Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ordination to the Priesthood

Appearing in this week’s edition of the Catholic Telegraph:

As I mentioned in my last article, the Ordination of Priests is a unique and special event in the life of a diocese. As a priest, and now as Vocation Director, it is an even more unique event as men that I have worked with are presented before the Archbishop to take a unique role of service and leadership in the Church. While the entire ceremony is of special value, I want to focus on three sections of the Ordination Mass: the calling of the candidates, the Litany of Saints, and the Laying on of Hands.

Before a candidate is ordained, he is called forward by the deacon and presented to the Archbishop by the rector of the seminary. At priesthood ordination, he sits in the sanctuary of the Cathedral before this call. The better version of this actually happens at the Ordination of Deacons, where the candidates sit with their families up to this section, which immediately follows the Proclamation of the Gospel. By doing so, the Church shows that formation for the priesthood begins long before a candidate even enters the seminary. He is shaped by the experiences he had growing up in a loving Christian family, where God was already molding this candidate. By sitting with his family, the candidate also says thanks for the gifts that he has received from them. He is still a part of that family, but now he will be part of much larger family as well.

After the candidate is called forward and questioned by the ordaining bishop; this larger family comes to the forefront during the Litany of the Saints. The men being ordained submit themselves and lay prostrate before the altar of God in a profound sign of humility. Before they lay down, they are just other men; when they rise, they are priests. They have left their own ambitions at the foot of the altar and have taken on the mantle of Christ. If they were doing this on their own, it would be impossible. But as we hear these many saints, men and women who have gone before us and earned the Crown of Victory, we realize that there are many paths to holiness. We realize that many before us have walked this road, and they are still present to be a guide and model for us today. Whenever I talk to someone immediately after their first time attending an Ordination Mass, this is nearly always the most profound aspect of their experience. It helps us all to realize that we are never alone. The saints are present here as our guides and teachers.

A further sign of the connection that a new priest has in the community comes with the Laying on of Hands. This is the ancient symbol used to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. In the Ordination of Priests, it is not just the ordaining bishop who lays his hands on the newly formed priests, all the priests present also confer this sign to their new brothers. As I stood watching my brother priests conferring this wonderful sign on our new brothers, I was struck by how each priest passes on a unique gift, a unique aspect of the priesthood to the newly ordained: a gift of healing, a gift of preaching, a gift for administration, one for compassion, etc. Priests are not homogenized, ‘one size fits all’ units, each priest has his own way of showing Christ’s presence in the world.

Looking back on the three men just ordained, and looking forward to many more in the coming years, I truly feel that the Mass of Ordination of Priests is something that every Catholic should experience at least once in their life. In the life of a diocese, this Mass is a unique sign of hope in the future, a sign of the vitality of the local church, and most of all a ceremony that is rife with joy, as we send three new priests into the vineyards of the Lord.

For more information on the priesthood and seminary, please visit Vocation Office Webpage.

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