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Opening the doors

Last night Archbishop Timothy Dolan was formally welcomed to his new home and cathedra at St. Patrick's in New York. He knocked at the doors and was granted entrance and welcomed with applause. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio, read the letter of appointment from Rome (in Italian-accented English), and after proceeding to the bishop's chair, Dolan presided over Vespers and delivered a memorable homily.The New York Times has posted a copy of that homily (provided by the archdiocese) online. It includes references to Bret Favre and C. C. Sabathia, "McNamara's Band," and the William Holman Hunt painting "The Light of the World." That luminous (if slightly cloying) Pre-Raphaelite painting -- or one copy of it, at least -- is on display in a chapel in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, but Dolan lived up to his salt-of-the-earth reputation by talking instead about his encounter with it in his second grade classroom. The sister who used it as a teaching tool delivered a reading at yesterday's service. And Archbishop Dolan thanked his mother, also in attendance, for sacrificing to send him to Catholic school, where he learned the importance of answering Christ's invitation. Overall his homily was, I thought, a sophisticated message, in spite of its folksy flavor, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from the new archbishop.

The Light of the WorldThe coverage in today's Times is extensive, and includes several large photos -- including a great one of a priest using his program to shield himself from the rain as he waits to process into the cathedral. (I noticed some of the Dominicans were taking advantage of their habits' hoods for the same purpose.) The most telling detail in the main article by Paul Vitello about yesterday's proceedings is the observation that Dolan's "was the first homily at St. Patricks in recent memory that was punctuated with exclamation marks in the official transcript." Indeed, Dolan seems to punctuate nearly everything he does with an exclamation point, and a grin. I watched on television as he greeted people by name outside the Cathedral: "Hey, Steve! How's it going?... Are you all vicars? Well, thanks very much!" Whatever Cardinal Egan's virtues, he isn't known as a people person. So it's exciting -- and a little bit astonishing -- to see a bishop who takes such obvious joy in his vocation.There is also an amusing sidebar article about the preparations for Dolan's climactic knock. (In the end, a hammer was provided for the archbishop to use.) This afternoon the Mass of installation will be held in the Cathedral -- those not important enough to be invited can read along at home, using the .pdf of the program posted on the archdiocesan Web site.Oh, and good news for those of you who might have been worried that Archbishop Dolan aimed to lead the archdiocese into overt schism: after Dolan spoke to the press outside St. Patrick's on Tuesday, the New York Daily News reported, "There will be no major changes in Catholic doctrine under his watch, especially on hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage." That's a relief -- New York can only take so much change at once!

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Here's the City Room's post on Dolan's first presser:

A/B Dolan did well in the press conf. Charm and a smile are so underrated virtues in Catholic circles. We need more coach types and less deans of disipline...His successes in the future, I pray, will bring about change in the 'finger waggering' bishops'.

When I first read about the tradition of knocking on the door, the image I had was of the archbishop swinging the crozier over his head, kind of like an axe or a sledgehammer.

A few more links that may be of interest: the NYT's "City Room" has a detailed blog entry on last night's Vespers. And Archbishop Dolan has his own byline in the Daily News today, on an opinion column with the headline "It's a blessing to be here: Why I'm proud to lead the wonderful Archdiocese of New York." (That's one way to avoid getting confused about Catholic technical terms -- have the bishop do the reporting himself!) He says, in part:

I aim to be a happy bishop, sharing joys and laughs with you. So you will see me at the St. Patrick's parade, and at the new Yankee Stadium, and at processions and feast days and barbecues across our almost 400 parishes. Being Catholic is not a heavy burden, snuffing the joy out of life; rather our faith in Jesus and His Church gives meaning, purpose and joy to life. I love being a Catholic, I love being a priest, and I fully intend to love being archbishop of New York while loving all of you in the Church in New York.

And I love this Reuters photo, posted on Whispers in the Loggia today, of Dolan hammering on the doors -- watched with prayerful concern by New York's native daughter (and my patron saint), Mother Seton.

In psychotherapy some believe in non-content therapy. Which means that one conveys through gestures, touches, body language how one cares about someone else and how healing can take place. Tim Dolan is a good example of that. I refuse at this point to believe some terrible quotes I have seen and heard about him. There is such a ring of truth, sincerity and love about him. I will give him a chance and take him at his words.

