Inauguration of a U. S. President traditionally carries religious overtones. The religious elements are mostly ceremonial, such as the use of the Bible in taking the oath of office, and participation of clergymen offering prayers. Occasionally, however, the inaugural proceedings take a spontaneous and dramatic spiritual turn, as when President Eisenhower ventured an impromptu prayer in 1953, or when President Truman quoted Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1949. (Aside: When Truman initially took office upon the sudden death of President Roosevelt in 1945, he was so moved with the realization of his new responsibilities that he even asked newsmen to “pray for me.”)
This week, new interest focused on the religious phase of the inauguration through the fact that the incoming president is the first Roman Catholic ever elected to the nation’s highest office.
It has always been the custom for the new President to take the oath of office with his hand raised over a Bible, though this is not a requirement of the Constitution. Neither does the Constitution stipulate that the President swear to the oath. He may affirm instead. Franklin Pierce, an Episcopalian, was the only President to avail himself of that alternative.
Accordingly, the President may specify which Bible is to be used, and President-elect Kennedy has chosen the Douay, or Roman Catholic version. He will take the oath over a 15-pound Kennedy family Bible owned by an uncle, Thomas A. Fitzgerald of Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Usually the President requests that the Bible be opened to a favorite passage.
When George Washington was inaugurated in 1789, a Bible was secured hurriedly and apparently opened at random to the 49th and 50th chapters of Genesis. Andrew Johnson took his ...1
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