Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why a Bishop Should be Ordained in His Cathedral

Plans are proceeding apace to have the next bishop of the Diocese of Baker ordained in theAztec handball court new St. Francis Church in Bend. 

The parish bulletin at the Cathedral had the following announcement this week:

Bishop Liam Cary’s consecration – the date chosen for our Bishop-elect Liam Cary is Friday May 18th at 2 PM at St. Francis of Assisi church in Bend. Bishop Skylstad informed us that there will be tickets available for those who would like to attend. Space is limited in the church there, although the auditorium will be also used for seating, probably people following the ceremony on a large screen. Parking is also a problem, and so is lodging, as there is some kind of a big festivity that weekend in Bend.

Now there’s planning for you: the ordination is scheduled for the weekend of a secular event that will draw thousands. Tickets are available, but we are not told where. (Call the chancery, I guess.)

At any rate, the announcement continues:

You may notice a few things missing from the Cathedral over the next two months, as they are taken to Bend to be used during the consecration ceremony. In particular there is the Bishop’s chair (his cathedra,) candle stands, processional cross and other paraphernalia they may request over the next few weeks…

Odd: a hundred-year-old Cathedral STILL does not have a cathedra that is permanently installed, as it should have, according to the 1984 Caeremoniale Episcoporum.

The bulletin announcement saves the “best” thought for last:

Each parish is being asked to create a Banner to be displayed at the consecration Mass. Anyone interested in helping in this, please speak to me as soon as possible. Some materials will be given to us, but it’s up to us to create something appealing that represents our parish and community.

Oh. My. Goodness.  A “banner” for each parish?! What is this – a football game?! “Go Team Cathedral!” With 30-plus parishes, that’s a lot of banners. Wow. That church is going to looks soooo special! NOT. It will look like a carnival, not a Cathedral. Oh, wait…that's right. The church in Bend is NOT a cathedral anyway.

Okay, let’s get to the real point here: the Cathedral is the place for the ordination of our next bishop. It’s not difficult to amass quite a bit of evidence that it is the mind of the Church that an episcopal ordination should take place in the new bishop’s cathedral – or the cathedral of the consecrating bishop – but not in a parish church of the diocese. (We might even add “duh” to that statement.)

To illustrate the point, here are a few excerpts from the Rite of Ordination of a Bishop in The Roman Pontifical[1] . First, let’s deal with the mistaken notion that allowing as many as possible to view the ordination means we should hold the ordination in the largest space available.

15        …Since the Bishop is constituted for the sake of the entire local Church, the clergy and other faithful are to be invited to his Ordination, so that as many as possible may take part in the celebration.

This statement seems to be interpreted by The Powers That Be here in the Diocese of Baker to mean, “the largest place of public assembly is to be selected as the site for the ordination in order that as many as possible may take part in the celebration.” In Bishop Vasa’s case, this led to selecting the Deschutes County Fairgrounds (where rodeos are commonly held) as the venue for his ordination; in the present case, the choice is the one Catholic church in the Diocese that (arguably) can seat the most people – a mere parish church. Unfortunately, the text itself does not support the interpretation that “as many as possible may take part in the celebration” means only that they must be physically present in the same room in which the ordination is taking place. To wit: some large celebrations in St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City are broadcast to thousands in overflow crowds in the nearby Paul VI Audience Hall.

There are a couple of other places in the Pontifical which seem to make it clear that the largest space available need not be the choice of venue. However, let’s move on to consideration of other articles in the document that provide evidence that the Cathedral as preferred location for an episcopal ordination. For instance:

21        The Bishop who is placed as head of a particular diocese should be ordained in the cathedral church.

St. Francis de Sales Cathedral
The rubrics underscore the signal importance of the Cathedral itself as the proper venue for the rite of episcopal ordination – especially for the ordination of the bishop of that diocese. While article 21 does actually make explicit provisions in the rite itself for when the ordination takes place outside the ordinand’s own cathedral, it seems clear that the Church’s intent is that the man is ordained to the Order of Bishops in a cathedral church, even if it is not his own cathedral. Thus, our first three bishops were ordained in the cathedral churches of their respective home dioceses – Portland and Seattle. There seems to be no justification for selecting a site that is not either the bishop-elect’s own cathedral (the preferred site) or the cathedral of the principal consecrating bishop.


