There are many dramatic moments in any ordination ceremony.
In the past two weeks, we have experienced two ordination liturgies. The first, at Our Lady of Angels Church, Bay Ridge, saw 27 men raised to the ministry of deacon. This past weekend, three young men were ordained priests at St. James Cathedral-Basilica in Downtown Brooklyn.
In each, Bishop DiMarzio bestowed Holy Orders on men who will serve the parishes in Brooklyn and Queens. Deacons maintain a ministry of service that assists the needs of the parish. Priests have the distinction of being able to celebrate the Eucharist and forgive sins.
More is demanded of the priest who promises a life of celibacy to the Church. Instead of being devoted to a single woman and family, the priest “marries” the Church and cares for parishioners as a father would his family.
Not just anyone may assume such roles. Candidates must prove their abilities and willingness to serve over the course of years of academic training and spiritual development.
The Catholic clergy are special men who are called from among their peers to care for the material and spiritual needs of their brothers and sisters. They are professional and they must know what they are about and what they are doing. They have a higher calling and they are held to higher standards.
Ordination is, of course, a sacramental rite but it is also the formalization of a person’s call to the ministry. Names are read out. Each candidate stands and acknowledges that he is ready and willing. The representative of the seminary confirms this readiness.
The bishop then accepts the men as he lays hands on their heads, a reference to how the first clergy were called in the New Testament. He anoints the priests’ hands with oil. He presents the Book of the Gospels to the deacons and the chalice and paten to the priests. In turn, they promise obedience to the local bishop and his successors.
As a sign of the unbroken link to the apostles, each priest present also lays hands on the heads of the candidates and expresses a sign of peace to each new member of the clergy.
Ordination Day is a day of great joy, not only for the individual men and their families but for the entire diocese. It is a sign of the continuing life of the Church and assurance that the Body of Christ will live on and be available to us through the Eucharist.
The smaller numbers of priests are a concern but they are also an opportunity for the Church to renew itself. The mergers of parishes and shortfalls of financial resources challenge us all to be Church in new ways. Being a member of the Church is, by definition, a positive. It cannot be a negative. So, whatever way we live it out, it is joyous and hope-filled.
We are fortunate to have these new priests and deacons to accompany us on the way to refreshing the Church community. As they walk with us, so too they will need our support because they are men taken from our own numbers.
Pray for these men that they will persevere and that their witness will be apparent for many years as they put flesh on their faiths. Pray that they all will be examples to us all to become even better Catholic Christians.