Sacerdotal Ordinations and Anniversaries: 5 Reasons to celebrate
I was delighted to find a video of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) being ordained into the priesthood on 29th June 1951 (coincidentally, Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul). The accompanying chant in the video: the “Te Deum”.
The priestly ordination, is like a marriage. The person marries into the Church, just as Christ takes the Church as his bride. Often, the church is filled with religious communities, brother priests, seminarians and aspirants, family members, friends, community representatives, sometimes government representatives, and the parish community. Why is it such a highly celebrated affair? Why is it that throngs would flock to a priestly ordination whether one knows the person being ordained or not? Why should we celebrate their anniversaries with equal effort to how we celebrate our marriage anniversaries?
We list a few reasons that may encourage us to be more charitable to the priests who serve us as we congratulate them on their Sacerdotal Ordination or Anniversary (they may be without friends or community who may remember their anniversary or who wish to celebrate it with equal enthusiasm), or as we encourage those who are still undergoing formation to be ordained.
1. It is a reminder of the Sacrament: of those who have been ordained, the one being ordained, and those who hope to be ordained.
The fickleness present in our humanity may lead us to undergo different seasons of life. A young aspirant may still be infused with the zeal of being a priest, while a man who has been serving in this office for 30, 40, 50 years may experience moments of lethargy. It is a demanding office, afterall today’s congregations are more educated, highly informed, and increasingly outspoken. It likens the parallel experience of a married couple attending a wedding service, they too are reminded of their vows of Holy Matrimony. It may give them the much needed reminder and strength to carry on and persevere inspite of challenges.
Every word spoken from scripture or the liturgical text serves to remind the person (and the community) of the immense honour of the priesthood. Each gesture (from the “prostration”, to the “laying of hands”, to the “exchange of peace” etc.) symbolically anchors the internal disposition that stirs and awakens the spiritual consciousness of the weight of this vocation. If one has forgotten amidst parish administration, hundreds of “to-pray-lists”, workshops to prepare and retreats to lead: the Ordination Mass will certainly serve to remind the “why” in the call to the ministry.
The people who are present also serve to remind the person (and the community) of the support that is available. Examples of priests and religious who have inspired the person being ordained, and the person himself being an example for future generations. This lineage of witnessing serves as a powerful testimony of the Living Church and of handing down of the faith through the generations. We look back, we look around, and we look forward for signs to encourage ourselves and then we carry on with life.
2. The person’s example of faith inspires us
To “marry” Christ is an impalpable experience. Yet, the consummation of the marriage is not an abstract existence. The acts and discipline of faith are seen daily by the person preparing to be received into the priesthood. And it continues long after the Rite of Ordination: by their dress; their speech; their exercise of christian charity; the kind of prayers they offer; their missionary service in various communities (e.g. schools, hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, institutions, associations etc.); the homilies, lessons, lectures (and books) they prepare and write; their ministering of the Sacraments.
They provide spiritual direction, guidance, and wisdom that have been moulded by hours of prayer and years of study and contemplation. The cliche “pray about it” is often prescribed for life’s debilitating anxieties, but it is a necessary reminder and a worthy exercise of supplication and submission.
Their being ordained is a highlight of their life of prayer and the exercise of faith. God is so real to them that to exclude him in the equation of life is unthinkable and unfathomable. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe” (Jn 20:29). The ordained person becomes a beacon of hope and a symbol of defiance to worldly ways of being.
3. His giving up his life to live according to his terms in an heroic act of self-sacrifice
It may be more convenient to live life without the cares of marriage. And it certainly will be more carefree to live life without the responsibilities of having children. Perhaps with the options that come with affluence and a society that is increasingly privileged, more and more choose to be in long-term relationships but not to marry, or marry but not have children, or even to remain single. In each marital milestone, undergoing the pain of sacrifice (and undoubtedly, the joys from suffering) highlights that “serving of the self” is still prevalent in our nature as compared to “giving of the self”.
