HOUSTON, TEXAS: Fr. Jeffrey Steenson Retakes Miter and Crosier
david at virtueonline.org
david at virtueonline.org
Fri Feb 17 10:15:59 EST 2012
HOUSTON, TEXAS: Fr. Jeffrey Steenson Retakes Miter and Crosier
Former Episcopal bishop becomes Catholic monsignor
By Mary Ann Mueller in Houston
Feb. 13, 2012
An excited crowd was already starting to form at Sacred Heart Co-cathedral before Sunday's early afternoon Vietnamese Mass was even completed. People were gathering from points near and far to witness and participate in a unique moment in Catholic ecclesial history - the formal installation of the first Ordinary of the Anglican Ordinariate in the United States.
Pope Benedict XVI's much-anticipated Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus was finally becoming a reality in America. All the prayers that have gone into this moment were about to be fulfilled and brought to full fruition. In moments, the written words would be spoken. Leaping off the page, these words would become a reality and the Rev. Jeffrey Steenson would be officially installed as the reigning cleric with jurisdiction.
The occasional light whiff of incense that drifted past the nostrils of the multitude, as they found their seats in the massive 27,800 square foot cathedral, was the first hint that something special was about to happen.
The air crackled with anticipation and excitement. The clock kept ticking toward Feb. 12th's appointed three pm hour.
>From somewhere in the back of the immense cathedral, an organ started to play softly helping to create a contemplative atmosphere. Pews were filling up as the finishing touches were being put on the solemn ceremony that would begin momentarily.
As quickly as the organ had started to play, the lilting musical notes ended. A deep hush descended on the assembled congregation. The strong aroma of incense filled the church. The Opus XIX 5,499 pipe organ pealed out the first notes of "Firmly I Believe", bringing the congregation to its feet. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman penned the 19th Century hymn with the 20th Century melody being written by Joseph Kucharski, the professor of church music at Nashotah House. The entrance procession had begun.
First to process in were the Catholic bishops and archbishops -- eight in all - who were dressed in their fuchsia-colored choir dress. The next splash of color came when the two cardinals came in attired in brilliant vivid red.
The processional cross was flanked by two torch bearers, followed by the thurifer who with a practiced swing could twirl the thurible a full 360 degrees sending great clouds of aromatic blue-gray white smoke drifting towards the 72-foot-high vaulted ceiling.
Emerging from the smoke screen of incense came eight torch bearers leading the way for those who were carrying the humeral-veil draped crosier and miter - which would become Fr. Steenson's symbols of spiritual authority and temporal power in the recently created personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.
The new Anglican ordinariate was erected on New Year's Day by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI. This came in response to the many Anglicans who, for years and even decades, have pounded on the Vatican's door seeking to be reunified with the Church of Rome following the original splintering off of Anglicanism in the 16th Century. The Pope made a special provision for Anglicans to become fully Roman Catholic while maintaining some of their unique cherished ways in patrimony and ethos.
Lifting the Book of the Gospels high for all to see next came Our Lady of Walsingham's Deacon James Barnett. A steady stream of seminarians and deacons followed him and priests leading the way into the cathedral for their soon-to-be installed Ordinary - Jeffery Steenson.
Eyes strained to see the back of the procession to get a first glimpse of Fr. Steenson, who was wearing a white celebrant's chasuble highlighted with ivory brocade and golden trim. A gold pectoral cross, suspended on a green cord, hung from his neck. His face wore a broad smile.
As he made his way forward, he stepped briefly out of the processional line to greet his family who had secured a front row pew to witness the momentous event in the life of their cherished family member.
Then Fr. Steenson began what might have been a first - an Anglican Use Mass celebrated at the deep red marble pillared altar at Sacred Heart Co-cathedral. Even though Our Lady of Walsingham, the Anglican Use parish in Houston is the Ordinariate's new principal church, the cathedral was chosen for the installation Mass to accommodate the anticipated crowd. No one knew how many would be making their way to Houston to witness history and be a part of an Ordinariate first. The church holds 1,800 souls and it was about three quarters full for the special service that pre-empted the Cathedral's usual Second Sunday Tour schedule.
