Holy Orders: Priesthood
My dear brothers, candidates for the priesthood: for you Christ today renews his prayer to the Father: “Consecrate them in truth, your word is truth” (Jn. 17,17). This consecration makes you even more a “new creation.” It sets you apart from the world, so that you may be completely dedicated to God. It gives you a mission to act as Christ’s ambassadors in reconciling the world to God. It was for this purpose that Jesus came from the Father and was born of the Virgin Mary. And it is this same mission which Christ entrusted to his disciples: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth” (Jn. 17,18).
At this important moment of your lives I say to you young men: Realize how deeply Jesus desires you to be consecrated as he himself is consecrated. Realize how closely the bond of priesthood joins you to Christ. Be worthy of the privilege you are going to receive of bringing God’s gifts of love to his people and offering to God the people’s prayerful response.
You must be men of God, his close friends. You must develop daily patterns of prayer, and penance must be a regular part of your life.
Prayer and penance will help you to appreciate more deeply that the strength of your ministry is found in the Lord and not in human resources.
You must try to deepen every day your friendship with Christ. You must also learn to share the hopes and joys, the sorrows and frustrations of the people entrusted to your care. Bring to them Christ’s saving message of reconciliation. Visit your parishioners in their homes. This has been a strength of the Church in England. It is a pastoral practice that should not be neglected. Teach your people boldly about the faithful love of God. And do not forget all those with special needs, particularly those who are in prison, and their families. In the gospel Christ identifies himself with prisoners when he says, “I was in prison, and you visited me.” And remember that he did not specify whether they were innocent or guilty. Because you represent Christ, no one can be excluded from your pastoral love. I ask you, together with your brother priests, to take my greetings to all the prisons in Britain, especially the large one in Manchester. Christ Jesus went to offer peace of conscience and the forgiveness of all sins. Through Jesus Christ offer hope. Through you, in your heart, Jesus Christ wants to love those for whom he died. You must show that you believe in that faithful love by the fidelity with which you live your own life. You must proclaim the Gospel with your life.
When you celebrate the sacraments at the decisive moments of their lives, help them to trust in Christ’s promised mercy and compassion. When you offer the redeeming Sacrifice of the Eucharist, help them to understand the need for transforming this great love into works of charity.
My brothers be aware of the effect on others of the witness of your lives.
Your ordination is a source of consolation for those who have already given many years of priestly service, large numbers of whom are present today. The Lord is grateful for their labor and today he blesses them with the assurance that he will continue to provide for the future of the Church.
May all these priests be renewed in the joyful enthusiasm of their early call, and may they continue to give generously of themselves in Christ’s priestly work of reconciling the world to the Father.
I know of the many priests who could not be here because of old age or infirmity. To them also I send the expression of my love in Christ Jesus.
Their prayers, their wisdom, their suffering are rich treasures for the Church, from which will come forth abundant blessings.
And what of your contemporaries? Undoubtedly your acceptance of Christ’s mission is a clear witness for those who are not yet sure what the Lord wants of them. You show them that being ordained for God’s service is a noble vocation that demands faith, courage and self-sacrifice. I am sure that such qualities are to be found among the young people of Great Britain. To them I say: Be certain that Christ’s call to the priesthood or religious life is addressed to some of you. Be certain that if you listen to his call and follow him in the priesthood or religious life, you will find great joy and happiness. Be generous, take courage and remember his promise: “My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt. 11,30).
Finally, I wish to greet the parents and families of those about to be ordained. I say in the name of the Church, in the company of my fellow Bishops, thank you for your generosity. It was you who brought these men into the world. It was you who first gave them the faith and the values that have helped to lead them to God’s altar today. The Church, too, must be a family, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity, supporting each other and sharing with each other the individual gifts given by God. Every priest relies on the faith and talents of his parish community. If he is wise he will not only know the joy of dispensing God’s grace, but also of receiving it abundantly through his parishioners as well. The partnership between priests and people is built upon prayer, collaboration and mutual respect and love. That has always been the tradition of these islands. May it never be lost.
Through this ordination the Lord really and truly continues the work of his “new creation.” And he continues to send forth his message over all the earth and to speak personally to those who will be ordained:
“‘Go now to those to whom I send you
and say whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to protect you’
—it is the Lord who speaks!” Amen.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders began with the Last Supper, when Christ Jesus commissioned his Apostles to continue the Eucharistic celebration. He also commissioned his Apostles following the Resurrection to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). Thomas Aquinas makes the point that only Christ is the true priest, the others serving as his ministers (Hebrews 8:4). St. Ignatius, Bishop of Syria around 100 AD, in his Letter to the Magnesians (6), established the hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon for the early Churches, the pattern which still exists today. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, and priests and deacons are his assistants in rendering service. Men are ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as the sacrament confers upon – in persona Christi.
Holy Orders is the sacrament of Apostolic ministry. As in the Pastoral Epistles, the rite consists of the Bishop’s laying on of hands on the head of the priest-candidate with the consecrating prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the gifts of the ministry. There are three dimensions to ministry, that of Bishop, Priesthood, and the Diaconate. See Matthew 16:18-19, John 21:15-17, Romans 10:14-15, 2 Timothy 1:6, and Titus 1:5 as well as the following:
“Do this in memory of me.”
Gospel of Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:25
“Now be solicitous for yourselves and for the whole flock in which
the Holy Spirit has appointed you as bishops to pasture the Church of God,
which He purchased with his own blood.”
Acts of the Apostles 20:28
Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.
First Letter of Paul to Timothy 4:14
“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:4-5