Catholics welcome new Bishop
Consecration ceremony cloaked in tradition, mystery By Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
February 1, 2004

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POCKETS of curious onlookers gathered late Friday outside the packed to capacity Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Brickdam to witness the consecration of Trinidad-born Father Francis Dean Alleyne as Head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Diocese of Georgetown, an event that was as spectacular as it was solemn, steeped in tradition and cloaked in mystery.

The Ordination to the Episcopate of Father Alleyne, as the centuries-old ceremony is formally called, culminated weeks of planning and preparation for the event which entailed among other activities giving the Church a face-lift in places and installing new electrical and other technological appliances where necessary.

It is said that the last time these muddy shores of ours had ever witnessed such a momentous event was 32 years ago when the then Father Benedict Singh, now in his late 70s and holding the title of Bishop Emeritus, was elevated to the rank of Bishop.

The close to three-hour programme began with the traditional procession, which was led off by the Acolytes as the servers or altar-boys are called; followed by the Deacon bearing the Book of the Gospels, an item that is integral to the ceremony; the Priests, then the Bishop-elect, who is usually escorted by two Assistant Priests, in this instance Monsignor Terrence Montrose and Father Hildbrand Greene.

Bringing up the rear were the visiting Bishops, looking the picture of piety in their bronze chasubles over cream albs (as the outer and inner robe-like garments are called), and matching mitres, one of the three symbols of their high office. The fuschia-coloured skull-cap underneath is said to symbolise status as well as their dedication to God.

The procession, which was a spectacle in itself, rivaled perhaps only by the arrival of the President and his entourage, originated from the Catholic Life Centre across the road from the Church proper.

This was followed by the traditional welcome and introduction of the visiting clerics from the four Caribbean provinces, who together comprise the Conference of Bishops of the Antilles.

These were done respectively by the Reverend John Persaud, one of whose roles that day was that of Master of Ceremonies, and Archbishop Edward Gilbert, Head of the Province of Port-of-Spain, to which Guyana belongs. Archbishop Gilbert also served as Consecrating Bishop.

One of the highpoints of the ceremony, it is said, is the address from the Papal Nuncio to the Conference of Bishops, what in layman’s terms is the Pope’s representative. That office is held by Bishop Emil Paul Tscherrig.

Another highpoint is the ‘Presentation of the Bishop-Elect’, whereby the subject is led by his two assisting priests to the chair of the principal consecrator, Archbishop Gilbert, before whom he makes a sign of reverence.

He is then formally presented by one of the assisting priests, on this occasion Monsignor Montrose, to the principal consecrator.

The standard line is: “Most Reverend Father, the Church of Georgetown asks you to ordain this priest, Francis Dean Alleyne, for service as Bishop.”

To which the principal consecrator replies: “Have you a mandate from the Holy See?”

Said Montrose: “We have.”

“Let it be read.” This from Gilbert.

After being apprised of his duties as bishop by the principal, the candidate is then subjected to a series of questions which require his responding in the affirmative.

This is said to be an age-old custom of the Fathers which decrees that a Bishop-elect be publicly questioned as to his resolve to uphold the faith and discharge his duties faithfully.

At another point in the ceremony, he is required to lay prostrate as the ‘Litany of the Saints’ is sung, in which position he remains until the ‘Laying on of Hands’, said to be one of the two most significant events of the ceremony.

The other is the ‘Prayer of Consecration’ during the course which all the consecrating bishops join forces to pray for their colleague.

Crucial to the whole exercise, however, is his investiture with the signs of his office, namely, the mitre, ring and pastoral staff. The latter two are said to signify the seal of his fidelity and a sign of his pastoral office respectively.

The ceremony proper ends with ‘The Seating of the New Bishop’ in the Bishop’s Chair and the ‘Greeting of Peace’, which rite, also referred to as the ‘Kiss of Peace’, is an age-old custom among clerics of welcoming a new bishop into the fold.

Among those attending the ceremony were Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Desiree Bernard; Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran; and members of the new bishop’s immediate family, including his mother.