Following the familiar words of the Collect for Purity and the Summery of the Law, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo approached his pulpit. In a strong voice, he welcomed all to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and to his Co-cathedral. In particular, he welcomed his colleague in the Sacred College of Cardinals - Donald Cardinal Wuerl who hails from the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
Once this was done, as a gentle and gracious host, Cardinal DiNardo stepped aside melting into background as he temporarily relinquished his cathedral, altar and pulpit to the Ordinariate for its inaugural liturgical celebration and the formalized establishment of the governance of the ecclesial structure.
However, it fell upon the shoulders of Cardinal Wuerl to carry out the explicit task of facilitating the implementation Pope Benedict's apostolic constitution decreeing the establishment of an Anglican Ordinariate in the United States. He brought with him greetings from the Vatican and some very important documents, which were needed to accomplish the task at hand - the installation of Jeffrey Steenson as the founding Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
Unrolling the long wide scroll. Cardinal Wuerl read to the assembled congregation the words printed on that parchment. The Decree of Establishment was formally read in the presence of the Ordinariate's Chancellor, Dr. Margret Chalmers. It is the Chancellor's responsibility to officially record the reading of the proclamation and the installation of the Ordinary in the Acts of the Curia.
Cardinal Wuerl's voice is softer than Cardinal DiNardo's. The Houston prelate is used to projecting in his cathedral.
Following the official reading of the document, Cardinal Wuerl invited Dr. Chalmers to inspect it. Then he presented it to the cluster of assembled Anglican Use clerics for their perusal and, finally, to Jeffrey Steenson. The parchment was again rolled up and handed to the newly proclaimed Ordinary. This being done, the Washington Cardinal placed the gold miter on Fr. Steenson's head and handed him a rather simple wooden crosier. For the most part, the Cardinal's task was complete. The Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter had been erected and Jeffrey Steenson was duly installed as the founding Ordinary. Only one more thing needed to be announced - the Pope's elevation of Fr. Steenson to the honorific rank of Monsignor. In keeping with his new ecclesial style, Monsignor Steenson's fuchsia episcopal cassock has outsized red cuffs.
Once the Monsignor received the miter, - the same miter he wore as the VIII Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande - his was the only miter seen. The other bishops and archbishops simply wore their fuchsia zucchetto which matched their cassock. The two cardinals wore brilliant red zucchettos, but they also had their matching tuffed birettas.
Because Monsignor Steenson is a married man, he was not made a bishop, although he has all episcopal power and authority within the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. He can celebrate six of the seven Catholic Sacraments. However, he is not permitted to ordain deacons or priests nor share in the consecration of bishops. He does have a seat and voice in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is the Catholic Church's version of the Episcopal House of Bishops
Monsignor Steenson is no stranger to the Catholic house of bishops. He was introduced to his soon-to-be-"brother"-bishops last November when Cardinal Wuerl announced that the Anglican Ordinariate in America would be erected on the first day of the new year. At that time the name of the Ordinariate was not known nor was it known who would be named the founding Ordinary.
In anticipation of the eventual erection of the American ordinariate, Fr. Steenson was very involved in helping set up the seminary training program in Houston for all the Episcopal and Anglican priests who had decided to become Roman Catholic and seek to recoup their priesthoods through the Ordinariate.
Since the newly constituted Ordinariate is entitled the Chair of St. Peter, the installation Mass was originally scheduled for the feast day of the Chair of St. Peter on Feb. 22. However, this year, Ash Wednesday falls on that date when Catholic churches are filled to over flowing with the faithful seeking to begin a holy lent. So the installation Mass was rescheduled 10 days earlier, but the readings for the liturgical celebration were taken from feast day of the Chair of St. Peter.
In the Epistle reading, taken from fifth chapter of First Peter, the Saint calls out through the ages to remind Monsignor Steenson of his duties as shepherd to his newly developing Ordinariate flock.
"Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock," St. Peter exhorts.
"And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory," the first Pope promises.
In his sermon, the newly-styled Monsignor focused on the Chair of St. Peter and Christian unity, taking as his text verse Psalm 133:1 "Behold how good and joyful a thing it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity."
For 14 minutes, the Ordinary taught about the continued importance of St. Peter in the Church and the unity of Christians within a single fold. Weaving his gift as a preacher with his knowledge of Patristics and love of the early Church Fathers, the newly minted Monsignor explained that the work of Christian unity requires deliberate and ceaseless effort.
"You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church," he said quoting the familiar Scripture passage in Matthew which was the Gospel reading for the day.