I have a positive view of Timothy Dolan but I do take exception to putting the "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" picture of Jesus up to illustrate this event. Much too eschatological for me.By the way, there is no knocking in the ceremonial of bishops for this event. All the press are commenting on how Egan didn't do it, and O'Connor didn't do it. Well... It's not in the ceremonial.

While we should IMO be open to Dolan, it really ought to be noted that while there are many references to the apostles in this installation ceremony the Apostles would not be caught dead in these outfits and all this pageantry. This medieval parade just brings out more strongly a hierarchy out of touch and non-responsive.

Of course, the Apostles probably wouldn't have been caught dead wearing pants, either. And the skyscrapers on Fifth Avenue might have frightened them.

No, I think there's a point here. It's not just that the outfits are anachronistic, but that the first apostles were in a lot humbler circumstances as this world sees them, and so was Jesus.

Oh, (I think) I know what Bill means -- it's a familiar refrain. But it seems to me the fact that the entity we call the Church doesn't look much like what the earliest Christians knew is either so obvious as to not require pointing out, or else too flimsy a foundation for a real critique of the hierarchy. The Church is at its best when it serves the poor and advances Christ's message of love: agreed. But it doesn't necessarily follow that a bit of pageantry now and then, reflecting the magnificence of God, is a bad thing. After all, If the Church hadn't changed materially since the Apostles' day, we wouldn't need bishops in the first place. (I suppose that would make it "smaller and purer"!)

Those who are considered by the church as successors to the apostles actually would do well to think seriously about detachment, humility, and service all the time. There is a big fad now for more gold, lace, longer capes, antique vestments, and there are plenty of misguided people who salivate over the red shoes the pope wears and all the rest. I associate this with decadence, not thriving.

"Those who are considered by the church as successors to the apostles actually would do well to think seriously about detachment, humility, and service all the time. "Of course I agree with this. At the same time, I'd think there aren't any archbishops in the Northeastern quarter of the US who have had their mansions built for them - they've all inherited them from predecessors, whether they wanted them or not. My very limited experience with Archbishop Dolan makes me suspect that he'd be comfortable in the mansion or in a two-bedroom third-floor walkup.There are different aspects to it. If we think it could be a good thing for the archbishop to play golf with the mayor or the chairman of Goldman Sachs (and I can think of reasons why this could be a good thing), then we want an archbishop who can insert himself into that level of society. Also, I wonder if our grandparents would have had an expectation that a bishop is part of the gentry (and indeed if this could be one of the reasons that American archbishops seem to live in mansions). If that is so, then that leads to questions like, 'Why is our expectation better than theirs?' Or, 'Could there be contemporary cultures that still have that expectation, and if so, why privilege ours?' And so on.

But it doesnt necessarily follow that a bit of pageantry now and then, reflecting the magnificence of God, is a bad thing.I don't know if the magnificence is meant to be reflective of God or instead of the Church. A while ago there was a story at ZENIT about a petition started on Facebook, signed by approx 40,000 people, to ask the Vatican to sell off some of its treasures to use for food for the poor of Africa. Many people see the opulence of the Church in the face of world poverty as grotesque and non-reflective of God. As far as the mansions go, when Jerry Brown was governor of California he refused to live in the mansion and had it sold - I guess a bishop couldn't do the same?

Crystal, I think some would say the magnificence of the Church's rituals and riches is a reflection of the boundless grandeur of God. But I believe there have been bishops who have sold off their diocesan mansions, and other holdings -- usually to pay off debts, I suppose, rather than to give to the poor. But then, part of their job is to preserve and protect the institution of the Church, or at least the portion of it that falls under their jurisdiction. It's unhelpfully simplistic, it seems to me, to say that the Church must either be in solidarity with the poor or value ceremony and beauty. Ideally, it ought to do both: the latter at the service of the former.

No one objects to beauty or ceremony. It is the riches that are objected to. The fourth century brought the paradigm change where the expensive pagan temples were turned into Christian Cathedrals. Bands of monks encouraged by bishops tore down the temples of the gods to replace them with Christian temples. Then bishops hired mobs to attack and kill other Christians who disagreed with them. It took us 17 centuries for the hierarchy to get into ecumenism and become civil again. Perhaps now is the time to return to humility and imitate Lazarus rather than the rich man.

