Final Steps before Ordination
Once a trainee priest has undertaken five years of formation in seminary, and also has spent time working in pastoral situations, an important decision has to be made. This is the decision as to whether that person should now be ordained. A number of important considerations need to be taken into account such as how the individual has coped during formation, how he relates to the people he will be called to serve, can he adequately fulfil the demands of life as a priest, and most importantly, does this man really have a good sense of being called by God to serve as a priest?
At this stage an important point has been reached. The candidate has spent a number of years reflecting on his call, and he will also have had feedback during this time from those involved with his formation. He should therefore have developed a good understanding of what it will be like to be a priest. The final decision as to whether he will be ordained is not just a personal one for the man himself. Given that a priest is called to serve the Church community, it is the local bishop who makes the final decision together with the candidate. The bishop will take into account the views of others, especially those directly involved with his formation.
If the candidate wishes to proceed to ordination, at this stage he makes a formal application to his bishop. Note that throughout the years of formation the candidate is discerning his vocation - if he felt at any time that priesthood was not his true vocation then he could have left the seminary without further obligation. He must be free in his vocational choices and no pressure would have been put on him. Once he has been ordained however, there is no turning back; the obligations of ordained ministry are part of his life.
There are a number of steps throughout priestly formation that direct the path to ordination. During time in seminary you would be formally accepted as a candidate and would also be instituted into the ministries of acolyte and reader. One final step before becoming a priest is ordination as a deacon. The deaconate is a ordained ministry in its own right, which involves preaching the gospel and also assisting at the altar. A deacon has the authority to baptise and to marry, but he cannot preside like a priest at Mass or hear confessions. Once you become a deacon the obligations of celibacy, obedience and regularly praying the Divine Office become part of your life.
Normally you would be a deacon for six months to a year, and then the bishop would ordain you as priest. The ordination of a priest is an important day in the life of the Church community and the ceremony would normally be attended by many people including family, friends and other priests.
The rite of ordination has a number of important parts to it. Each part is like a little ceremony within the whole service, which is always a Mass with a bishop presiding. The parts of the rite of ordination are as follows:
The people of God affirm that you have been found worthy of ordination, and your Bishop solemnly chooses you to be a priest. You affirm your resolve to undertake the priestly ministry, and promise continued respect and obedience to your Bishop and his successors.
Then you prostrate yourself on the floor as a sign that you are giving your 'all' to the Lord. The people ask the saints to pray for you.
Your Bishops lays his hands on your head in silence, an ancient symbol of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power and love, of authority and of service. All the other priests present come forward, silently laying their hands upon you. The Bishop now says the solemn prayer of consecration asking God to grant you the dignity of the priesthood and to renew his Spirit of holiness in your heart. You are now a priest, a co-worker with your Bishop and your brother priests. The laying-on of hands by the Bishop puts you in touch with the ministers of the Church right back to the apostles themselves. You now share their special ministry, which is the ministry of Christ himself.
Next you are clothed in your priestly vestments, including a stole and chasuble .
The Bishop anoints your hands with the oil of Chrism, asking Jesus to preserve you to sanctify God's people and to offer sacrifice to God.
You are presented with the paten and chalice for the Eucharist, with the prayer that you will model your whole life on the mystery you will celebrate.
The Bishop and the other priests present give you the sign of peace, a gesture of welcome and of brotherly love.
Then for the first time you concelebrate the Eucharist with the Bishop and priests, now and for the rest of your life as priest of Jesus Christ.
Once you have been ordained, the bishop will normally appoint you to your first parish, where you will minister amongst the people.
Priestly formation in seminary has led the new priest to this point, but it does not end here. Formation continues for the rest of priestly life and ministry, as Jesus himself seeks to deepen and enrich service of him and his flock.