For local artisan Sebastian Martorana, more than 80 hours of intricate carving came to the final test Tuesday morning, as final preparations were being made for the installation of the new archbishop of Baltimore.
Martorana, who had chiseled the coat of arms for new prelate William E. Lori into a century-old piece of pear wood, approached the altar at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen with trepidation. The towering chair, seat of authority, or cathedra, was to his left.
He removed the insignia of Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, Lori's immediate predecessor, and installed the new one, an elaborate hexagon with a gold sword, blue shield and Lori's motto "Charity in Truth" carved in Latin. It fit perfectly.
"It's really all theory, until you get on site," Martorana said. "Yes, I sighed in relief. I really had no Plan B."
About 2,000 people are expected to attend Lori's installation today, including 400 priests, 80 bishops and eight cardinals. Monsignor Bruce Jarboe, pastor of the cathedral, will greet Lori at the entrance and present him with a crucifix that is a smaller replica of the one hanging above the main altar.
The 2 p.m. service will be filled with ritual and offer glimpses into the history of an archdiocese that dates to 1789 and now numbers nearly 500,000 Catholics.
O'Brien, who leaves Thursday for his new position in Rome, will formally hand over the oldest bishop's cross in the U.S to his successor. It was first worn by Archbishop John Carroll, who began his tenure in 1789, and has been part of the formal vestments of 14 successors.
Expected in the congregation are members of Lori's family, including his parents, Francis and Margaret Lori of Louisville, Ky.; friends from Bridgeport, Conn., his most recent assignment; and many state and local officials. Students representing the area's 70 parochial schools are scheduled to file in, carrying banners with their school logos.
Since Lori is their supreme chaplain, more than 100 Knights of Columbus are expected to be in attendance. A choir, formed from the music ministries of several parishes, will accompany the Mass.
At the start of the liturgy, Lori will remain archbishop designate, seated to the right of the altar on the same chair Pope John Paul II occupied during an ecumenical service at the cathedral in 1995. After the reading of his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Carlo M. Vigano, the papal emissary to the U.S., and O'Brien will escort Lori to the archbishop's chair, now adorned with his personal coat of arms.
Lori will preside at this first Mass as archbishop and will deliver the homily.
"His homily is akin to an inaugural address," said Sean Caine, spokesman for the archdiocese. "It sets the tone for his tenure and will prioritize his focus."
Lori will continue as chair of the U.S. Conference of Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee For Religious Liberty, created to lead the fight against the Obama administration's mandate that health insurance plans offered to employees of Catholic schools, hospitals and charities include birth control. The group also is involved in efforts to defend traditional marriage.
"We can't go into a restaurant and order the ecclesiology du jour," Lori told a gathering of priests and religious at a service Tuesday evening at the Basilica. "We take a stance."
When Lori's appointment to Baltimore was announced in March, he said he would continue his advocacy from the seat of what he called "this great, historic archdiocese." Before the service Tuesday, he took a few minutes to pray silently, kneeling in front of the tombs of many of his predecessors.
"All those before us put us in touch with our legacy and tradition," he said. "Ours is not just a set of ideas, but a living faith."
Even while about 800 prayed inside the basilica, an organized group lined Cathedral Street, most of them holding posters urging Lori to support nuns whom the pope recently criticized for their work in social justice.
"The social issues these nuns are involved in are key and much more important than contraception," said Brendan Walsh, who, like many in the crowd, wore a button that said "Don't insult my sister."