27        Within his own diocese it is most fitting that the newly ordained Bishop preside at the concelebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. But if the Ordination takes place in some other diocese, the principal ordaining Bishop presides; in this case the newly ordained Bishop takes the first place among the concelebrating Bishops.

This is one of the other articles that points to the possibility of the ordination taking place outside the ordinand’s own cathedral; but if so, the only alternate scenario envisioned in the rubrics is in another diocese, not in another church within his own diocese.

Now let’s consider a few words about the cathedra which indicate again that the Cathedral is the intended site for the ordination.

29 a)   for the Liturgy of the Word, the principal ordaining Bishop sits at the cathedra, with the other ordaining Bishops near the cathedra, on either side; the Bishop-elect sits between the priests assisting him, in an appropriate place within the sanctuary (chancel);

The cathedra, of course, is in the Cathedral, and it’s supposed to be a permanent structure (the Ceremonial of Bishops states that the cathedra ought to be “a chair that stands alone and is permanently installed....”[article 47]). If it is permanent, it cannot be moved from place to place. Duh.

The cathedra of the Diocese of Baker.'s the one in the middle.
Nor is the bishop’s cathedra merely functional in nature; it’s not true that any chair the bishop sits in (regardless of how fancy) becomes ipso facto his cathedra. The rites certainly do not envision removing a non-permanent cathedra from the cathedral church for temporary relocation to some other liturgical venue. The cathedra of the see is of critical importance in the rite of installation whereby the new bishop takes canonical possession of his new diocese: if the man is ordained outside his diocese, he cannot be installed as Bishop of his new diocese until he is escorted to and ceremonially seated in the cathedra of his see – which the rites envision as a “permanent structure”. The rites of ordination do not envision the substitution of a faldstool for the cathedra – either for the principal ordaining bishop or for the rite of installation.

The seating arrangement mentioned in article 29a (above) will be extremely challenging to accomplish in what I’m told is the relatively tiny sanctuary of St Francis of Assisi Church in Bend. That space will have to accommodate the additional presence of a) the Papal Nuncio and b) one or more cardinals, at least some of whom are likely to not concelebrate: they will merely be present in choro, which requires the presence of seats and kneelers not only for themselves but the same for each of their two (traditionally, non-concelebrating) assistant clerics (vested in cassock and surplice).

A correspondent reports:

St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bend was clearly not designed with ordinations in mind. This became very clear in September 2010 when Bishop Vasa held a priestly ordination there...and, desirous “that the faithful have a clear view of the liturgical rites”, caused a faldstool to be placed before the altar. The space left in front of the altar was so minimal that the prostrate ordinand (during the Litany of the saints) had his head butting up against the legs of the faldstool while his feet hung over the front steps, hanging in mid-air, meanwhile, Bishop Vasa had to kneel alongside, turned diagonally toward the altar. It looked ridiculous.

There’s more that could be cited from the Roman Pontifical, but we’ll leave that document and close with a section from Canon Law:

Canon 382 ...

§3 A Bishop takes canonical possession of his diocese when, personally or by proxy, he shows the apostolic letters to the college of consultors, in the presence of the chancellor of the curia, who makes a record of the fact. This must take place within the diocese. In dioceses which are newly established he takes possession when he communicates the same letters to the clergy and the people in the cathedral church, with the senior of the priests present making a record of the fact.

§4 It is strongly recommended that the taking of canonical possession be performed with a liturgical act in the cathedral church, in the presence of the clergy and the people.

Come on, folks.

Let’s stop quibbling over justifications and excuses and “pastoral prudence”, and just do it right for once.

Oh…and will someone PLEASE ban those banners? Let’s make this look like a grown-up ceremony.


[1] As Renewed By Decree 0f the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council; Published By Authority Of Pope Paul VI and Further Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II


  1. What a mess. I think the people of Bend are to close to Sisters and think this is a quilt show


  2. Bill - "quilt show"?! ROFL!!!

  3. Actually, it's the Bend Pole, Pedal, Paddle weekend.

    The info we had in our bulletin stated the number of tickets for our parish (4), but didn't say anything about the auditorium or that we had to make a banner, only that we had to send folks to carry a banner. Sounds discouraging and limiting for folks to feel free to attend such an important occasion.

    Once again, from our experience, the clear communication is lacking greatly, leading to many frustrations and confusion. . .


Please be courteous and concise.