The installation of a new archbishop is truly a momentous occasion for any archdiocese. In the Archdiocese of Anchorage’s 50-year history, installations have occurred only three times: in 1966, for Archbishop Joseph Ryan; in 1976, for Archbishop Francis Hurley; in 2001 for Archbishop Roger Schwietz. The next will be Nov. 9 for Bishop Paul Etienne, who moves from his former diocese in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
A bishop’s installation is a time-honored tradition in the Catholic Church, and a vivid reminder about one of the faith’s central teachings — apostolic succession — which traces today’s bishops from an unbroken line down to the Twelve Apostles who were commissioned by Christ.
With that tenet of the faith in mind, the Anchorage Archdiocese is busy preparing for its new archbishop. It is an occasion area Catholics are encouraged to help celebrate.
Two major public events are planned, a solemn evening prayer vigil on Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. in Holy Family Cathedral, and the Mass of Installation the following day, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. in Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral.
COMMUNITY PRAYER FOR THE NEW ARCHBISHOP
When a newly-reassigned bishop — someone already ordained — is transferred from his former diocese, as with Archbishop Etienne, the bishop comes to “take possession” of his new diocese. In such cases the incoming bishop is solemnly received in the cathedral church by the clergy and local Catholics.
First, Archbishop Etienne will be welcomed in Anchorage at the evening prayer vigil, also known as vespers. This evening before the installation is traditionally a significant time for prayer. Vespers is one part of the larger Liturgy of the Hours, the daily rhythm of prayer within the church. In the Liturgy of the Hours, the church fulfills Jesus’ command to “pray always.”
The prayer vigil will include singing hymns and Psalms and reading of sacred Scripture.
The upcoming vespers service will begin with the procession of the clergy into Holy Family Cathedral, as the choir greets Archbishop Etienne with an ancient song inspired by the Book of Sirach: “Behold a great priest who in his days pleased God: Therefore, by an oath, the Lord made him to increase among his people. To him He gave the blessing of all nations, and confirmed His covenant upon his head…”
Following the choral processional, vespers will begin as normal. The appointed hymn of the day, dating from the seventh century, is sung by all. It speaks of the earthly church to be dedicated as an image of the heavenly Jerusalem, made of living stones, polished well by the heavenly architect through the trials and pains borne for the sake of Christ in this life, as alluded to by Saint Peter in his first epistle.
The reading appointed for the vespers service is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, reminding the faithful that we “form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the capstone.”
INSTALLATION MAKES TRANSITION COMPLETE
The next day, Archbishop Etienne will be formally installed. He will begin by entering Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral with Archbishop Schwietz presiding over the Mass temporarily. The papal representative to the United States, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre, will then read to the congregation the document from the Holy See appointing the new archbishop. It will be formally shown to archdiocesan college of consultors for verification. At this point, the nuncio will lead the new archbishop to the cathedra (the archbishop’s presiding chair) and hand him the crosier or archbishop’s staff. This is the moment at which the archbishop is installed, and the point when he takes over presiding at the liturgy.
For the Mass, many dignitaries will be in attendance, along with most of the archdiocese’s priests, deacons, seminarians, men and women religious and many lay faithful. The liturgy will then proceed with Archbishop Etienne delivering the homily.
What happens to Archbishop Schwietz once the transition is complete? He immediately becomes archbishop emeritus, and his archdiocesan duties will consist of whatever the new archbishop asks of him. Besides assisting through the transition period, Archbishop Schwietz will continue to serve as parish pastor of St. Andrew Church in Eagle River.
The Mass of Installation can be as simple or elaborate as the incoming archbishop desires. Many of those details are being worked out now, such as what hymns and psalms to sing and which readings to share.
One confirmed detail is that Archbishop Etienne, who comes from a large family in Indiana, will be joined by several family members for the momentous occasion. His sister, a Benedictine sister, will conduct one of the readings. In another reflection of the Mass’s historical significance, the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who pray around the clock at the Blessed Sacrament Monastery in Anchorage, have been granted special permission to briefly leave the monastery for the installation.
Mary Gore is the executive director of the Alaska Catholic Conference, and a member of the committee planning the installation. She says local Catholics should be joyful about their role in celebrating the installation.
“It is one of these traditions where we, as church and members of his new flock, gather to celebrate and welcome him following the rituals set by our church for all those elevated to his position,” she said.
How can local Catholics best ensure a smooth transition?
“What is most important is that we the faithful gather around to welcome and listen as the crowds followed Jesus and the apostles did,” Gore said. ”We must do our part to make the symbolism of the Catholic faith complete.”