Ordinations reflect 2,000-year tradition

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Clarion Herald Commentary


For the next month, you will be celebrating three ordination Masses – one for transitional deacons, one for priests and one for permanent deacons – so this must be a very happy and exciting time for you. Can you explain what will be happening over the next month?

This definitely is a wonderful time for the archdiocese and for the universal church. On Saturday, May 19, at St. Louis Cathedral, I ordained eight men as transitional deacons, seven of whom will serve in the archdiocese. Transitional deacons are those who, God willing, will go on next year to be ordained to the priesthood. On Saturday, June 2, I will have the privilege of ordaining four men to the priesthood. And, then, on Saturday, June 23, I will ordain 22 men as permanent deacons, which will raise the number of permanent deacons serving in the archdiocese to nearly 250. This is joyful time of the year because we are able to celebrate the fact that Jesus not only called Peter, James and John and the other apostles 2,000 years ago, but he still calls people today. We see from the Scriptures that in the very early church, the apostles called others forward to serve as deacons and presbyters. They prayed over them and laid hands on them. Two thousand years later, the ordination rite is just that simple. We bishops have the humble privilege of praying over the candidates and laying hands on them – which is the sign of the calling down of the Holy Spirit – and they become deacons and priests.

Is there any difference among the rites of ordination for transitional deacons, priests and permanent deacons?

Let’s talk about the diaconate ordination rite first. The only difference in the ordination rite for a transitional deacon and a permanent deacon concerns the promise of celibacy. If a married man is being ordained to the permanent diaconate, he would then, of course, not make a promise of celibacy. However, if a man who is not married is being ordained as a permanent deacon, he does make a promise of celibacy, as do those who are being ordained as transitional deacons. In the diaconate ordination, the candidates promise to offer their lives in service to the church, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, preach the Gospel in both word and deed and to foster their spiritual growth as leaders among God’s people. The focus of their ministry is to lead us in the works of charity. Each of the candidates makes a promise of obedience to the bishop. That actually is a promise of obedience to God to serve the needs of the church. There may be times when the church asks them to do something that is not their first choice. Nonetheless, they make that promise of obedience. After the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination, the newly ordained deacons are vested by a priest or deacon with the signs of their new ministerial office – a stole and a dalmatic. The stole is a symbol of the clerical state. The dalmatic is worn over the stole and is a symbol of the service to which the deacon is called. Once they are vested as deacons, they receive from the bishop the Book of the Gospels as a sign that they are heralds of the Gospel and are entrusted with the duty of teaching the Gospel message and living the Gospel in their daily lives.

What about the ordination rite for priests?

It is similar in many respects but there are differences. Candidates for priesthood promise to dedicate their lives in service to the church and promise obedience to the diocesan bishop, to preach the Gospel and teach the Catholic faith, to faithfully celebrate the sacraments, to pray for God’s people and to foster their own spiritual growth. They also renew their promise of obedience to the bishop. One of the powerful moments of the ordination rite for priests occurs when the candidates prostrate themselves before the altar as a sign of their submission to the will of God, as the choir and the congregation sing the Litany of Supplication, invoking the help of God and the saints upon the candidates and the Church. Following that, I will lay hands on each candidate and offer the prayer of ordination. The newly ordained priests remove the vesture of a deacon and wear, for the first time, the vesture of priests – a stole and chasuble. The chasuble is a symbol of the virtue of charity to which they are called. Then, I anoint their hands with sacred chrism because they are to use their hands to celebrate the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. Their hands touch the sacred and make Christ present to his people. After that, I hand each new priest the bread and a chalice filled with wine that is to become the body and blood of Christ. They are told to live the mystery they celebrate. As Christ said, “This is my body, this is my blood,” they are asked to give their lives for the sake of the people. Then, the priests gathered for the ordination Mass come forward and embrace their new brother priests.

How interesting is it to you to see the many different journeys these men have taken to their ordination?

It is truly amazing. I’m aware of their stories, which are all unique. God calls each person in a unique way. The criteria for the church ordaining someone to the diaconate or the priesthood remains the same: we are to ordain men of strong faith, men of good reputation and men who will pour out their lives as leaders. I’ve gotten to know many of them well. Two days before the permanent diaconate ordination, I will join the 22 men in a vigil of prayer. These are such important moments for the church. Everything a bishop does he can delegate to others except for ordinations. That is the one thing a bishop cannot delegate to someone else. Every time I prepare for an ordination, it is truly humbling to think that I have the privilege of carrying on the 2,000-year apostolic tradition of our church.

Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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