"Ideally, it ought to do both: the latter at the service of the former."Yes - well said.I also think we could distinguish between liturgical splendor - e.g. a house of worship with beautiful art, golden vessels, and the like, which may have been created and funded for the greater glory of God - and the personal trappings of the bishop.

"I guess a bishop couldnt do the same?"Off the top of my head without thinking too long and hard, 2 come to mind who did:Bernard Topel of SpokaneFloyd Begin of Oakland

I read somewhere today that the knock on the door was supposed to represent the humble candidate's request for acceptance and approval by the faithful. No wonder it has often been omitted.

There are numerous recent examples of "spending" that probably went beyond appropriateness:a) new bishop of Dallas - first decision; buy a $1.2 million dollar mansion - his help fundraising efforts - this in a diocese that needs every dollar to build new parishes;b) have you ever seen a list of items for the cathedral in LA - "Taj Mahoney"....examples - $1 million for the bishop's chair; >$1 mil for the ambo; multiple millions for exotic tile; etc.c) the dust up recently in Belleville, IL and Bishop Braxton who spent thousands on his house, liturgical expenses, etc......he later sort of aplogized but then blamed his financial council...led to consultants coming in to do an intervention between bishop and priests;d) Lake Charles, LA.....again, bishop who spent thousands on his personal mansion;you could probably find stories like this that involve more than 25% of the current bishops in the US.Not sure what this has to do with your original post on Dolan today but it amplifies the secondary thread on bishops, power, and their splendor.

". . are we not at times perhaps like those two dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus? They were so absorbed in their own woes, so forlorn in their mistaken conclusion that the one in whom they had placed their trust was dead, so shocked by the shame, scandal, and scorn of last Friday . . . that they failed to recognize Jesus as He walked right alongside of them!"Curious that Archbishop Dolan blames the disciples for not recognizing Jesus, when this is a common reaction to his appearances after the resurrection. How beautifully open to his explication of the scriptures they were, and how ready to offer hospitality. How quick to turn around and become "apostles to the apostles." Lovely people.

Was the knock "omitted," as Joseph assumes, or was it never official to begin with? Rita, you said it's not in the rite. If you're still reading, can you tell us any more about the history there? If including it was Dolan's choice, it seems to me it would suggest that he embraces the symbolism Joseph mentions, not that he rejects it.

Mollie, in answer to your question, OConnor and Egan didnt omit anything. They followed the proper ritual book scrupulously. Knocking is not offered there as an option.So where did the knock come in? I dont know. And it appears Im not the only one. The USCCB director of media relations didnt know either, and presumably she asked her colleagues at the liturgy office down the hall. Heres what she says: points to knocking in the old rite during the dedication of a church. But this is a red herring. There are lots of knocks out there in the old rite (sorry, thats funny, but I mean it literally), such as knocking on the door as part of the Palm Sunday procession, and knocking on a Jubilee door, to open it (which we still do). The question I would place is whether it is proper for a bishop to cherry pick items from the old rite and insert them in the new?Since Dolan did it, I assume theres a warrant somewhere for it. I dont mean to suggest that he is not concerned with correct celebration. My best guess - and it's only a guess - is that it might be in the Roman Pontifical, which was revised after the Ceremonial of Bishops. Even if thats true, Id like to know how it works. Copying what they do in Rome is an old tradition, but there seemed to be so much fuss about this. Like it was an absolute necessity! Hoary tradition! I expected them to replace the thousand pound brass doors any minute, for heavens sake, so a knock would resound!

"Interesting that you should say archbishops Jim. Do you think its something peculiar to being in a large see?"I've lived in two non-"arch" dioceses in the upper Midwest whose bishops do not live in the lap of luxury - that was why I was confining myself to the larger sees.

"The USCCB director of media relations didnt know either, and presumably she asked her colleagues at the liturgy office down the hall. Heres what she says:"I'm just excited that she confirmed my mental image of whacking the doors with the crozier!

Thanks for the info, Rita. Jim, it does seem a shame to drag that thing around everywhere and not to use it when it could come in handy!

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