Sacred tradition and ceremony were served on Thursday as Rev. Monsignor Edward Bernard Scharfenberger was ordained and installed as the 10th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
More than 1,200 people packed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Albany to witness the 21⁄2-hour proceeding — solemn and occasionally lighthearted — on a sunny, breezy spring afternoon.
Thirty-four bishops from New York and nearby states, more than 200 priests and over 100 deacons were in the crowd that welcomed the Brooklyn-born, 65-year-old Scharfenberger — and said farewell to retired Bishop Howard Hubbard.
Last fall, Hubbard submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis when he reached the age of 75 — as required. He had led the Albany diocese since 1977.
Old traditions were part of the ceremony. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a representative from the Vatican in Rome, read the “apostolic letter” — a document issued by the pope. The document was then displayed to the audience. Other traditions came later.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, led the installation and talked about the formality in a brief homily. Dolan said the proceeding was not about Scharfenberger’s family, or his former parish — St. Matthias Church in Ridgewood, Queens.
“Is it about the diocese of Brooklyn?” Dolan asked, and provided his own answer in Brooklyn-style lingo — “Fuhgeddaboudit!”
The line received laughs from the people sitting in pews and on metal folding chairs placed in back of the church. But Dolan also had serious words. “Just why are we here, what is this … all about?” he asked. “It’s all about Jesus and his church. Jesus came and stood in their midst. That’s what our gospel from St. John tells us this afternoon. It’s about Jesus as church.”
The “promise of the elect” followed, in which Scharfenberger stood in front of Dolan and answered the Cardinal’s questions. “Do you resolve to guide the holy people of God in the way of Salvation as a devoted father and sustain them with the help of your fellow ministers, the priests and deacons?” Dolan asked.
“I do,” Scharfenberger replied.
After the questions concluded, the litany of supplication took place — Scharfenberger prostrated himself before the altar; prayers were sought from a roster of saints. Afterward, Dolan and the bishops in attendance placed their hands on Scharfenberger’s head.
In other parts of the ceremony, Scharfenberger was anointed with oil. He received the bishop’s ring, miter (tall hat) and finally, the crosier — the wooden staff known as the sign of pastoral office. By 3:20 p.m., Scharfenberger was officially Bishop of Albany, and leader of a diocese that includes about 330,000 parishioners in 14 counties.
A Mass was then celebrated, with Hubbard and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop of Brooklyn, as co-celebrants. During the “sign of peace” segment of the service — in which congregation members traditionally exchange greetings — Scharfenberger left the altar and embraced his parents, Edward and Elaine Scharfenberger, ages 94 and 93, respectively, who were sitting in the front pew.
After a 20-minute communion service, the three bishops walked up the center aisle of the cathedral and Scharfenberger greeted friends, clergy and members of the Albany diocese. The bishops walked down the aisle on the left side of the church and up the aisle on the right, before returning to the altar.
Scharfenberger also addressed his audience. “As I said when I joined this diocese in Albany, all that I ask from you is, you bring out the best in me and I’ll bring out the best in you,” he said.
Just after 4:30 p.m., hundreds of clergy streamed out of the church, down steps guarded by brightly caped and capped members of the Knights of Columbus. The new bishop was the last out, and immediately thanked police officers on Eagle Street and Madison Place, directly across from the church entrance.
“I think everybody was uplifted,” Scharfenberger said as he walked toward the church rectory on Eagle Street. “Like Cardinal Dolan said, it’s not about us, it’s about the Lord.”
People who attended the 2 p.m. service — some arriving as early as noon — were glad they saw the succession.
“I think we went from greatness to greatness,” said Rit DiCaprio, a deacon at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Clifton Park. “Our new bishop is awesome.”
“It was just wonderful,” said Stephanie Ossendorf of Hudson, inside the church with granddaughters Olivia and Charlotte LaRocque of Catskill. “You were overcome with joy for the new bishop.”
“I loved the singing, the ceiling and the music,” said Charlotte, 8. “And the statues on the wall.”