Cathedral rejoices at first Mass by Cardinal Keeler


As the bells pealed, the organ boomed, trumpets blasted and nearly 2,000 voices rose in song yesterday afternoon at the conclusion of a two-hour Mass in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, the radiant smile on the face of Agatha Matricianni said it all.

After changing from the purple vestments of the Advent Mass into his new robes of brilliant red, Cardinal William H. Keeler followed a long procession of candle-bearers, crucifers, acolytes, deacons, priests and bishops who left the cathedral to the rousing music of the recessional hymn, "All People That on Earth Do Dwell."

He nodded, smiled or took the hand of people on each side of the center aisle.

But one of them got an extra greeting. At the foot of the altar, where Mrs. Matricianni's wheelchair had been pushed, the cardinal stopped. He leaned down to take her hand. He and she, both smiling broadly, exchanged a few whispered words.

Later, in response to a question, Mrs. Matricianni happily summed up what was on her mind and what seemed to be on the minds of everyone present.

"I feel very elated," she said. "Our new cardinal is a wonderful person. He is a good man, a pious man, and I thank God I was able to make it today."

The first appearance of Cardinal Keeler before representatives of the 160 parishes of the Baltimore Archdiocese as a prince of the Roman Catholic Church was a celebration of mutual admiration -- marked by the congregation's applause for him and his words of gratitude for the clergy, sisters and lay ministers who serve the church in Maryland.

Cardinal Keeler's mother, 92-year-old Margaret Keeler, watched from the front pew.

During the service, under the glare of the television cameras, Mrs. Keeler's son and members of his flock engaged in numerous expressions of mutual satisfaction.

Auxiliary Bishop William C. Newman addressed the cardinal on behalf of the clergy. Sister Rosemarie Nassif, president of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, spoke on behalf of members of religious orders.

The remarks of Thomas B. Finan Jr. of Cumberland were on behalf of the laity.

All three had been present at the Vatican on Nov. 26 when Pope John Paul II placed the red biretta, symbol of a cardinal's rank, on the head of Archbishop Keeler, and each recalled what for them were high points of their "pilgrimage" to Rome.

Noting that about 300 communicants of the Baltimore Archdiocese had accompanied the new cardinal to the Vatican for his investiture, Bishop Newman said, "But it seemed . . . all the people of the local church were with us in spirit."

The bishop repeated something he had said on Thanksgiving Day, when he preached to the travelers from Maryland and Pennsylvania during a Mass at Rome's Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Among the gifts to be thankful for, Bishop Newman had told them, was the way Baltimore's new cardinal was "turning a personal honor into a corporate grace."

Sister Rosemarie asked rhetorically what Cardinal Keeler's elevation means now to the Catholics of the archdiocese. To laughter rippling through the congregation, she at first joked, "It probably means we'll see red more often."

'A deeper call'

But then she described the week of religious events in Rome as an inspiring demonstration of the "universality" of the church and said it was "a call to us to serve in many different ways." She added, "Our new cardinal said it best when he described his elevation as truly a deeper call to holiness."

Mr. Finan referred to Masses and other events in Roman churches with historic ties to the Baltimore Archdiocese, the nation's first, as demonstrating both the "universality" and the "continuity" of the Catholic Church.

He also noted that about 100 admirers from Cardinal Keeler's former diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., had gone to Rome to witness his elevation.

Responding to the three speakers with gratitude for their words of congratulation and fidelity, the cardinal said of the Rome pilgrimage, "This was an occasion in which the historic dimensions of our archdiocese and the vitality of our church were recognized by the Holy Father."

In further remarks about the pope, Cardinal Keeler said, "We are so blessed to have him as a successor of Peter. . . . It's no wonder his new book is a best-seller."

The cardinal repeated for yesterday's congregation, whose admission to the cathedral had been by tickets distributed through the parishes, something he had said at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Wednesday night.

"A year from now," after his term as president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops ends, "I will have more time to give to the archdiocese," he promised.

Several rounds of applause reverberated through the stone arches of the cathedral during the Mass. Most were for the new cardinal. Some were for the musicians.

Standing ovation

One of the most sustained was a standing ovation for retired Archbishop William D. Borders, led by Cardinal Keeler, who warmly thanked the elder prelate for his presence at the ceremonies in Rome. The two men embraced in front of the altar as the applause continued.

All three auxiliary bishops of Baltimore took part in the Mass: Bishop Newman, Bishop John H. Ricard and Bishop P. Francis Murphy.

For the distribution of Holy Communion, Cardinal Keeler and Bishop Murphy stood together at the head of the center aisle, while the other bishops and a number of priests assisted in various parts of the cathedral nave.

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