red hat's meaning for the city and its church, here, the cardinal's opening reflection of the day:

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Five hours later, after a reception lunch for the first group, an early Vigil Mass saw the streets around St Patrick's shut down for the procession, as hundreds of onlookers -- the curious and committed alike -- crowded behind barricades to watch.

While the morning rite was relatively simple, with over 40 bishops in attendance, the second event felt distinctly reminiscent of Dolan's Easter 2009 installation as the Tenth Archbishop... well, with one exception -- having made his mark on the city over the three years since, the anxieties of receiving a newcomer were gone and, this time, the room seemed to buzz with a pure exuberance.

Except, perhaps, from the Man of the Hour.

Leaving aside his usual preaching-spot in the cathedral's High Pulpit to pace around the sanctuary instead, the cardinal's second message bore in on this Sunday's Gospel -- and, for everything that the red hat might mean, whether around town and in the church, avoiding the temptations that come with it.

Here, once he's fully wound-up, what just might be the most intense public homily Tim Dolan's ever given, all of it off the cuff:

And with that especially potent Last Word, the work begins, and the curtain comes down on an elevation few church-watchers will forget anytime soon.

Indeed, everybody, it might be a good while before we see the likes of this one again... even if, for the gossips, even the events of these days apparently haven't been enough.

PHOTOS: Reuters