February 2 – As I write I am in the co-cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, Texas, awaiting the episcopal ordination of Steven Lopes as the first Bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter.  I got here very early to get a good seat and, in fact, I have a terrific seat with the family and close friends of the ordinand! The cathedral is just magnificent as you will see later in some photos. I am surrounded by beautiful people, many friends and family members of the bishop-elect whom I have met in the past 48 hours. This is a moment of history for both Steven and the Church and I feel so happy and privileged to be a part of it all.

I arrived in Houston Sunday afternoon after spending the night in Chicago, having arrived about 8 pm from Rome after what I wish I could say was an uneventful trip. Details some other time!

The Ordinariate arranged for out-of-town guests to stay at the Hilton Americas, which was a wonderful idea as it brought together so many friends under one roof. I have seen so many priests, bishops and cardinals I know, many friends from NAC, the North American College, and from around the US or from Rome. Present were 6 Cardinals:  William Levada (CDF emeritus prefect), Donald Wuerl of Washington, Edwin O’Brien (Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre), Gerhard Mueller (prefect of the CDF, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – he will ordain Steven), Roger Mahony, emeritus of Los Angeles, and Daniel DiNardo (of Houston-Galveston).

Also present: Archbishops Joseph Kurtz (president of the USCCB) Salvatore Cordileone (San Francisco) and Augustine DiNoia (secretary, CDF), and George Niederauer, (emeritus San Francisco) to name a few.

Msgr. Keith Newton, ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in the UK, and a very good friend, is also here for the ceremonies, as was Msgr. Harry Entwistle, ordinary of Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia.

The ordination is a two-day event. The highlight for all of us yesterday was the 5 pm vespers ceremony, called evensong in the Anglican tradition. This is one of the remarkable and very beautiful elements of the Ordinariate. The Personal Ordinariate was created in 2009 as a structure in the Catholic Church to welcome Anglicans who wanted to enter in full communion with Rome. One of the important provisions in the creation of this structure was that which allowed the Ordinariate to retain many of its liturgical traditions, music, hymns, etc.

Evensong last night was a supreme example of the indescribable beauty of the Anglican tradition. As we listened to the choir of the church of Our Lady of Walsingham, or as we sang along, only one word came to my mind to describe the music – sublime! That same word could have described the entire ceremony. The choir was spectacular but even more so was the singing by the faithful. It was as if this was the last time everyone would sing….or as if we were all trying out for top prize in a best congregation contest. The feeling, the robustness of the participation, people’s voices just exploding in harmony and vigor and joy. Most amazing was the fact that it was as if we had rehearsed for days….the timing was perfection it was the same when we chanted the Creed!

The liturgy was the talk of the evening as we all headed from this very beautiful church to the adjacent chancery hall for a reception, which was followed by a magnificent dinner for family and close friends. The adjacent St. Jude Hall was transformed into a very classy room for the evening.

To return to the Ordinariate liturgy for a moment.

There was such beauty last night in the music and hymns and chants. The language of the readings and of song was old English, Shakespearian almost, the language many of us grew up with in the Mass and liturgy before the changes from Vatican Council II. It is a language that is imbued with beauty and the sacred, creating space in your heart and mind for prayerful recollection. God is so real. His Son is so real. We yearn, in our hearts and with our voices, to praise God’s majesty, to praise His Son. And I felt that Monday. This is what I came away with from the magnificent evensong.

This was the beauty I remember from my pre-Vatican Council II childhood. Changes were made to the liturgy to help us “understand” things better. But, as the movie title says, I feel something was lost in translation – beauty and the sacred. That was a feeling shared by many last night in our conversations.

Words to one hymn were written by Rabanus Maurus – 780-856! Composers dated from the 15th and 16th to the 19th century.

I will admit to something: I am happily a lector at church because if you heard me sing, you’d ask me to be a reader! Well, I sang my heart out Monday – and it was a joyful experience!

The highlight of the evening was Bishop-elect Lopes’ reading the formula of the Profession of Faith, followed by his recitation of the Oath of Fidelity to be Sworn by Bishops. After that, he signed all necessary documents on the altar, co-witnessed by Archbishop DiNoia, the papal representative at the ceremony, and Ms. Laurel Miller, Chancellor of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter. Abp. DiNoia then blessed the Episcopal insignia.

(More to come as soon as I return to Rome! I leave tomorrow morning, returning Friday a.m. in Rome. The photos you see now are from the Monday vespers)