NEW YORK - Edward Michael Egan officially took the reins of the archdiocese of New York yesterday in a solemn ceremony steeped in ancient tradition and marked by bursts of applause from those he will administer in the world's most visible archdiocese.
In a Ceremony of Canonical Possession, a formality in church law, Archbishop Egan, 68, legally assumed leadership of the archdiocese before an audience of 2,700 invited guests who jammed the pews and aisles of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
"Small wonder that I seize the opportunity whenever I can to thank our Holy Father, John Paul II, to thank him for this assignment," the new archbishop said in his deep-throated voice as he delivered his homily. "I come with joy to serve to the best of my ability."
Tomorrow, a formal Mass of Installation is expected to be attended by a select group of 3,500, including eight cardinals, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Rick Lazio, Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and many state and local officials.
Yesterday's ceremony began under gray skies with an outdoor procession of bishops, priests, local church officials and parish representatives carrying 10 vicariate banners, one for each of the seven counties and three boroughs of the archdiocese. Wearing white vestments trimmed with gold, the 6-foot-3-inch prelate walked slowly with them around the outside of the cathedral. Shortly before 4 p.m., entering from Fifth Avenue, he passed through the great doors of St. Patrick's and was officially welcomed by Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Vatican representative to the United States, and New York archdiocesan officials.
The new archbishop was doused with holy water - a symbol of his baptism - and Bishop Patrick J. Sheridan, vicar general, presented him with a crucifix, expressing the hope "that you may follow faithfully in His footsteps as you shepherd your people."
As he proceeded up the center aisle, the new leader of New York's 2.4 million Catholics nodded and smiled repeatedly, stopping several times along the way amidst thunderous applause and majestic organ music.
Archbishop Montalvo read the apostolic letter of appointment from Pope John Paul II. The papal document, written in Latin on parchment and directed to his "Venerable Brother," spoke of his "pastoral ability and gracious manners with the defense of the right faith and a concern for Catholic education, so that even from afar your careful administration was known to all."
A notary stamped the letter with the official seal of the archdiocese and presented it to the Board of Consultors, thus legalizing the new archbishop's authority. New York's ninth archbishop took his seat in the "cathedra" - or bishop's chair - on the north side of the altar and …