The 3rd and highest of the Major Orders
This is the great sacrament by which the deacon becomes a priest of the New Testament, another Christ. The word priest is derived from the Greek word presbyteros, which means elder; the term "elder" designates a person holding an office which usually is conferred only on such as are distinguished by age, experience, nobility of character and life. The priest is distinguished from the rest of the people by the dignity and authority inherent in the very nature of the priesthood.
Priests were typified in the Old Testament by the seventy elders, who were chosen by Moses in the desert to assist him in the government of the people. At what time the first priests were ordained in the church of the New Testament cannot be established with certainty. However, it is probable that when St. Paul wrote to Timothy: "Lay not thy hands lightly on any man." (1 Tim. 5, 22), he had in mind the ordination of priests.
Of the awe-inspiring powers vested in the priesthood three are conferred by a special ceremonial act, i.e.: the power to offer up the Holy Sacrifice, the power to forgive sins, and the power to bless. The indelible character of the priesthood is impressed upon the priest's soul: and for all eternity he shall be "priest according to the order of Melchisedech" (Ps. 109, 4).
The rite of the ordination of priests is truly sublime. Of the many new ceremonial acts which appear in the rite, the following call for brief explanation.
- The Anointing of the Hands of the Priest - Holy oil was used extensively in the liturgical functions of the Old Testament. The high priest and the priests, the Tabernacle and is furniture, prophets and kings, were anointed. Christ Himself is announced as the Messias, which means the Anointed. He is the supreme prophet, king, and priest. It is fitting, therefore, that the priest of the Christian Dispensation, the "other Christ," should also be anointed. The anointing symbolizes the dedication of a person to the service of God, and the bestowal of grace.
- The Concelebration - Concelebration denotes the celebration of the same Mass by more than one priest. From the Offertory on, the newly ordained priests say the Mass together with the bishop, so that their ordination Mass is really their first Mass. According to the present discipline of the Latin Church, concelebration takes place only on the occasion of ordination; but it was common in ancient times and is so to the present day in the Eastern churches. Concelebration beautifully expresses the truth that there is but one priesthood and one sacrifice.
- The Profession of Faith -- Toward the end of the Mass, all newly ordained priests recite together the Apostles' Creed. It is fitting that, as they enter upon their mission of teaching, they should solemnly profess the faith which they will announce to the world.
- The Promise of Obedience - This promise of obedience is not a vow like the vow of obedience made by religious, but it imposes upon the priest the solemn obligation to administer his office in faithful obedience to his ecclesiastical superiors. Without obedience the Church could not carry on her work. And after all, how fitting it is that the priest, who is "another Christ," should distinguish himself and merit the blessing of God for his work by the practice of that virtue which may be called the characteristic virtue of our Savior Jesus Christ, who "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philipp. 2,8).
Deacons present themselves for ordination to the priesthood dressed in amice, alb, cincture, maniple, and stole. On their left arm they carry a folded chasuble and in their right hand a burning candle.
The Call. The bishop, with his miter on, sits on the faldstool before the middle of the altar. The archdeacon bids the candidates come forward; the notary reads their names:
Let those who are to be ordained to the order of the priesthood come forward: N.N., etc.
The Postulation. The archdeacon presents the candidates to the bishop, requesting him to ordain them:
Most Reverend Father,
Most Eminent and Reverend Father,
Our holy Mother, the Catholic Church, requests that you ordain the deacons here present to the office of the priesthood.
Doest thou know them to be worthy?
As far as human frailty allows to know, I know and I testify that they are worthy of the charge of this office.
Thanks be to God.
Dearly beloved brethren, the captain of a ship as well as the passengers are in the same condition as to safety or danger. Their cause is common, therefore they ought to be of the same mind. Indeed, not without reason did the Fathers ordain that in the election of those who were to be employed in the service of the altar the people also should be consulted. For it happens here and there that, as to the life and conduct of a candidate, a few know what is unknown to the majority. Necessarily, also, people will render obedience more readily to the ordained if they have consented to his ordination."
