Ordination Week: The Rite of Ordination

Author: Fr. Jeffrey Allison, C.S.C.

Sacred Heart Basilica: Ordination Mass

To get us ready for the Ordination of Deacons John Britto, C.S.C., and Paul Ybarra, C.S.C., this afternoon, Fr. Jeffrey Allison, C.S.C., an Instructor in the Department of Theology at the University of Portland steps us through the Rite of Ordination. Along the way, he explains some of the traditions that are a part of this grace-filled Rite. It is all a part of our continuing exclusive coverage of Ordination Weekend in Holy Cross.

The Rite of Ordination of a priest always takes place in the context of Mass. Following the Gospel reading, the candidate(s) for ordination are called forward and presented to the bishop. A designated priest, in the case of Holy Cross usually the Provincial Superior, asks the bishop to ordain the candidate(s) for service as a priest. The bishop asks if the candidate is worthy, and when he is told that he is, the bishop chooses the candidate for priesthood. The homily by the bishop follows. In the homily, the bishop talks about the duties of a priest and he addresses the candidate about the responsibilities and seriousness of the step he is about to take. Two of the strongest lines in the standard homily offered in the ritual are these: “Meditate on the law of God, believe what you read, teach what you believe, and put into practice what you teach.” “Let the example of your life attract followers of Christ, so that by word and action you may build up the house which is God’s Church.” They speak of the need for the priest to not only prayer, but also to live a life of holiness that becomes an example to others of how to be a follower of Christ.

The candidate is then questioned by the bishop about his intentions and his resolve to enter into the presbyterial order. After he makes clear his intentions and resolve, the candidate promises obedience to his ordinary.

Promise of Obedience

The bishop then invites the congregation to pray for the gift of the Spirit on the candidate. The Litany of the Saints follows. This ancient prayer asks all holy men and women to pray with us for the candidate and asks God to make him a holy and dedicated priest. At the conclusion, the bishop prays for the gift of the Spirit and the grace and power of the priesthood to be poured upon the candidate.

Litany of the Saints

The bishop then lays his hands in silence on the candidate’s head. The laying on of hands is a long standing tradition, originating in New Testament times. It signifies the conferral of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Laying on of hands by the Bishop

Concelebrating priests then lay hands on the candidate’s head.

Laying on of hands by the Presbyterate

When this concludes, the bishop prays a prayer of consecration; this prayer through a historical tracing of the notion of priesthood, asks that the candidate be made a priest, be renewed in the Spirit of holiness, and be faithful in his ministry. The whole of the prayer articulates a profound theology of the priesthood. The laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration are the central action in the ordination of a priest.

The prayer of consecration

At the conclusion of the prayer, the candidate is vested with a stole and chasuble; the liturgical vestments worn by those in the office he now holds.

Vesting of the Newly Ordained

After the investiture, the hands of the new priest are anointed with Sacred Chrism. This anointing makes holy the new priest’s hands in order that he may offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist and bless and sanctify God’s people. This outer anointing is a sign of the inner change which has taken place by the work of the Holy Spirit in the new priest.

Annointing with Sacred Chrism

The gifts of bread and wine are now brought forward, and the bishop after receiving them, presents them to the new priest. He says, “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mysteries you celebrate; model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” These lines recognize the role the new priest has of not only offering the Sacrifice of the Mass on behalf of God’s people but also of allowing the same sacrifice to change his life so that he may ever more closely follow Christ. The sign of peace is then exchanged.

Presentation of the Gifts

The celebration of Mass continues with the offertory prayers. The new priest concelebrates his first Mass with the bishop. The grace and power recently given him are now put to use on behalf of God’s people.

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