The Ordination of 10 New Priests For Our Archdiocese

This article originally appeared in the parish bulletin on June 2, 2013

I hope all of you at St. Peter’s are enjoying the observance of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. While I am out of state, Fr. Thomas McDonough is at the parish for the celebration of Mass. I know you will give him a warm welcome as he returns to assist us again! A new face will soon be among us: this coming Tuesday will be the first day of the ten-week assignment of Deacon Joseph Kavuma to St. Peter’s. I am looking forward to his arrival.

Last Saturday was ordination day for our Archdiocese. It really did feel special to me this year – perhaps it was because there were so many seminarians who became priests. They were ten in number! Besides being a remarkably large number of men to be ordained at one time, I feel convinced that they are going to be good priests.

Right before the Mass, someone claimed that it was going to last three hours. I dismissed that: “Oh, no; two and a half!” But he was right. It lasted three hours. You might wonder how that can be. This might help you to understand: between the Gospel reading and the start of the Eucharistic Prayer is inserted the Ordination Rite. At a normal Sunday Mass, for example, that section includes the homily, the Profession of Faith, and the Prayer of the Faithful. But at an ordination, that section includes a great deal more.

After the Gospel reading the candidates are called forward. The name of one of them is called, and he stands in the pew and says, “Present,” and then walks up the steps to stand before the Archbishop. When all have been called and the Archbishop has been assured that they have been found worthy, the congregation applauds and the candidates are seated for the homily.

After the homily, the candidates together make their promises by answering the Archbishop’s questions, and then go individually to promise their obedience to him and to his successors while kneeling before him with their folded hands in his. Then they prostrate themselves, laying flat on the floor while the Litany of Supplication is sung: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us…” At the end of the litany, each candidate kneels again before the Archbishop, who lays hands on his head in silence. On Saturday, the choir took up one chant after another as the candidates lined up in two rows of five, and all 150 concelebrating priests filed out of the pews and up the sanctuary steps to lay hands on each one in turn. That alone accounts for 25 minutes of the Mass, and while I suppose it is not too exciting for the congregation in the pews, it is an intense moment for us priests. More than in any previous year I found myself deeply moved by the opportunity to stand before these ten men and place my hands on each one’s head in turn. The candidates themselves were immersed in prayer during this remarkable time. I believe this experience is what leads me to declare that they will be good priests!

When the laying on of hands concluded, the Archbishop prayed the Prayer of Ordination. The central part of the lengthy prayer is: “And now we beseech you, Lord, in our weakness, to grant us these helpers that we need to exercise the priesthood that comes from the Apostles. Grant, we pray, Almighty Father, to these your servants, the dignity of the Priesthood; renew deep within them the spirit of holiness …” With those words, the deacons became priests. After that point, everything else was a kind of explanation of what had already taken place. The new priests were vested in stoles and chasubles, their hands were anointed with Sacred Chrism, and they were given the people’s gifts of bread and wine. Then came the Kiss of Peace: an embrace by the Archbishop and by each of the 150 concelebrating priests, who walked into the sanctuary for a second time. This time the encounter is as joyful as the first one was solemn, since we were able to greet each new priest. The Mass then continued with the Eucharistic Prayer, and the ten new priests joined the rest of us as concelebrants.

A rather complimentary article about the ordination appeared on page B3 of the Star Tribune on Sunday, May 26. The reporter stated that there are 437 priests in the Archdiocese: 325 in parishes and 112 retired. Those figures were probably prepared as part of a media packet. They include about 100 priests who are members of religious orders, as opposed to priests who actually are priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. (Diocesan priests or secular priests make promises at their ordination and are tied to a geographic area. Religious priests follow the evangelical counsels and make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and ordained to serve their religious communities wherever they are sent.) By my reckoning there are 235 active priests of our Archdiocese, and 96 retired priests of our Archdiocese. As part of the process leading to the October 2010 announcement of the Strategic Plan for our Archdiocese, a 2009 study predicted that in the rosiest possible scenario we would have only 230 active Archdiocesan priests by 2013. We are doing better than that! We had 182 pastors in all in 2009, including the pastors who are members of religious orders. The document states that by 2013 among the priests of our Archdiocese we would have 150 pastors, 32 parochial vicars, 22 priests in specialized ministry (such as hospital chaplains, for example), and 18 priests in academic ministry (professors, etc.). That comes to 222 priests, so we must have more in each of those various ways of serving our local Church. It’s admirable that so many of my brothers decide to delay their retirement and continue serving in parishes after age 70.

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