While the Beltway establishment gathered on the U.S. Capitol's West side with legions of Middle Americans in "Make America Great Again" hats, the House of Representatives approved the final pre-inauguration details.
The quick session opened with a prayer by the chaplain, Father Patrick J. Conroy.
"God of the universe, we give you thanks for giving us another day. You are the father of us all, and your divine providence has led this nation in the past," he said, before offering prayers for "your servant, Donald Trump." The Jesuit prayed for the new president to "see things as you see things" and strive to hold "all of us to higher standards of equal justice, true goodness and peaceful union."
Conroy closed with a poignant prayer for the blunt and ever-controversial New York City billionaire: "We pray that he become his best self."
Add that to the file of January 20 prayers to analyze.
As always with inauguration ceremonies -- the high-church rites of American civil religion -- references to God were almost as common as those to the nation's new leader. This ceremony included six clergy offering their own chosen prayers and scriptures and was framed by private and public worship services.
Journalists and activists then read between the lines seeking messages aimed at Trump and his fans, as well as at God. The bottom line: In cyberspace, combatants now "subtweet" their adversaries, offering subtle criticisms behind their social-media backs. This inauguration offered plenty of opportunities for participants to engage in some theological subtweeting. The eyebrow-raising messages included:
* At a rite in which the ever-confident author of "The Art of the Deal" became president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York read words from the Book of Wisdom, including: "Indeed, though one might be perfect among mortals, if wisdom, which comes from you, be lacking, we count for nothing."
* The Rev. Franklin Graham added an improvised blessing that resembled a form of divine endorsement, noting: "Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God's blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform" to give the inaugural address.
* The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, had previously criticized Trump's rhetoric on Hispanics and immigration. Thus, was he sending a message as he read from a modern translation of the Sermon on the Mount?
The reading included: "God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
* Pope Francis took part, with a message to Trump that went viral online. Was there embedded criticism here?
"At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding far-sighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation's commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide."
Then the message concluded: "Under your leadership, may America's stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door."
The president, of course, included religious themes in his address, including, during a salute to the military, a promise that "most importantly, we are protected by God." At the end of his address, Trump offered these ringing words.
"Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together, we will make America great again. ... God bless you. And God bless America."
For one veteran evangelical communications professional, that final phrase sounded more like a command, as opposed to a prayer. It helps, said James A. Smith, Sr., to remember that song lyrics state: "Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer: God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her, through the night with a light from above."
Thus, Smith tweeted: "Mr. President, we pray for God's protection; we don't presume upon it. #Inauguration"