Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Installation Day, Into the Whirlwind

The Ninth Archbishop hasn’t taken his chair yet... but already, change is afoot in Chicago – as Black Church classics filled Holy Name Cathedral before last night’s prayer service, a rather amazed friend sidled up to observe that “We’ve never had Gospel music here before.”

Shock though that was, given Blase Cupich’s background in liturgical theology, the ritual choices were anything but an accident. That “All Are Welcome” – the anthem of inclusion equally beloved by progressives and abhorred by more traditional folks – marked his first trip up the aisle was an even more pointed signal, as was the reinforcement of his homily when the African-American spiritual "Them Dry Bones" was sung as the recessional.

As the Chicago clergy packed the pews – while, outside, a phalanx of bundled-up police shut down the surrounding streets on a blustery, bitterly cold evening – the scene before the door-knock felt more than a little like New Year’s Eve as the anticipation built. Then again, rare is the holiday party that sees Rahm Emanuel casually working the pews by himself, no security in sight.

While the prolonged, clearly heartfelt ovations that washed over an ailing Cardinal Francis George were all the more poignant coming from a famously independent presbyterate with which he's often been at loggerheads, the tensions of the last 17 years were evident nonetheless in the nickname for Cupich quietly circulating among the brothers: "Archbishop Rolaids," so dubbed as he's felt to be bringing "relief."

Only once the service wrapped up did the ultimate sign of the change of command take place as workers removed the carving of the cardinal's coat of arms from above the cathedra's place in the center of the sanctuary. The successor's shield wasn't immediately hung in its place.

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Before eight cardinals, some 105 bishops, parish representatives and a "tribe" of family and friends who've converged from Rome, Washington, Omaha, South Dakota, Spokane and beyond, the Installation Mass begins at 2pm Central.

In testimony to the enduring clout of the archbishop and the church he leads in this Windy City, all five of Chicago's major TV stations are running the Mass live and commercial-free, so the streaming will abound (and, of course, one of them will be placed here at the hour). Already, the graphics and packages that've rolled out through the transition are more in keeping with a royal wedding or presidential inauguration than the arrival of a shepherd.

Notably, such is the demand for seating in Holy Name that priests who hadn't indicated their attendance by last week were told there'd be no room for them. As previously relayed, not until tomorrow will the new archbishop meet the 600-plus permanent deacons – the largest diocesan contingent of the order in the global church – at one of two prayer services for the constituencies who serve the 2.3 million Catholics of the nation's third-largest diocese.

In a small, private gathering just prior to today's Mass, the complete civil ownership of the archdiocese's $3 billion in assets will fall to Cupich when, before a judge, he makes his declaration of office as "The Catholic Bishop of Chicago, A Corporation Sole," thus inheriting the most centralized and complex apparatus in the American church. (Because of the legal arrangement – one which, for the last several decades, the Holy See has urged US dioceses to move away from – Cupich has reluctantly admitted to friends that "I'll never drive a car again" as being at the wheel in an auto accident could put the archdiocese's holdings at stake.)

Several minutes later, on being taken to the chair, it is extremely telling that the archbishop has chosen to receive the crozier of an earlier George – the legendary Mundelein, the last non-archbishop named to the post 99 years ago, whose quarter-century tenure as the first "Cardinal of the West" transformed Chicago Catholicism, creating both the Americanized ethos and institutional behemoth which remain its defining traits into the present.

As for what the choice of insignia entails for the next chapter, beyond last night's preach, what's been termed a "monumental" homily will provide our first in-depth glimpse. That said, the first parish on Cupich's calendar is of keen significance – on Sunday, the new arrival will head straight into the "belly of the beast" by visiting St Agatha's: the poor, largely African-American community that was the last assignment of Daniel McCormack, the predator priest whose 2006 arrest spurred a tide of settlements amid disclosures of over 20 victims.