Now, with the help of the Lord, these deacons are to be ordained priests. As far as I can judge, their life has been of approved goodness and pleasing to God, and, in my opinion, merits for them promotion to a higher ecclesiastical honor. However, lest one or a few be mistaken in their judgment, or deceived by affection, we must hear the opinion of many. Therefore, whatsoever you know about their lives or character, whatsoever you think of their worthiness, freely make it known. Testify as to their fitness for the priesthood according to merit rather than according to affection. If anyone has anything against them, before God and for the sake of God let him confidently come forward and speak. However, let him be mindful of his condition.
Dearly beloved sons, you are about to be ordained to the order of the priesthood. Strive to receive it worthily, and having received it, to discharge its duties in a praiseworthy manner.
The office of the priest is to offer sacrifice, to bless, to govern, to preach, and to baptize. Truly, it must be with great fear that you ascend to so high a station; and care must be taken that heavenly wisdom, an irreproachable character, and long-continued righteousness shall commend the candidates chosen for it.
It is for this reason that the Lord, when commanding Moses to select from the whole people of Israel seventy men to assist him, and to impart to them a share in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, added this direction: Take whom thou knowest to be elders among the people. Now you have been typified by the seventy men who were elders, if, observing the Ten Commandments of the Law by the help of the seven-fold Spirit, you will be men of virtue, mature in knowledge as well as in work.
Under the same mystery and figure, the Lord chose in the New Testament seventy-two disciples and sent them two by two, to go before Him, preaching. Thus He wished to teach by word and deed that the ministers of His Church should be perfect in faith and practice, in other words, that they should be grounded in the twin virtue of charity, namely, the love of God and the love of neighbor.
Therefore, endeavor to be such that, by the grace of God, you may be worthy to be chosen as helpers of Moses and the twelve apostles, that is, the Catholic bishops who are signified by Moses and the twelve apostles. Truly wonderful is the variety with which holy Church is endowed, adorned, and governed. Its ministers are men ordained to various orders, some bishops, others inferior in rank, priests and deacons and subdeacons; and out of many members distinguished as to dignity, the one body of Christ is formed.
And so, dearly beloved sons, chosen by the judgment of our brethren to be our helpers in the ministry, maintain in your deportment inviolate purity and holiness of life. Understand what you do, imitate what you administer. Inasmuch as you celebrate the mystery of the death of the Lord, you should endeavor to mortify in your members all sin and concupiscence. Let your teaching be a spiritual medicine for the people of God and the odor of your lives a delight for the Church of Christ. May you thus build up, by preaching and example, the house, that is, the family of God, so that your promotion may not be a cause of damnation for me, nor the reception of so great an office for you, but rather of reward. May He by His grace grant it to us. R. Amen.
The Litany of the Saints is prayed here.
After the litany the ordinands rise.
The Bestowal of the Office. The most solemn moment of the rite of ordination has now arrived, the moment in which that wonderful transformation takes place in the soul of the ordinand, which makes him "Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech." The bishop imposes both his hands upon each ordinand without saying any prayer, and after him all priests present do the same; then the bishop and all priests raise their right hands and hold them extended over the candidates. All is hushed in silence - it is as if the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit come down in visible form to take possession of His elect: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me" (Is. 61, 1).
Holding his right hand extended, the bishop prays:
Let us pray, dearly beloved brethren, to God, the Father Almighty, that He may multiply heavenly gifts upon these His servants whom He has chosen for the office of the priesthood. May they by His help accomplish what they undertake at His gracious call. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.
Let Us Pray
The assistants: Let us bend our knees. R. Amen.
Hear us, we beseech Thee, Lord our God, and pour out upon these Thy servants the + blessing of the Holy Spirit and the power of priestly grace. Sustain them forever with the bounty of Thy gifts, whom we present to Thy mercy to be consecrated. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy son, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God,
V. Forever and ever.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And also with thee.
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We have lifted them up unto the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is meet and just.
