EDMOND — From the historic chair he will sit in to the ornate pastoral staff he will carry, the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley will be surrounded by tradition today as he becomes the new leader of thousands of Roman Catholic
Coakley is set to become the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City during an elaborate invitation-only ceremony at 2 p.m. today at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 924 S Littler.
It has been 17 years since archdiocesan leadership has changed.
The Most Rev. Eusebius Beltran was installed as Oklahoma City archbishop in a grand ceremony in 1993 at the Civic Center Music Hall. Thousands of Roman Catholics and others flocked to the downtown Oklahoma City venue to see Beltran formally become the leader of Roman Catholics living in two-thirds of the state. The Tulsa Diocese represents the eastern portion of the state.
The Rev. Stephen Bird, head of the archdiocese's Office of Worship and Spiritual Life, said St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, which holds about 1,200 people, is expected to be filled for Coakley's ceremony.
He said most of the archdiocese's priests and seminarians will attend the event, as well as bishops and leaders from other dioceses across the
State leaders of other Christian denominations and other faiths also will be represented, he said.
The archdiocese is made up of 109 parishes and missions, representing 108,171 people. Bird said each archdiocesan parish was given four tickets to distribute among parishioners. Mission parishes — smaller churches — were given two tickets. Bird said only ticket holders will be allowed into the event.
Bird, who serves as installation committee chairman, said the limited seating at the church is the reason Coakley and other archdiocesan leaders are excited that Eternal Word Television Network, a cable channel known for its Roman Catholic-themed programming, will air the ceremony and offer it via live streaming video on its website at EWTN.com.
EWTN will air the installation at 2 p.m., and a repeat broadcast will be shown at 11 p.m. EWTN is on Cox Channel 135 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 562.
Bird said archdiocesan leaders want as many Roman Catholics as possible to share in the joyous ceremony that does not happen often.
Peter McConnell, a theology teacher at Bishop McGuinness High School, shared similar sentiments.
McConnell, 34, said he hopes many of the McGuinness students will be able to watch the televised ceremony.
He said he was an altar server representing Our Lady's Cathedral at Beltran's 1993 installation.
“I was a junior in high school, and it was a pretty big deal for me,” McConnell said. “For me, as a cradle Catholic, it was something that I will remember probably until I can't remember anything
Today's ceremony ushering in a new era of archdiocesan leadership will include many traditions based on Scripture, some of them dating to the second and third centuries, a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops official said.
Some of the rituals rife with symbolism were used at an evening prayer service Thursday at Our Lady's Cathedral.
Coakley led a processional from the Conner Center north of the cathedral, 3214 N Lake, to the front doors of the church. He knocked three times on the church doors, a ritual based upon Revelation 3:20, where Christ says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
Archdiocesan leaders said the ritual symbolizes that the new archbishop is a successor to the apostles who were sent out by Christ to preach, heal and minister in His name.
The doors of the church were opened by Archbishop Beltran and Monsignor Edward Weisenburger, rector of Our Lady's Cathedral, who formally received Coakley into the church.
Our Lady's Cathedral will be the new archbishop's liturgical home, the place where he will celebrate the Eucharist and other important events during his ministry as archbishop.
Once inside the church, Coakley was given a container of holy water and a crucifix. Coakley kissed the crucifix in an ancient gesture showing his reverence for Christ and Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of the world.
Coakley blessed himself with the holy water as a reminder that he enters the Church through the waters of baptism. He then sprinkled some of the holy water on people around him as a sign that they are brothers and sisters in Christ through baptism.
Tradition carries into today
Today's installation will include the historic reading of the Apostolic Mandate from Pope Benedict XVI, officially appointing Coakley as archbishop.
The document will be read by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio or ambassador to the United States.
Bird said as per tradition, a group of consultors — in this case archdiocesan priests — will inspect the document to make sure it is authentic. Bird said this tradition dates back centuries.
“If you think back to the old days, someone from Rome would have to deliver this command to the new bishop,” he said. “Today, in the world of communication, news travels in many ways, but we still have to use the Latin document to verify Archbishop Coakley as the new archbishop.”
Bird said another ritual steeped in tradition is the placement of Coakley on the Episcopal chair, which also is called a cathedra. He said Coakley will be led to the chair by Beltran and Sambi. It is a symbol of the seat of his authority and his role as teacher in the tradition of the apostles.
The chair that will be used for today's ceremony has particular significance for the Oklahoma Catholic faith community. The chair was used by the Most Rev.
Likewise, the chalice that will be used in the Eucharist service also was used by Meerschaert, Bird said.
The crosier, a pastoral staff that will be used by Coakley, also is special. Bird said it was used by the Most Rev. Eugene J. McGuinness when he was bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Beltran was required to offer his resignation to the pope after he turned 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops, in August 2009.