Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In Baltimore, The Loriole's Opening Day

Two hundred twenty-three years since the founding of the nation's oldest diocese and the appointment of a cousin of a signer of the Declaration of Independence as its first bishop, the American Catholic spotlight returns to Mother Baltimore today for the installation of John Carroll's 15th successor.

For a local church whose heads have historically loomed large on the national stage, Pope Benedict's March selection of Archbishop-elect William Lori for the Premier See has garnered even more prominence than usual.

In large part, the focus owes itself to the US bishops' high-profile push for religious liberty, which the 60 year-old prelate was tapped to oversee last fall. At the same time, the Baltimore nominee has found himself in the crosshairs of the moment's most attention-grabbing Stateside church story -- the Vatican mandate for a thorough reform of the umbrella-group representing the leadership of most of the nation's religious women -- after an April story in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet cited Lori as "the man who formally petitioned [Rome] to launch the current doctrinal investigation of the LCWR" during his term as chair of the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine.

In a response issued through the bishops' conference, the incoming archbishop said that he did not make that request, "nor would it have been appropriate for him to do so."

Regardless, the storyline of Maryland's long tradition at the vanguard of American religious freedom and the place of today's church in the public square is likely to dominate today's 2pm Eastern Installation Mass, expected to draw eight cardinals, 80 bishops, hundreds of priests and a crowd approaching 2,000 to the "New Cathedral" of Mary Our Queen. Among others, the rites will be livestreamed by EWTN and CatholicTV, along with Baltimore's WJZ and WBAL.

Keeping with longtime custom, the 16th archbishop will use the brass staff belonging to Carroll's second successor, the French Sulpician Ambrose Marechal, who took office in 1817. In yet another tradition that's become part of the day, meanwhile, the founder's pectoral cross was to be given to Lori by his predecessor, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, at a lunchtime press conference prior to today's Mass. (Named Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre last August and given the red hat at February's Consistory, while the Bronx native is now free to tackle the Rome-based position full time, the new cardinal will keep an American home in an apartment at Baltimore's Cathedral Rectory.)

As shown above, the ceremonies began last night with Vespers in the Basilica of the Assumption -- the nation's first cathedral, uniquely designed to symbolize in stone and light the fusion of the Catholic faith with the American experiment.

Following a prayer at Carroll's tomb in the crypt beneath the high altar, Lori preached the following homily, given here as prepared for delivery:

PHOTOS: Archdiocese of Baltimore(1); Sebastian Martorana/Baltimore Sun(2)