It is truly meet and just, right and profitable unto salvation to give thanks at all times and in all places to Thee, holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, Giver of honors and Dispenser of all dignities. Through Thee all things progress; by Thee they are sustained; through Thee the endowments of our rational nature are continually raised to a higher perfection according to a wisely appointed plan.
Thus have come into existence priestly orders and the office of Levites, instituted amid sacred mysteries. When Thou didst appoint high priests to govern the people, Thou didst also choose men of lower rank and inferior dignity to be at their side and to assist them in their work. Thus didst Thou multiply in the desert the spirit of Moses through the minds of seventy judicious men, so that with their help he easily governed the countless multitudes of the people. In like manner Thou hast bestowed upon Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron, the fullness of their father's priestly power, so that there might be a sufficient number of priests for the offering of salutary sacrifices and the performance of the numerous sacred rites. By the same providence Thou, O Lord, has joined to the apostles of Thy Son teachers of the faith; and with their help they have filled the whole world with the glad tidings of the gospel.
Therefore, we beseech Thee, O Lord, give also to us such help in our infirmity; we need it so much more than they, as our weakness is so much greater. We beseech Thee, almighty Father, invest these Thy servants with the dignity of the priesthood. Do Thou renew in their hearts the spirit of holiness, that they may hold the office, next to ours in importance, which they have received from Thee, O Lord, and by the example of their lives point out a norm of conduct. May they be prudent fellow laborers of our order; may the pattern of all justice shine forth in them so that, when they will give a good account of the stewardship entrusted to them, they may receive the reward of eternal bliss.
Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
Receive the yoke of the Lord; for His yoke is sweet and His burden light.
Receive the priestly vestment, by which charity is signified; for God is powerful to increase unto thee charity and perfection of work.
Thanks be to God.
O God, Author of all holiness, from whom comes true consecration and the fullness of benediction, do Thou, O Lord, pour out Thy gracious blessing upon these Thy servants, upon whom we confer the honor of the priesthood. May they, by gravity of demeanor and strictness of life, prove themselves to be elders, trained according to the principles which Paul set forth to Titus and Timothy. May they keep Thy law before their minds day and night, believe what they read, teach what they believe, and practice what they teach. May they show forth in their persons justice, constancy, mercy, fortitude, and all other virtues, be leaders by their example, inspire strength by exhortation, and preserve the gift of their ministry pure and undefiled; may they change by a holy benediction bread and wine into the body and blood of Thy Son for the worship of Thy people. And having kept their conscience pure and true their faith in never failing charity, may they rise on the day of God's just and final judgment, full of the Holy Spirit, to perfect manhood, in the full measure of the age of Christ. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
The Anointing of the Hands. After the first stanza the bishop seats himself and receives the miter. He takes off his gloves, and a cloth or towel is spread over his lap. The candidates approach, and kneeling before him, one by one, they hold their hands for the anointing in such a manner that the palms are turned upward and the sides and the little fingers touch each other. The bishop dips his thumb into the holy oil, draws a line from the thumb of the right hand to the index finger of the left and from the thumb of the left hand to the index finger of the right, and then anoints the whole of both palms. While doing this he pronounces the following prayer:
Vouchsafe, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these hands by this unction and our + blessing.
The anointed answers: Amen.
That whatsoever they shall bless may be blessed, and whatsoever they shall consecrate be consecrated and sanctified, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The anointed answers: Amen.
Bestowal of the Power to Offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By the preceding rite of the imposition of hands the candidates have been made priests and possess all priestly powers. But the power to celebrate Mass, to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is such a tremendous, awe-inspiring power that a special rite is employed to express its bestowal and to bring more fully into realization what has been received.
The ordained again approach the bishop and kneel before him. A chalice containing wine and water, and the paten with a host lying on it, is presented to each; whereupon the ordained takes the paten between the index and the middle finger, touching with the index finger the paten and host and with the middle finger the cup of the chalice, while the bishop says:
Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God and to celebrate Mass for the living as well as for the dead. In the name of the Lord.
The ordained answers: Amen.
Having received this offering, the bishop washes his hands, and the Mass is continued. From now on all the newly ordained priests say the Mass together with the bishop, and all prayers, even those usually said in a low voice, are said aloud.
Now the others who have been ordained approach the altar. Confiteor, Misereatur, etc., are said in the usual way but when giving Holy Communion the bishop uses the formula:
May the body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thee unto life everlasting.
Each one answers: Amen, kisses the ring of the bishop and receives the sacred host.
After the bishop as taken the ablution, he washes his hands; with miter off and, standing on the epistle side, he intones the following responsories, which are then continued by the choir. If there is no choir present, the bishop reads these responsories.
I will not now call you servants but my friends; for you have known all things whatsoever I have wrought in the midst of you. Alleluia.
Receive in you the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete; He it is whom the Father will send you. Alleluia.
You are my friends if you do the things that I command you. Receive in you the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. He it is whom the Father will send you. Alleluia.
The Profession of Faith. Having said this responsory, the bishop, with his miter on, goes to the middle of the altar and turns to the newly ordained priests. These, standing before the altar, now recite the Apostle's Creed, thus publicly professing the faith which they will preach to the world.
Bestowal of the Power to Forgive Sins. It must be remembered that the ordained were made priests and received all priestly powers by the imposition of the hands of the bishop. However, because of the excellence of the power to forgive sins, a special ceremony is employed to express its bestowal upon the priest. It is particularly fitting that this should be done after the offering of that Holy Sacrifice by which Christ has made atonement for the sins of men and reconciled us with His heavenly Father.
The bishop, with his miter on, seats himself. The newly ordained come up and kneel before him; he lays his hands on each one and says:
Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins thou shalt forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins thou shalt retain, they are retained.
May the Lord clothe thee with the robe of innocence.
Dost thou promise me and my successors reverence and obedience?
To secular priests: Dost thou promise to the Bishop, thy Ordinary …?
To religious priests: Dost thou promise to the Bishop (or Prelate) who will be thy Ordinary for the time being, reverence and obedience?
The priest answers: I promise.
The peace of the Lord be always with thee.
The priest answers: Amen.
Dearly beloved sons, since the office which you will perform is beset with considerable danger, I admonish you to learn carefully from other experienced priests the order of the whole Mass, the consecration and the breaking of the host, and the communion, before you begin to celebrate Mass.
May the blessing of the almighty God, the + Father, the + Son, and the Holy + Ghost, descend upon you, that you may be blessed in the priestly order, and offer up the sacrifice of propitiation for the sins and offenses of the people to almighty God, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever. R. Amen.
The Final Admoniton. (After the Last Blessing) With miter on and crozier in hand, the bishop seats himself and addresses all the ordained kneeling before him. If all orders have been conferred, the following admonition is read as it stands; if not, reference to the orders not received is left out.
Dearly beloved sons, carefully consider the order which you have received today and the burden which has been laid upon your shoulders. Endeavor to live holy lives devoted to religion and to be pleasing to the almighty God, that you may obtain His grace. May He in His mercy deign to bestow it upon you.
All those who have been promoted to the first tonsure, or the four minor orders, say once the seven penitential psalms with the litany, versicles, and orations.
Subdeacons and deacons, say the nocturn of this day.
Those who have been ordained priests, say, after your first Mass, three other Masses: one of the Holy Spirit, another of the Blessed Mary, ever virgin, and the third one for the faithful departed, and pray to almighty God also for me.
The ordained answer: Gladly.
The Last Gospel. The bishop having put aside crozier and miter goes to the gospel side of the altar and, together with the newly ordained priests, begins the Last Gospel.
Indulgences. On the day of a first Mass:
A plenary indulgence may be gained:
- by the newly ordained priest under the usual conditions.
- by the relatives of the priest within the third degree of consanguinity if they assist at the first Mass, receive the sacraments and pray for the intention of the Holy Father; one Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be is sufficient.
A partial indulgence of seven years may be gained by all the faithful who assist at the first Mass and pray for the intention of the Holy Father. (Raccolta, 629 and 684).