The Ordination of a Priest
The Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood, which takes place during the Rite of the Mass, carries centuries of sacred tradition to this present ceremony. The following explanation of the ritual is given so that one may better understand the various parts of the Rite of Ordination.
As always the Liturgy begins with a Procession. What is important to note is the order of the procession. All liturgical processions are organized according to the "order" of the ministers. Minor ministers process first, the Deacons present for the celebration, the Deacon carrying the Book of the Gospels, the Ordination Candidate, the concelebrating Priests and finally the Bishop with his assisting deacons. Since the Ordination Candidate still ranks within the Order of Deacons, it is here that he enters in procession.
The Liturgy of the Word, too, takes place in its usual form. The readings for the Ordination are taken from the special Lectionary Readings for Holy Orders. All of the readings speak of God's election of us as a chosen people and the importance of the ministry to carry on the work of Jesus within the Church, caring for the needs of all.
Immediately following the gospel, the profession of faith is not said nor are the general intercession used. This is when the rite of Ordination begins. There is first the Calling of Candidate. A member of the Diocesan Vocation Office calls the Deacon by name, he responds "Present" and then stands before the Bishop. It is important to note that the ordinand (the one to be ordained) is called from the midst of the people. The Church firmly believes that those who are called to ministry answer a call from the Lord and are called from the midst of the community of the faithful. That is the reason why the ordinand sits with his family in the midst of the congregation. (For a scriptural understanding one might read Hebrews 5:1-6)
The ordination continues with the Presentation of the Candidate. The Bishop inquires of those charged with the formation of priesthood candidates, if the ordinand has taken all the preparatory steps and has been found worthy and competent to fulfill the office of priest. The Bishop then ELECTS the individual to be ordained and asks for the people to affirm this election by applause. The Bishop in his election of the Candidate is not acting as judge of the individual but is affirming the action of Holy Spirit in the life of the individual. The Bishop will then proceed with a HOMILY which is not only a homily but includes instruction to the ordinand in what the Church will expect of him in accepting the call to Priesthood.
For the first time in the Rite the ordinand will speak for himself. In the Examination of the Candidate, the Bishop inquires directly of his willingness to be ordained a priest. Answering the last of the Bishop's questions with a firm, "I am with the help of God" the ordained steps forward to promise obedience to the Bishop and his successors. As a presbyter (priest) he will be under the care, guidance and direction of the Diocesan Bishop. This promise of obedience assures that both priest and bishop will work hand in hand to build the kingdom of God. As a symbol of this obedience, the ordinand places his folded hands inside the folded hands of the Bishop.
Before the actual Ordination takes place, the Bishop calls the congregation to prayer. The Church now calls upon all those who are saints to intercede on the behalf of the candidate as he approaches the sacrament of Holy Orders. The Litany of the Saints reminds us of the universal call to holiness and especially the call to holiness that marks the life of a priest. The ordinand will prostrate himself while the assembly kneels to pray. The gesture of prostration is a symbol of his submission to the will of God. This is a very powerful moment as this man hands his life over to God in total abandon. The Bishop concludes the Litany with a prayer.
The actual rite of Ordination takes place in the two parts that follow. First is the ancient symbol of the Laying on of Hands. The ordinand will go before the Bishop and the Bishop prays in silence as he places his hands on the head of the candidate. This gesture was first used by the apostles in the election of the first deacons for service in the Church (Acts 6:6). Using this same gesture the priests now come forward to impose hands. This is a sign that they, too, share the same gift of ordination through the gift of the Holy Spirit. When the priests have finished, they will raise their hand (as at the consecration of the Mass) in blessing as the Bishop prays the Prayer of Consecration. This prayer is the second part of the actual Ordination. The assembly responds "Amen" to the Bishop's prayer as a sign of our assent, too, of the sacred action that has taken place.
The newly ordained priest then removes his deacon's stole and is vested with the priest's stole (a sign of his office of the priesthood) and the chasuble (the vestment worn for the celebration of the Mass). He then goes before the Bishop again. First, the palms of his hands are anointed with the Sacred Chrism. The Bishop prays, "The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God." His hands are anointed so that, like Jesus, he may be a servant to the people of God leading them to the love of the Father through his celebration of the sacraments and his example.
The Presentation of the Gifts take place. Representatives of the church bring the gifts of bread and wine forward to the Bishop who then 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, imitate the mystery you celebrate, model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross." In this presentation the Bishop exhorts the new priest to live the mystery of the Eucharist in his own life, giving his life as Jesus did for the eternal life of the faithful. The Rite of Ordination concludes with the Sign of Peace. Having been given the gifts to exercise his office, the new priest is welcomed into the Order of Priest, first by the Bishop and then his brother priests.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is then celebrated by the Bishop with the newly ordained taking a prominent role in this, his first celebration of the Eucharist as a priest.
Today and always the newly ordained lives out the words of the scriptures, You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. This simple ceremony carries with it profound meaning for the life of the church. Through this rite, the priesthood begun in Christ continues for the life of the Church.