"For Peter brings everything to Christ," he emphasized. "The trajectory is clear. We are Christ's and Christ is God's. ...the Church exists to bring souls to Christ.
"There is so much to be celebrated about the patrimony of Anglicanism - its liturgical, spiritual, and pastoral traditions, which the Catholic Church welcomes as a treasure to be shared," Monsignor Steenson noted. "But let us be clear about our first principles."
He explained that through the intervening centuries, since the English Reformation which rent asunder the Church in England from the Church of Rome, many people have fervently prayed and made great sacrifices to see the day come in which Christ's priestly prayer of unity would begin to be fulfilled as Anglicans return to the mother church of Christendom.
"Some will argue that the Catholic Church makes Christian unity a difficult thing to achieve," the Monsignor explained in a clear strong voice. "Look at what is being asked of those who are considering the Ordinariate. Anglicans need to be received, 5rbe confirmed and their clergy ordained in the absolute form. Is this not asking them to begin all over again? Certainly not. ... the Catholic Church simply asked that the bonds of charity be restored sacramentally by invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit. These are brothers and sisters, returning home.
"We thus open our hearts, in humility and love, to all Christians divided by culture and circumstance and misunderstanding," he said. "We extend our hand in friendship to all who seek the Truth. These are our companions along the way. We begin with a strong faith that, God has given us Peter, his hand firmly on the tiller, returning us to Jesus, 'the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls'."
Following the sermon, the Creed and the Prayers of the People served as the preface to the familiar penitential rite in which all present are asked to: "Draw near with faith and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling."
Both Cardinal DiNardo and Cardinal Wuerl knelt ramrod straight on the hard cold marble floor. The skirts of their scarlet cassocks pooling around their knees as they joined their voices saying the unfamiliar wording of the Anglican Confiteor: "Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all men..."
Knowing that his task was over and that he was being pressed for time to make a flight, Cardinal Wuerl quietly left the cathedral during the Comfortable Words that were spoken by Deacon Barnett.
The Anglican Use Mass is an intoned and spoken dialogue between the celebrant, his deacon, the congregation and a joint choir, all raising their collective voices up to God in a choreographed holy pageant of sight, sound and smell.
Soft natural light came through the high 108 stained glass panels that ring the nave. Sacred Heart Cathedral, which was dedicated in 2008, is still young enough to have a new feel about it. Soot from the candles and smoke from incense have not yet dulled the light Indiana limestone nor darkened any of the rich marble accents. The cathedral is bright and airy.
Retired Galveston-Houston Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza has described Houston's newest cathedral as "A Great Cathedral for a Great City".
When Monsignor Steenson celebrated the Ordinariate's inaugural Mass, he remembered the Communion of Saints including the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph in conjunction with the original Apostles by name - Peter, Paul, James, John, Andrew and the others. Also mentioned were some lesser known early Church Fathers such as Linus, Cletus, Xystus, Cyprian, Chrysogonus, Cosmas ...
Several Pastoral Provision and Anglican Use priests joined their Monsignor at the cathedral altar - each adding their voice in prayer as the Canon of the Mass unfolded.
After the Consecration was completed and the familiar words of the Prayer for Humble Access were prayed priests, deacons and seminarians fanned out into the massive cathedral to bring Communion to the assembly. There were 24 other Communion stations in addition to Monsignor Steenson who was distributing Holy Communion in the front of the large church.
A prie-dieu had been set up for Cardinal DiNardo. During Communion, the cardinal archbishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston sank to his knees. Putting his head in his hands he remained in solemn prayer. He looked very much like Pope John Paul II engaged in deep recollection.
When persons presented themselves to the Monsignor with their arms crossed, he gave them his blessing then rested his hand on their shoulder as a pastoral gesture of encouragement and support.
Many of those seeking the Monsignor's blessing were Episcopal and Anglican faithful - even clergy - who have left Anglicanism, sacramentally leaving all behind, entering the wilderness as they make their way to reunion with the Church of Rome and entrance into Catholic Sacraments. Until then, they can prepare themselves through study and prayer, as they cross the barren desert in anticipation of greater things.
All too soon, the two-hour celebration was over. The final words of the Post Communion Prayer were said, the final blessing was given and the deacon sent forth the faithful.
As the concluding notes of the postlude faded away, the grace-filled ceremony immediately became a cherished memory and an asterisked footnote in history.
-------Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline
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