Candidates for the priesthood lie prostrate during an ordination Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 12, 2019. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

The Season of Ordinations

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Bonnar (new)It is that time of year, when the ordination circuit begins. As seminary classes end, the annual rite of ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood begins. These sacred moments not only yield new life for the Church, but they also become, for all those who attend, a time of great spiritual renewal. I will never forget my sister telling me how inspired she was following my ordination to the priesthood. There is something humbling and revivifying watching a man give his life to God and the Church.

I find it just as moving watching last year’s class of newly ordained lay hands on the new class. It is just as touching watching these men be vested with the stole and chasuble, usually by someone who has inspired them to be what they have just become. Watching them stand at the altar for the first time can’t help but bring a tear to the human eye. Hearing them pray part of the Eucharistic prayer is overwhelming. Receiving their first priestly blessing is so special. And how about the expression on their faces when they receive their first assignment. Needless to say, there is nothing quite like an ordination.

Nothing, however, so moves the heart as watching the candidates prostrate themselves in the sanctuary as the Litany of Saints is sung. I think that for many of us priests that moment, at both our diaconate and priesthood ordination, is one indelibly ensconced on our memory. The faithful, for their part, are mesmerized by this sacred moment of total surrender and trust on the part of the candidate. Calling forth the intercession of the saints makes this a moment that transcends time and momentarily unites heaven with earth.

The solemn act of prostrating in the sanctuary is very fresh in my mind as I have been humbled to do it three times. The most recent prostration took place on Jan. 12, 2021, in St. Columba Cathedral as I was being ordained bishop of Youngstown. I actually cannot stop thinking about it.

What made this moment all the richer and more memorable for me was the two angels, you might say, who were sent my way days before the ordination. The first angel was a priest friend who is a bishop. He wrote to me and said, “Consider being ordained with something you will be able to take with you.” In his case, he asked if he could take a kneeler from the seminary in which he was rector. The kneeler is now in his private chapel. He said, “It is important for me to hit the knees on the kneeler that I knelt on when I received the grace of ordination.”

The second angel was a contributor to this publication who happens to be a professor of liturgy. In a telephone conversation, he reminded me that the prostration is a death and a letting go of a former way of life only to rise and take on a whole new identity. He encouraged me to prostrate with my arms outward as if I was dying on the cross.

Following the recommendation of the first angel, I purchased a pillow. As I removed my glasses and mask and prostrated on the cold marble floor in the form of a cross, I felt like I was entering the tomb. I could hear the music, but I could not make out the names of the saints. It was like an out-of-body experience. All the while, I sobbed. My whole life flashed before me. I recalled my first prostration as a deacon and my second as a priest. Amid the tears, I could sense that I was being called to suffer and die like never before.

When it was time to stand and continue with this ancient ritual, I happened to look at the pillow and discovered a tiny droplet of blood that must have come from my nose. It was a poignant reminder of how as a bishop I will have to give my body and blood like Jesus.

I now keep the blood-stained pillow nearby as a constant reminder of that sacred moment and the need to die to self daily. This experience is renewed at every ordination I attend. Congratulations and best wishes to all those being ordained.

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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