OBJECTS AND STORIES – The Choir Dress of H.E. Oswald Cardinal Gracias
December 13, 2006 – The buzzing engine of the fire-red Mumbai Rajdhani Express pulled into the ever-teeming Terminus of Mumbai Central. Amidst the chaos of coolies, commuters and compartments stood a familiar figure cloaked in a simple white cassock with a pectoral cross around his neck. The Archbishop waved and greeted the elated people with a beaming blessing. The homecoming of this native prelate will always be hailed by the Archdiocese of Bombay.
Born in Mahim, Mumbai (then Bombay) to Jervis and Aduzinda Gracias on the eve of Christmas 1944, Oswald Cardinal Gracias was raised in a warm and pious family. The early seeds of his vocation centered not only around the Church but also within the family with ‘priest in and out of the house’1. The dawn of the Space Age from Sputnik to Apollo intrigued his young mind with a quest to go beyond. The winds of change were blowing in the Church post Vatican II. Inspired and guided by the Parish Priest, Oswald Gracias joined the Bombay Seminary and was ordained priest by Valerian Cardinal Gracias on December 20, 1970.
Having served as Chancellor and Secretary to Bishop Joseph Rodericks S.J. of Jamshedpur from 1971 to 1976, Fr. Oswald Gracias was sent to Rome for further studies. By 1982, Fr Gracias obtained a Doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical Urban University as well as a Diploma in Jurisprudence from the Gregorian University. On his return to Mumbai, Fr Gracias, a sharp and brilliant theologian went on to serve his Archdiocese as Secretary, Chancellor, Judicial Vicar, Consultor of Canon Law and as an endearing priest.
June 28, 1997, Fr Gracias was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay and Titular Bishop of Bladia by Pope John Paul II (now saint). He adopted the motto ‘To Reconcile All Things in Christ’ – a pledge he lives by till date. At the turn of the century on September 7 he was appointed Archbishop of Agra, the oldest diocese in northern India.
When in May 2006, Ivan Cardinal Dias was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome a new Shepherd was sought to lead the Archdiocese of Bombay. In a benevolent gesture, on October 14 of the same year, Pope Benedict XVI (now Emeritus) appointed Oswald Gracias as Archbishop of Bombay. Travelling 1,424 kilometers southwest of New Delhi, a new journey was underway for both the Archbishop and his beloved native Archdiocese.
With service always up his sleeves, in the following months several pastoral activities were taken up in the Archdiocese. His appointment also marked a greater role in the civic and social life of the city as well as at the National level with regards to Church matters. However, Deo volente, there was more to come.
And it came to pass. November 24, 2007 marked a red letter day in the history of the Archdiocese of Bombay as her son was raised to the Cardinalate by Pope Benedict XVI (now Emeritus). The news was received with great thrill and congratulatory messages poured in from all over the country. The Church bells pealed in gratitude and joy.
The Consistory of November 24, 2007 created 23 cardinals from 14 countries well reflecting the ‘catholicity’ of the Church. In the morning the new Cardinals were inducted by the Holy Father who personally imposed the Red Biretta upon them. The next day (Feast of Christ the King) the Cardinals concelebrated Holy Mass with the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica, during which the Holy Father placed the ‘Cardinal’s ring’ on each prelate’s finger. ‘At that moment I rededicated my live to the service of the Church.2’ Cardinal Gracias said.
Reminiscing the arrival of the Cardinalate news, H.E. in an interview recalled, ‘It was a big surprise and a bit of a shock and I remember when the Nuncio called to inform me I did not believe it in a way – so I rung back the Nuncio and said ‘Are you sure, there is no mistake?’ I was 62 – they usually make Cardinals in their 70. Gradually it dawned over me.3’
The vividness of this delightful memory and milestone endures through the Cardinal’s scarlet robe now on display at the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum. Traditionally called the Choir Dress (Latin habitus choralis) it is worn by Prelates, Chaplains of His Holiness and the Canons for all public liturgical celebrations (except as the main celebrant of the Holy Eucharist). The colour Scarlet was chosen for the cardinals by Pope Gregory X at the Second Council of Lyon in 1274. The vestments have evolved over the ages. It includes the biretta, zucchetto, ring, mozzetta, rochet and the full-length red cassock.
The striking color speaks volumes about the commitment of a Priest, Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal who continues to serve the Church and her people, ever more passionately, even at the golden age of seventy five. It draws us into the kaleidoscopic activities he leads that continues to nourish the Archdiocese and the people of the country amidst uncertainty – rendering great peace, hope and harmony and thereby truly reconciling all things in Christ for eternity!
La ringrazio Cardinal Gracias!
Joynel Fernandes- Ast. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum