Behind the scenes: Planning an installation
By Jean Torkelson
Among the summer’s most pressing questions: how long does it take to move a processional of 400 priests and deacons, up to 50 bishops and as many as four cardinals the length of two city blocks?
Does the liturgy provide for the papal nuncio to move left to right, or right to left?
Perhaps most haunting of all—exactly how many worshipers do fit in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, versus how many will actually turn up?
Those are just tiny morsels among a myriad of questions facing planners of the installation of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila on July 18. By that time, thousands of details will have been knit together to create a historic and unforgettable two days of welcome and prayers for the fifth archbishop of Denver.
On July 17, the eve of the installation, the public is invited to join the new archbishop in a Solemn Vespers service at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Northglenn.
Then, on July 18, comes the installation itself.
The Mass alone has sparked the sending of 1,700 invitations and will be proceeded by a processional of hundreds of clergy, including several cardinals.
“It’s like planning a wedding in six weeks with 2,000 guests,” said Tess Stone, events coordinator for the Archdiocese of Denver.
In this case, the “bridal party” has an especially complex guest list.
“The idea of the installation is not just to welcome the new archbishop to his new home and introduce him to the people of the Church in northern Colorado—it’s also to make him aware of the people he will have a relationship with, Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” said Msgr. Thomas Fryar, moderator of the curia and head of the 14-member installation committee.
In short, the new archbishop not only becomes leader of the Church of northern Colorado, but he also plays an influential role as he interacts with the public and civic leaders, and as he takes the mission of the Church into the public square. As Msgr. Fryar puts it, “His responsibility does not stop at the doors of the Catholic Church.”
Hence, a hefty invitation list of 1,700 people. The list includes the governor of Colorado, the mayor of Denver and a line of dignitaries. Then there are the religious leaders from a number of faiths and ecumenical backgrounds, and the representatives from the many new Catholic groups and spiritual movements, which have grown in number from the days of then-archbishop, now Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, through the tenure of Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Then don’t forget what one planner called “the big hordes of bishops” who must be seated.
Here’s the rub: The Cathedral Basilica seats 880, give or take some. The gap between seats and invitations is enough to strike RSVP terror into the most intrepid party planner.
“One of the behind-the-scenes joys and worries is that we sent out twice as many invitations as we will have seating available,” said Msgr. Fryar. “If everybody comes, we’ll have a lot of people standing in the aisles.”
Guessing “the yes’s … is, at best, some sort of voodoo,” said the archdiocese’s chancellor, J.D. Flynn, also a member of the committee. “I do stay awake nights wondering—'Will the cathedral be overflowing, or somehow will we have not invited enough people and be under-seated?'”
As Stone put it, “It’s a case of—‘Gosh, I hope enough people come,’ and ‘Gosh, I hope it’s not too many!’”
The seating issue was so crucial that figuring out exactly how many worshipers fit into the Cathedral Basilica led to a clever bit of planning strategy. Deacon Chuck Parker, Liturgy Office director, remembers the day archdiocesan staff was drafted to come to the Cathedral Basilica and sit in each pew, one after another. (Because the pews are of unequal length, the process was more difficult than you might think.) The result: 840 people can sit in the main sanctuary, and there is room for another 40, give or take, to occupy each side of the church.
But who sits where, in the main sanctuary or on the flanks, must be carefully figured out, too. The seating, the order of arrival—everything is part of a meticulous choreography. As Flynn put it, “When we have a lot of bishops invited, we have to make sure to polish all the liturgical silver, so to speak.”
One piece of choreography involved the papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who serves as the pope’s representative to the Church in the United States. Liturgically, it’s significant how he walks across the sanctuary—from right to left, or left to right? It was a sticking point the liturgy team took some time to figure out.
“It’s amazing, the number of hours it takes to plan a two-hour liturgy,” said Deacon Parker. “It ranges from picking venues, to where the sacred ministers can vest, to having the right people in place to lead them over, in procession, to the cathedral. You also have to know—how much time does it take for 400 guys to leave Grant Street (at the downtown Knights of Columbus hall) and get to the Cathedral Basilica? It’s timed to the minute.”
The answer: it takes about a half hour. But there is much, much more.
“There is picking floral arrangements for the Cathedral Basilica and Immaculate Heart of Mary,” he said, “worship books for the Mass and for vespers … (and) finding the printer for the tickets and holy cards for Archbishop Aquila.”
Essentially, from a planning standpoint, the task boils down to what Flynn calls “making sure that everybody’s in the right place in the right vestments and saying the right thing at the right time.”
But everybody knows there is a deeper goal to welcoming Archbishop Aquila to his new post, too.
“There is so much richness to this Church and the Archdiocese of Denver,” Flynn said. “What we are trying to do is make it a day of praise and thanksgiving to God, to celebrate where we are and where we are going.”
Thanks to the committee’s foresight, the planning really began late last year, shortly after Archbishop Chaput left for his new post in Philadelphia. The head start has been welcome, said Deacon Parker, “because we wanted to be able to plan in peace and joy rather than react in crisis mode.”
For Stone, who pulls off 15 to 20 major events every year, planning the installation has been “a whole new ballgame”—and a deeply meaningful one.
“I love being able to serve the archbishop in this way,” she said, “and I hope he enjoys all the events planned for him.”
In a big way, the planning will be successful for what it doesn’t do.
“One of the things I’m hoping for,” said Msgr. Fryar, “is that all our planning and efforts will be such that people don’t notice all the tremendous time and energy it takes to make all this happen, that what is remembered is the joy and hope and celebration of this event.
“Then we will have done our job, to ensure that Archbishop Aquila and the Church, and the people he serves, will come away from the day with peaceful and grace-filled hearts.”
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3215; www.twitter.com/DCRegister