A person entering into the priesthood embodies this self-giving because of the vows they undertake: poverty, chastity, obedience (for most religious orders), and celibacy & obedience (for most diocesan professions). While there may be room for dialogue (even more so for married couples) to exercise an individual’s preference and choice, ultimately the person still has to be obedient to his superior, house-master, or bishop. To go where they are called to go and serve where they are asked to serve, each time having to leave the bonds of friendship that have sustained their previous communal life, and to create new relationships for support in unfamiliar communities.
In their foregoing of opportunities to have families of their own, and spouses who will love them till of old, many times they may face brother priests who may not be as welcoming, or be placed in a nursing home against their preference with staff who may lack the intimacy of friends and family.
Do you own a house? A car? A computer? A wardrobe full of nice clothes and accessories? We may have taken for granted our exercise of choice in accumulating these things from our income with little accountability in our exercise of material possessions. Yet, priests may need to account for purchases that they need for their studies, work and service. Or they will need to share these things because resources are limited. Each of these, an example of self-sacrifice because *gasp* can you imagine a priest with HDDs worth of storage of Hollywood movies or MP3s downloaded from the internet?
4. The role “In persona Christi” at the Mass
The words of consecration can only be uttered by the priest at the Mass. At places where daily Mass is the norm and churches filled for every weekend, there is the expectation that the person in-charge of the wafers that undergo transubstantiation into Corpus Christi will be present (the priest, duh!). But in communities where Holy Communion is distributed once a month or four times a year, the lack of priests is sorely felt by these congregations. Regardless of how their human frailties manifest in their daily interactions with people, when they are serving the Mass “in persona Christi”, priests take on the role of Christ himself at the Last Supper.
At the very least, priests will have to respect and honour this office that they bear at the Mass – regardless of the challenges that may personally beset them.
Parish congregations may be critical of them: “his homilies are too overbearing”, “I can’t make out what he’s saying during the Mass”, “he can’t hold a tune”, “he rushes through the prayers”, “his Masses take too long” etc. Yet they have to serve this office in the best way that they can, in the way they were formed to do so, and in the understanding that they are sieving through in their continued reading and formation.
There is often a reality that people forget: that in a presidential election, the person who is elected with 51% of the approval of the electorate, will still have to serve the 49% who voted disapprovingly of them. And so it is with the priestly office at the Mass – they will still have to serve under the grace of our Lord so as to minister with faith and charity, to the people who may or may not like them. The same is it with their having to minister the other Sacraments to the community they serve.
5. Outwardly set-apart, inwardly torn apart
With increasing secularisation, comes increasing labels of categorization and social segmentation. Divorced, multiple-disabilities, homosexual, pro-choice, progressive, left-wing, “Strawberry Generation” and the list of labels go on. These feed us with connotations and vague presumptions of groups of people in filters with which we see and interact with them.
Possible labels for “people of the cloth” may be: holy, sanctified, sacred, faithful, righteous, courageous, and the list can also go on (and these also apply to the lay apostolate, so you know *wink*)
Outwardly, they are expected to bear these values and virtues. But inwardly, they may still be far from being exemplary in these areas. Nevertheless, many are still undergoing the process of purification and are still trying. Society is increasingly unfazed with divorces and alternative marriage unions, but when a priest does something unbecoming of his office, communities/nations become scandalized and the enemies of the Church quickly bear down upon them. We can never tell how distraught a priest may be at his habitual sins, or how he chastises himself in light of his own expectations of himself. We can be our worst critic, and we may not need another person to remind us of that.
And so these are the reasons and the motivations of the community in coming together at Ordinations and Sacerdotal anniversaries.We come together to draw from the outward experience of faith, to feed the inward thirst for God. We also come together to continue to remind each other of the strength needed to overcome the struggles of our vocation in seeing how each is doing in theirs.
Ultimately, in a communal gathering such as these, there is also a unity in spirit and in faith that God is the Father of us all – and Jesus, the groom to whom we are all married to.
Iam non dicam vos servos (No longer will I call you servants) – PDF
(This piece is written in celebration of Fr. Ferdinand Purnomo’s 5th Sacerdotal Anniversary.)
Kenneth Wee has been with the SPP Choir since 1999 and is currently serving as the Music Director of the Choir. He conducts the choir most of the time and plays the organ some of the time, while taking care of his two young children all of the time.