While watching on television the raising of the finial of National Cathedral, I could not avoid the comparison with our New Year's Eve ceremony at Times Square. There the ball descends to earth marking the moments of the finite, and here the finial ascended heavenward in a timeless gesture to the infinite.


The service for the completion of the Washington National Cathedral, while quite beautiful, was also disturbing. The program's cover was the flag; the print was red, white and blue; the hymns were "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America." The chronological listings emphasized presidents, and the Marine Band played. The Jerusalem Cross and Episcopal seal were missing, ancient hymns of faith were missing, and mention of our beloved bishop, John T. Walker, who strove so hard to complete the cathedral, was also missing. Our cathedral's message should be one of faith and peace, not nationalistic splendor.


It isn't often that we are treated to witness the laying of the capstone of a Gothic cathedral, but it is all too often that we are compelled to endure reporting as unfocused and inaccurate as that ground out by Laura Sessions Stepp in her piece on the ceremonies at the National Cathedral last Saturday.

Mrs. Stepp was diverted by the articulated uneasiness of a Silver Spring banker about the inclusion of a prayer for the military and the "prominence of the Marine band" -- as if it were something other than the military keeping afloat the banks of our own and other nations. Spare us the banker.

"The cover of the program portrays the American flag," says Mrs. Stepp. "The stylized suggestion of the flag wrapping this program is symbolic of the 'church for national purposes theme,' " says the program. A "suggested" flag symbolizing a missionary purpose is not at all identical to the literal rendering of the flag, which might offend the bankers of Silver Spring.

Elbowed out of the piece was the delighted reaction of the crowd as the clerk of the works directed the raising of the finial to the top of the cathedral. At first it rose slowly. Then the clerk told Harris, the crane operator, to "put it in second gear." After a few seconds the clerk called for third gear, and the finial rose as if launched. People in the crowd oohed and applauded heartily.

Perhaps you see such details as minor touches in a literal world. But I believe that it is by such details that reporting gains at the expense of whatever it is Laura Sessions Stepp is paid to do.

JOSEPH MASI Washington