Friday, January 20, 2006

Let It Flow

Hopefully all of you just got to watch Walker Nickless take the bishop's throne in Sioux City. It's a very austere ceremony, which isn't what I'm used to by any stretch -- the way we do it here in the East is, by law, filled to brimming with kettle drums, trumpets and seminarians swinging from the chandeliers.

None of that here. And the simplicity isn't a bad thing.

Nor does Walker seem to be the type to start waving the crozier around, screaming and waving gleefully at the assembled. That did happen once in my presence -- and the bishop who did it has been known ever since to his clergy and others who had to witness it as "Miss America." Or, for those who knew his past close-calls on various shortlists, "Susan Lucci." No kidding.

The message, of course: even if it is your ordination day, gloat at your own risk.

But what is here, and quite moving, is that the entire Nickless family is almost uncontrollably sobbing. Tears everywhere. Even the new bishop had to be handed tissues when he was seated in the cathedra for the first time.

I wonder if the crying's a Denver thing.

Archbishop James Casey, who ordained Walker Nickless a priest and with whom he was close, was known to have bawled when he was installed in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in 1967. Archbishop Chaput was spotted wiping his eyes when his right arm, Jose Gomez, was led to the chair in San Antonio eleven months ago.

Hell, when I spent a wonderful week out there many moons ago, your humble narrator was so moved that I cried. No mean feat, that is.

The great tear-jerker moments of any episcopal ordination are the prostration of the bishop-elect before the altar for the Litany of the Saints, the investiture with the regalia (most especially the mitre), and at the end when the new bishop is led through the congregation to dispense his first blessings as some form of the Te Deum is sung.

The latter is known, and rightfully so, as the "victory lap"; it's somewhat akin to that moment at the NFL draft when a player's called up and out onto the stage. Obviously, to continue with the draft analogy, the moment isn't a surprise to anyone, but the parents and hangers-on start flipping out because then it hits home that their baby's rich.

Bishops may not be rich, but that walk is a sign to the family that their boy's sure done good.

Another element which now involves things running over came at the revision of the rite of episcopal ordination, which was accomplished in 2003. All the texts were re-done (i.e. New ICEL, Old High Church), but some of the ritual flourishes were sharpened in terms of their specifications.

Previously, when the new bishop's head would be anointed with chrism, a vessel would be brought out which the principal consecrator would basically dip his fingers into and leave a little dab on the head of the newly-ordained. Now, the new rite demands that a pitcher of it be poured over the head and spread about.

It's messy -- I've seen zucchettos, albs and chasubles just get ruined by the deluge, especially when it isn't properly cleaned up (or when the new bishop doesn't have the density of hair to absorb it). But, of course, it has the symbolic meaning of the spiritual blessings which the grace of ordination pours out onto the new bishop in his threefold ministry of teaching, governing and sanctifying.

Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, today's principal consecrator, made clear in his homily that he would use it liberally. But, gratefully, it was still handled with minimal mess when the moment came.

(Oh, wait, it's communion time -- and they're singing that "And HOOOOOOOOOOOLY, HOOOOOOOOOOLY, HOOOOOOLY is his NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAME" Magnificat. Hmm. Just had to throw that in for some color.... The commentators are saying it's the only piece Nickless explicitly asked for.)

Everybody's there, too: Chaput and Tobin as co-consecrators, Burke, Naumann, Gomez, Curtiss, Finn, Boland, Vann, Gilmore, DiNardo, etc. etc. Cardinal Stafford was conspicuous by his absence.

And now, it begins....

PHOTO: AP/Charlie Niebergall