As a priest, there are a few highlights of throughout the year. Obviously, the big feast days of Christmas and Easter are tremendously important, as they celebrate the key moments of our salvation wrought by Christ. The Easter Vigil, and really all of Holy Week, are particularly poignant, as well, with bringing new members into the Church. Because of the love that we have for Christ, we should want to spread that joy with others and invite them into the same mystery. Beautiful!
However, as a priest, a further highlight is the ordination of a new priest. It brings back a great flood of memories of when I was ordained and is a reminder of what we are about as priests: serving Christ and leading the people of God. As a priest, I am called to give my life as a ransom for others, and so much of the symbolism of the ordination of a priest brings out this imagery.
Let's walk through the ordination, first, shall we?
First, Mass begins as normal, with the ordinands processing in and usually sitting in the sanctuary (depending on room), as opposed to when they were ordained a deacon and were sitting in the congregation with their family.
After the Gospel, the deacon calls the candidates forth: "Let those to be ordained priest please come forward." He calls them by their full baptismal name, and they respond 'present' and stand before the bishop. It is important to know that it is as if Jesus were calling this man to be His Disciple, as He uniquely called the Twelve to follow after Him in a special way.
The candidates are presented to the bishop by the Vocation Director, or someone from the seminary. The Bishop's response always gets me: "Do you know them to be worthy?" Priest: "After inquiry among the people of Christ, and upon recommendation of those concerned with their training, I testify that they have been found worthy." Bishop: "We rely on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, and we choose these men, our brothers, for priesthood in the presbyteral order." (Action alert! This is one of the few areas that I know of that the missal actually states 'the people show their approval by an acclamation or round of applause. Every time I go to an ordination, this seems like the best round of applause I ever hear!)
Only after the men have been called, questioned, and then reseated is the homily given.
After the homily, the ordinands are questioned by the bishop about working with the bishop, celebrating the mysteries that Christ has handed down to us, preaching, and being united with Christ the High Priest. This last is responded by: "I am, with the help of God!" The promise of obedience is repeated by kneeling before the bishop.
Alert: Something Missing! In the Rite of Ordination of a Priest, there is no commitment to celibacy, that was already done at his deacon ordination!
Finally, one of the most powerful symbols and the thing that always seems to strike the first time visitor at an ordination: the praying of the Litany of Saints while the candidates lay prostrate on the floor, stretched out before the Altar. It is a sign of tremendous humilty that the candidate lays down his life for the sake of the Gospel, for Christ. He calls upon his guardian angels and saints to guide him to be the best priest possible, he submits all that he has to the Will of Christ. When he rises, he is no longer just 'Tim,' he is 'Father' and a living icon of Christ. What respect, what power, what an awesome moment.
At the end of the Litany, the candidate goes before the bishop who lays his hands on his head in silence, and is then followed by all the other priests in attendance who do the same. Each priest passes along, hands down the gift that he has in his priesthood to these new priests. The chain is unbroken from the present day all the way back to Christ.
The prayer of Consecration recalls the events of salvation history, exhorting the new men to be faithful workers in the Lord's vineyards.
The priests are now vested with the vesture of their office for the first time: the stole and chasuble, and his hands are anointed to offer sacrifice to God.
Finally, the people bring forth the gifts which are then presented to the newly ordained with these words: Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to Him. Know what you are doing, imitate the mystery you celebrate; model your life on the mystery of the Lord's Cross.
The presiding bishop and other priests welcome the new members into the rank of the presbyterate and Mass continues.
Aaahhhhhhhh........ I can still smell the Chrism on my hands even these many years later.