"Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1536)
On Saturday, May 23, five men will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston. Three are from St. John's Seminary, one is from Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston and one is from the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Brookline. After years of formation, study, field education, spiritual direction, and time as transitional deacons, ordination day arrives. In the ordination Mass the candidates are presented to the bishop -- Cardinal O'Malley -- with these words: "... holy mother Church asks you to ordain these, our brothers, to the responsibilities of the priesthood."
"Responsibilities of the priesthood." One suspects that being a priest was never easy -- irregular hours and often impossible demands are part of the life. Running a large physical plant with many parish buildings and churches that require year-round maintenance, is a financial worry. And, as more and more parishes become one-priest parishes, there is loneliness. In the 2015 post-modern world we are faced with a startling reality: Mass attendance is below 18 percent, and, by some accounts, falling at the rate of 2 percent each year. Secular society and church infrastructure, which for so long offered support, respect, and encouragement to our priests, has shrunk -- dramatically. The number of diocesan priests in active ministry and the number of parishes in the archdiocese are on a collision course that demands departure from the status quo. Our five new priests are being ordained into a very different Church than the Church of their seminary professors and home parish pastors. This is discouraging, bordering on dispiriting. Are these the responsibilities referred to in the Rite of Ordination?
In some ways, perhaps. But, the better understanding of the "responsibilities of priesthood" focuses on the awesome duties entrusted to these new priests, and shared by all priests. Faithful Catholics recognize the blessing of the priest in their midst. So often in times of sorrow and joy, it is the parish priest to whom we turn for counsel and comfort. We are a sacramental Church and it is the priest who mediates our sacramental encounters with Jesus Christ. At ordination, the Elect (those about to be ordained) promise to "celebrate faithfully and reverently... the mysteries of Christ, especially the Sacrifice of Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people." This is responsibility writ large.
For those present at ordination in our Cathedral, and those who watch it on CatholicTV, the lengthy, beautiful, ceremony is a powerful reminder of our sacred past and a glimpse of hope for our future. The Cardinal asks God to "pour out on these servants of yours the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the power of priestly grace...that (they) may be surrounded by your rich and unfailing gifts." They are exhorted to "Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of Christ's cross."
The mystery of Christ's cross is manifested in different ways. We are living at a difficult and uncertain time. What is certain, however, is that these newly ordained priests will be warmly welcomed in their new parishes and will greatly benefit from the prayers of family, friends, parishioners, and others who pray daily for priests. It is likely that one or more of them will be assigned to one of the collaboratives implementing the pastoral plan "Disciples in Mission." (The assignment list will be published in The Pilot next week). If their first assignment is not in a collaborative, it is probable that their second assignment will be, as more parishes move into this model of leadership. The offices of Pastoral Planning and Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support, and staff from the Catholic Leadership Institute spent time with seminarians from all three seminaries helping them prepare for this. Wherever they serve, these five new priests are a blessing to the universal Church and particularly to the Church in Boston.
The final blessing of the newly ordained at the Ordination Mass pleads, "May God ...protect you constantly with his grace"; "make you servants and witnesses in the world to divine charity and truth"; and "make you true shepherds."
Give thanks to God for the men who answered God's call.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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