When the summer season approaches us, and the months of May and June come around, in Dioceses all across the United States and beyond the Church celebrates the welcoming of new priests as they receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. They offer their humble “fiat” to God to serve His Church and the People of God. Recently, I was reflecting on my first experience of attending an Ordination Mass in the Archdiocese of Newark.
A cascade of black and white could be seen flowing up the steps as I walked towards the church that is built upon the highest peak in Newark, New Jersey, the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart. As the rain poured down I glanced up from under my umbrella to see the priests gliding past me with their chasubles hung over their arms as they pushed open the large, heavy doors of the entranceway leading to the vestibule. We were all there that day to witness a momentous and splendid occasion; the Ordination Mass of men to Holy Orders, in this truly breathtaking French Gothic style church.
Once the procession began down the aisle towards the sanctuary it was an incredibly beautiful sight to see the multitude of priests concelebrating the Mass make their way towards the sanctuary with beaming smiles across their faces. Cardinal Joseph J. Tobin, the Bishop of the Newark Archdiocese, along with the transitional deacons, including a friend of mine who I met from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception at Seton Hall University, were moments away from their forever “Yes.” My eyes were fixated upon them as they made their way last towards the front and center of the church.
During the Litany of Saints I kept my eyes fixed upon my friend as he lay prostrate before the altar and before God. As the traditional chant was sung I thought about how he and the other men were physically laying down their lives for the Lord with a deep and profound sacrificial love for the Bride of Christ, the Church. They were offering their gift of teaching, sanctifying, and governing for the community of believers, their spiritual children.
When the Bishop called down the Holy Spirit upon these men by the laying on of hands, and then anointed them with the sacred Chrism it was an extraordinary moment. They were no longer the same, but ontologically changed forever; receiving an indelible mark upon their soul. The priest does not garner power for himself, but pours out himself in complete humility for others as a servant of the Lord.
Once the Bishop reached out his hand to anoint my friend, an overwhelming burst of delight filled my soul. Pure elation that is most difficult to describe in words rushed through me as I knew he was no longer the same man that sat across from me in our Faith and Revelation class. He was forever changed.
After the Ordination Mass the tradition is for the newly ordained priests to offer a first blessing to all of those in attendance. I will never forget the moment I reached my friend near the side chapel of St. John Vianney. Once we made eye contact we both could not stop smiling at one another. The blissful emotion bursting forth was incredulous.
The day was one of incredible excitement, and the entire Cathedral-Basilica was lit up with a brilliant glow of radiant joy, where the love of God penetrated through the sacred place. It was the first time in nearly two years since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic that the lay faithful along with our priests could come together to celebrate such a remarkable occasion in person side by side with one another. It was a day to put aside our thoughts, worries, and distractions, and simply focus on the beauty of the priesthood. We were able to come together to celebrate the men who were making their forever promises of celibacy and obedience, and freely choosing a life of simplicity and detachment from the pleasures of the world.
This special event was a precious gift from God to the Mystical Body of Christ; a true blessing to have more men give their whole lives and their whole selves to the sacerdotal priesthood. An overwhelming feeling of thanks and gratitude swept over me not only for these newly ordained priests, but for all of our good, faithful, and holy priests, especially the priests of my own parish. It is often that we do not take the time to thank them for all that they do, but it is pertinent that we show them our appreciation in both our words and actions.
Let us also remember to pray for the seminarians who are preparing to receive Holy Orders, and for more men to accept the invitation to become a Catholic priest.
Image: ZAGREB, CROATIA – JUNE 18: Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood in Zagreb Cathedral on June 18, 2011 in Zagreb, Croatia. Shutterstock/Zvonimir Atletic