Entering Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral last Sunday afternoon, I was greeted by the glorious strains of “Lift High the Cross” being practiced by an accomplished musical group. This was a foretaste of a wonderful experience to come centered around a centuries-old tradition harking back to the crusades in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. This celebration capped three days of ceremonial meetings of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Northwestern Lieutenancy of the United States composed of Northern California and the states of Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Alaska. With 13 council cities in the Lieutenancy, Anchorage hosts meetings approximately every 10 years.
A Vigil at Arms had previously been held on Friday at Holy Family Cathedral, followed by Memorial and Promotions on Saturday at Saint Patrick Church presided over by Archbishop Roger J. Schwietz. The Sunday event was an Investiture and Mass presided over by His Eminence Edwin O’Brien, Cardinal Grand Master of the Order. The cathedral was almost completely filled by Knights and Ladies of the Order, clergy, and choir.
During the First Crusade, Jerusalem was briefly conquered by Christians from Western Europe, in response to a call from Pope Urban. Those conquerors created the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre at this time. According to the Vatican website for the order, “…in 1103 the first King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, assumed the leadership of this canonical order, and reserved the right for himself and his successors (as agents of the Patriarch of Jerusalem) to appoint Knights to it, should the Patriarch be absent or unable to do so.” Armed knights chosen from the crusader troops were chosen for their valor and dedication, vowing to “obey Augustinian Rule of poverty and obedience and undertook specifically, under the command of the King of Jerusalem, to defend the Holy Sepulchre and the Holy Places.”
Ultimately the goals of the Crusades failed and control of the Holy Land reverted to Muslim rulers, but the Order survived and its role was strengthened over time by Pope’s Pius IX, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II. Today its main purpose is to strengthen in its members the practice of Christian life, to sustain the work of the church in the Holy Land, to support the preservation and propagation of the faith there, and to uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. In 2013, Pope Francis called and personally attended a special conclave of the order in Rome to better understand it, its works, and to strengthen it.
The Order’s Grand Master is appointed by the pontiff and reports directly to him. The current Grand Master is Cardinal Edwin O’Brien who presided over Sunday’s investiture ceremony. He is an imposing figure dressed in special ceremonial garb. Anchorage Archbishop Schwietz and Bishop Peter L. Smith, from the Portland, Oregon, archdiocese occupied the main platform, with Cardinal O’Brien officiating on the main level in front of the altar.
Several hundred knights and ladies of the order processed into Our Lady of Guadalupe to the strains of “Let Us Go Rejoicing to the House of the Lord,” followed by the cardinal, archbishop, bishop and other clergy. The number of clergy in attendance, particularly archbishops and bishops, was significantly reduced from Archbishop Schwietz’s 75th birthday and 25th anniversary in the episcopate celebration earlier this year. I was told this was budgetary and also due to so many senior Northwest Catholic clergy convening in Washington, D.C., for Pope Francis’ visit. After all were seated the formal investiture service began. A beautifully bound 40-page program provided the service liturgy.
A new lieutenant, Thompson M. Faller, was invested due to the sudden promotion of the former lieutenant, Mary Currivan O’Brien — the order’s first woman lieutenant in the world — to the board of the grand magesterium in Rome. Ten new knights, and 13 new ladies were invested. Each was robed with new vestments of the order after investiture; black berets and white capes with the red Jerusalem cross for the men; black mantillas and black dresses for the women. Five clergy were invested: two deacons, two priests and one bishop. They received special white stoles containing the red Jerusalem cross. The knights and clergy were dubbed by the Cardinal with a special sword formerly held by lieutenancy treasurer, Mary Ann Molitor’s father-in-law, a 4th degree Knight of Columbus, which subsequently passed to her son, also a 4th degree Knight of Columbus.
Ms. Molitor, who invited me to this occasion, said afterward, “This was such a special joyous occasion. I can’t remember any of our prior Anchorage annual meetings where we have been blessed by the presence of His Eminence.” Cardinal O’Brien’s well-delivered homily encouraged and charged discipleship to those gathered.
The musical portion of the service during the Investiture and following mass was performed by Anchorage Concert Chorus members, led by Grant Cochran, a brass quintet, directed by Linn Weeda, along with organist Janet Carr-Campbell, timpanist Robert Arms and cantor Katy Kerris. The Catholic Church is using some updated musical forms, including the “Mass of Renewal” by Portland composer Curtis Stephan. During the Mass, the liturgy was accompanied by this feast of music.
Order members are encouraged to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and about 80 percent do so. Members fund various projects in the Holy Land. An ongoing Northwest Lieutenancy project is the John McGuckin mentorship program at Bethlehem University, for which $20,000 was most recently given. This program funds selected students to come to the U.S., primarily the West Coast, to devote eight weeks to mentoring in their area of intended study.
What I saw and subsequently learned about this historic order has given me great respect for this tradition in today’s setting.