Those ordained last spring are about to renew their promises at this month’s Chrism Mass. Now that nearly 10 months have come and gone, will those priestly promises asked at this year’s Chrism Mass be heard differently from when the newly ordained made promises at their ordination? The honeymoon is probably over. The new vestments are safely placed back in their garment bags, the family and friends who came into town are long gone, and many of the “firsts” are over, albeit Holy Week and Easter. The excitement of the ordination and first Mass has probably waned.
Upon arrival at his first assignment, a newly ordained priest is seen only as the priest. The man is no longer the seminarian who became a priest, he is the priest. Parishioners tend not to think about the timing of his ordination, the “office” of Priesthood is their reference more than the person. To the parishioner, he is the priest — and all the expectations parishioners have for a seasoned priest are placed upon this young man; all the expectations of the “office” are his as well. A significant moment that many newly ordained men feel is when it really dawns on them, “I am a priest.”
The first weeks, as they do the circuit of First Masses, there are so many concelebrants that one newly ordained priest said “if I don’t celebrate this Mass validly, I am sure one of my confreres standing here with me is doing it right.” Maybe once there are no more concelebrated “first” Masses and the newly ordained is standing in the foyer for the Sunday morning 8 a.m. Mass, waiting to begin, it dawns on him, “This is not going to start until I give the high sign to the cantor to begin the gathering hymn.” There is no emcee guiding him down the aisle, no string of priests in front any more. They are all off doing their thousandth Mass. The newly ordained priest who has stood in the pews his entire life waiting for the priest to arrive for Mass now realizes, “I have arrived.”
ordination? CNS file photo
For him, these last 240 +/- days have been filled with many moments of pastoral ministry and many Masses (probably one a day if not more, due to multiple weekend Masses plus weddings and funerals). Hundreds of times already the newly ordained man has said “Do this in memory of Me.” These past few months have been a time to live out the “doing” part. Presiding at Eucharist is the easy part: the routine, the familiar, the predictable. By no means am I minimizing its impact and the graces. Celebrating Mass is a significant part of what we do; so much so that the newly ordained priest’s First Mass is as celebratory as the ordination the previous day. The routine and familiarity of Mass is a welcome moment in the week compared to the non-predictability of the rest of the week.
What about the other firsts of the newly ordained. How do they mark time, or how do those moments become integrated into his ministry? Many of us may remember our first baptism and/or first confession or first anointing but cannot remember who we baptized or buried last month. Hopefully the “doing” of the ministry in memory of Christ does not mitigate the richness that lies within each moment. It is difficult to keep the passion alive or the memory alive (when our own memory is faulty).
What also reminds the newly ordained that he has “arrived” is that first ungraced moment that can also be memorable. There is that dark side of ministry: the first nasty letter, the first phone slammed down as the parishioner did not like the answer. The first time feeling shunned, being dismissed. These are never easy moments. It does make us pause and realize that this comes with ministry too. When Christ said “Do this in memory of Me,” we need to remember that He was shunned, ridiculed, and gossiped about. Not everyone wanted Him to show up either. It all comes with the territory.
It is not easy to deal with these moments, whether newly ordained or not so newly ordained. Have you ever wondered about the terminology for ordination rituals as we pass on the priesthood to another? It is so interesting that we call it imposition. The ordinand’s invitation typically invites everyone to witness “the imposition of hands by the Most Reverend X.” This imposition of hands is a beautiful ancient ritual, grounded in Scripture; the disciples conferred the ministry on the next generation through this simple gesture, passing on the tradition. It is a graced moment, a transforming moment. But we should not be fooled by its seeming simplicity or the pageantry that now accompanies it — a grand liturgy with dozens of priests, one after the other, solemnly imposing their hands on the ordinand’s head. It is anything but simple.
|As long as there is ministry to Do in Memory of
Him — there will forever need to be priesthood
and a Priest to “do it in memory of him. Since
priesthood will never be exhausted, that is why
ministry can be so exhausting. The Crosiers photo
There is an aspect of the ritual of imposition of the hands that we overlook. We must remember that it is precisely that — an imposition! God is imposing something on this man. God is placing a burden on him. God is bothering him to do something. God is saying, “May I ask a favor? I hate to impose, but I have a kingdom that needs to come.” God is imposing a great burden on him and a great responsibility. A great burden is imposed as priest after priest files past the ordinand, passing on the burden to him. Maybe there is relief by the veteran priests that another person is here to share the burden. The more there are to share it, the easier it is. We are yoking ourselves to one another to share the joys and the sorrows.
Like Christ, we all get exhausted by the burden imposed on us. No matter the joys that come from priesthood, all of us occasionally need to escape alone to a place to get away from everyone or to just take a rest from the burden. Christ escaped now and then, so we certainly have permission to do so as well. Priesthood is forever, and the needs of the kingdom are going to be there forever. Some of the burdens can wait until tomorrow. There will always be more sick to heal, more dead to bury, more lowly to lift up, more hungry to fill with good things, more mercy to share with each generation, more Eucharist to share. As long as there is ministry to do in memory of Him — there will need to be priesthood and a priest to “do it in memory of Him. Because priesthood will never be exhausted, ministry can be so exhausting.
It is that exhaustion that reminds us how finite all of us are to do this infinite ministry. We all go to bed on countless nights, knowing all that remains to be done in memory of Him. Yet, just as each priest passed on the burden to the next generation, each priest’s presence on the day of ordination is a sign and symbol of fraternity as well. No one of us can do this ministry alone. A litany of saints were called upon at ordination to be there in the hope that every priest will see himself listed in that communion line of saints to be there for other priests and, most especially, for the newly ordained. One newly ordained priest shared what a big shift it was for him going from a seminary with many fellow seminarians with whom to share a beer, have a conversation, etc., to a life where the access to friends was so different. Though parishioners are friendly and kind (for the most part) in many ways, they are not meant to be our friends to share the burden. (Fortunately, some do.) They are the people we serve, and it is hard to balance the boundary between friend and parishioner. Priests gather at another’s ordination to impose the burden, but also to share the fraternal kiss of welcome. Hopefully they will be there for the newly ordained once the Mass has ended and all have gone in peace.
Christ did not do the ministry alone. He had 12 apostles, 72 disciples, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus to whom He escaped. Even on the day He died, He had a Simon.
Whether one is ordained a day or a lifetime, no matter how many different parishes, or how many countless Masses, baptisms, reconciliations and funerals, there is one constancy and that is Christ, in whose memory we do this.
FATHER CARRION is pastor of Holy Cross, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Baltimore, Md., and is director of the Deacon Formation Program for the Archdiocese. firstname.lastname@example.org