LITURGY MATTERS: Operation Installation is ‘done and dusted’! Now the work begins!

The Liturgical Reception and Installation of Bishop Michael Kennedy reveals a lot to us about this ‘Catholic Thing’ that we are part of, either by baptism or employment.  

It has been an intense six weeks since Pope Francis announced Bishop Michael as the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. Preparation for such a massive event which holds at its heart a major liturgy has involved a vast, co-ordinated team of diocesan staff and members of the faithful.

As the Church of Maitland-Newcastle we are blessed to be served by an amazing staff whose various gifts and areas of expertise across all our agencies came together to manage this event. Whether Catholic or not, we were all on a steep learning curve because it is the first time in the story of our diocese that the installation of our new bishop did not also include his ordination as a Bishop.

Along with the busyness of the past six weeks there has been a heightened fascination across the whole community with this ‘Catholic Thing’, in particular how we Install a new Bishop and what the symbols mean. Given this interest we invited staff to a late afternoon gathering where together with Fr Matthew Muller we offered a presentation called ‘How do we install a new Bishop’.

After the presentation we provided staff with written responses to the most significant questions. We offer this to you now in the hope that it may answer some of your lingering questions.

We bring a different lens to these questions now because we have celebrated the Installation, whether we were present in the Cathedral, volunteering across the campus, or watching the live stream. So, before you read on, we suggest you take a moment to reflect on your experience of the liturgy or you might like to watch it via the link above.

What did you see, hear, smell, do? What did you feel? What meaning did it reveal to you about this ‘Catholic Thing’ we are part of? How did it invite you to change? To live differently?

When you’re ready … read on. 

What is an “installation” and who ‘installs’ a Bishop?

Whenever someone takes up his role as bishop of a diocese, he is installed into that office via a liturgical action. If someone comes to be a bishop but is a priest at the time of appointment – as was the case with Bishop Bill Wright – he is ordained as bishop and then installed in the role during the same liturgy. When the person appointed has already been ordained as a bishop – as is the case with Bishop Michael Kennedy – the liturgical ritual is the installation only.

It is the Church that installs a bishop, just as it is the Church that ordains a bishop. Several people have a particular role during the Installation, including the Rector of the Cathedral, the Archbishop of Sydney (as Metropolitan of the Province of NSW), the Apostolic Nuncio, and the College of Consultors. While these people have particular roles, the act is one of the entire Church.

What are the key symbols in the service?

There are a number of key symbols to be aware of during the Installation liturgy:

  • Bishop Michael is greeted outside the doors of the Cathedral by Elders of the Awabakal nation and welcomed to country.
  • Bishop Michael is greeted at the doors of the Cathedral by the Cathedral Rector (Fr John Lovell) and presented with a crucifix to venerate.
  • Bishop Michael steps across the threshold of the Cathedral, and then blesses himself and the assembly with holy water.
  • Bishop Michael spends some time in personal prayer, and then changes vestments ready for Mass.
  • Once Mass has started, with Archbishop Anthony Fisher presiding, the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia presents the Apostolic Letter (the document that appoints Bishop Michael as Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle) to the diocesan consultors and then reads it to the Assembly.
  • After the Letter has been read, Archbishop Anthony escorts Bishop Michael to the cathedra – the Bishop’s Chair – and once he is seated, Bishop Michael has been installed.
  • Bishop Michael is greeted at the chair by representatives from across the diocese, and in front of the altar by representatives of other Churches, other faiths, and civic authorities.

Mass then continues “as usual” though with all the bells and whistles and lots of incense!

What is the significance of the Bishop’s seat in the Cathedral?

The bishop’s chair (or cathedra) is the symbol of the bishop’s office of teaching, sanctifying and governing the Church of Maitland-Newcastle. It is a physical reminder of the bishop’s role even when he is not present in the Cathedral Church.

When it comes to the Cathedral Church, the word ‘cathedral’ is an adjective used to describe the kind of church building and is directly connected to the presence of the bishop’s chair or cathedra in the building. The building is the Cathedral because the chair is there; the chair isn’t there because it’s the Cathedral.

Does a Bishop need to be installed before he can start in his position?

Yes. In canonical language, the new bishop must ‘take possession’ of the diocese, either by ordination and installation or by installation if already a bishop. This act is always celebrated liturgically.

What is the term of office for a Bishop?

A bishop is appointed ‘for life’ to a particular diocese, though there is always the potential of him being moved to another diocese (or ‘translated’ to use the technical term). This is what we are experiencing with Bishop Michael Kennedy who has been ‘translated’ from the diocese of Armidale to our diocese.

All bishops must retire when they reach the age of 75, though it is also possible for them to retire early if their health does not permit them to continue.

All things being equal, Bishop Michael will be the Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle until he turns 75, in the year 2043.

Why do many of the other bishops from around Australia attend?

There were twenty-four members of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s conference in attendance, mostly from the eastern states. They endeavour to attend the ordination or installation of another bishop because of the sense of collegiality amongst the bishops. This is especially the case when a new bishop is to be ordained, as all the bishops present at such an ordination will lay their hands on the head of the new bishop. The presence of other bishops helps us to remember that we are part of something larger than just the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

In the case of Bishop Michael, who has been a bishop already for almost twelve years, many of the other Australian bishops will come because of their existing friendship and relationship with Bishop Michael.

As an aside, did you notice that there were more than two bishops who wore a different ‘hat’ to what we are used to seeing?

Following the installation, what does the Bishop do, e.g. does he travel to Rome to meet with the Pope? 

Once Bishop Michael is installed as Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, he starts fulfilling his responsibilities within the diocese and, along with other Australian bishops, to the broader Church in Australia. There is nothing more he needs to do.

Like all bishops, Bishop Michael journeys to Rome on a regular basis (about every five years) to report on the life and health of his diocese. The Australian bishops do this together, with the last visit being in 2019.

Bishop Michael has indicated he would like to travel across the diocese during his first twelve months or so, in order to meet parishioners and those involved in various Catholic agencies (schools, early education, community services, etc.).

In a couple of weeks we will gather again to celebrate the Chrism Mass. In that liturgy Bishop Michael will pray the following prayer which summarises the essence of the ministry of a Bishop:

And pray also for me,
that I may be faithful to the apostolic office
entrusted to me in my lowliness
and that in your midst I may be made day by day
a living and more perfect image of Christ,
the Priest, the Good Shepherd, all.
May the Lord keep us all in his charity
and lead all of us,
shepherds and flock,
to eternal life.

How do we refer to the new bishop / what do we call him?

Generally speaking, it is appropriate to refer to Bishop Michael as ‘Bishop Michael’.

In conclusion

We have begun another phase of our journey as the pilgrim church of Maitland-Newcastle.  We draw you attention to Bishop Michael’s words at the end of Mass. You’ll find it on the live stream at about 2 hours 14 minutes.

Enjoy the opportunities to meet Bishop Michael as he begins his pilgrimage through the diocese: meeting the community of the faithful and those who journey with us across our many agencies, and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters on country.

May the words of the blessing we sang when Bishop Michael was seated in the Cathedra ring true for him and each one of us:

May the peace of God be with you.
May the favor of the Lord upon you rest.
may his grace upon you shine,
and give you light in darkest times,
may the peace of God be yours.

Benediction. Words and music: Curtis Stephan. © 2005, Curtis Stephan. Published by Spirit & Song, a division of OCP. All rights reserved. Reprinted under ONE LICENSE #A-625242.


Image: © 2023  Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. All rights reserved

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Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.

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Fr Andrew Doohan

Administrator Catholic parishes of Dungog and Gresford and Master of Ceremonies.