Ordenación sacerdotal

Preparing for the Ordination

An ordination is a significant event not only for the one being ordained but also for the entire Church. The ritual is imbued with spiritual meaning, and is a worthy subject for reflection. I hope these short letters may draw you into this sacrament more fully.

  • Intro
  • Litany of the Saints
  • Promises
  • Laying-on of Hands
  • Prayer of Ordination
  • Anointing of hands

From: "Rev. Mr. Christopher Gray" <christopher@ceegee.org>
Subject: 75 Days To Go
Date: April 15, 2013 9:30:46 AM GMT+02:00


I hope this message finds you well! My priestly ordination is now about ten weeks away. It will be a very special moment—but not just for me. It will be an occasion for everyone present, and I'd like to offer some tips along the way on how to prepare well for it. The ritual of the ordination and the associated traditions are very rich I hope to send along some minor reflections on them as the date approaches, now faster than ever.

To begin, here's a PDF of the pages from the ritual book that concerns the ordination itself. Hopefully this won't be too overwhelming! There are two sections, one for the ordination of priests (plural) and one for the ordination of a single priest (our situation); I include them both because some references are made back and forth. The texts in black are those which are read aloud during the rite, those in gray (in red in the real book) are the directions (rubrics). In particular, you may find the Introduction helpful (sections 101 and those following), as well as the sample homily at section 151 (and, of course, everything else!).

May this eastertide be full of blessings for you.

In Christ,

Deacon Christopher

From: "Rev. Mr. Christopher Gray" <christopher@ceegee.org>
Subject: Two Months From Now
Date: April 29, 2013 9:40:49 AM GMT+02:00


My priestly ordination is now only two months away! Simultaneously, it feels both very near and far off—right now I feel like it's just a couple days away. Every day I practice Mass in English, Spanish, Latin, and Italian, review the the rites for the sacraments of Baptism, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick, recall the rituals for Marriages and Funerals... I am immersing myself in the life of the priest. Most importantly, I am committed to prayer and to being especially open to the graces the Lord has prepared for me in these days leading up to my ordination.

As we prepare for the ordination, I offer another short reflection on the Rite of Ordination, this time on one of the most iconic moments of any ordination: the invocation of the saints that accompanies the prostration of the ones to be ordained. In his book Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI (writing as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger before his election as pope) offers these words in the chapter dedicated to “The Body and the Liturgy”:

In the Church's Liturgy today, prostration appears on two occasions: on Good Friday and at ordinations. ... At ordinations prostration comes from the awareness of our absolute incapacity, by our own powers, to take on the priestly mission of Jesus Christ, to speak with His “I.” While the ordinands are lying on the ground, the whole congregation sings the Litany of the Saints. I shall never forget lying on the ground at the time of my own priestly and episcopal ordination. When I was ordained bishop, my intense feeling of inadequacy, incapacity, in the face of the greatness of the task was even stronger than at my priestly ordination. The fact that the praying Church was calling upon all the saints, that the prayer of the Church really was enveloping and embracing me, was a wonderful consolation. In my incapacity, which had to be expressed in the bodily posture of prostration, this prayer, this presence of all the saints, of the living and the dead, was a wonderful strength — it was the only thing that could, as it were, lift me up. Only the presence of the saints with me made possible the path that lay before me.

The prostration is a striking symbol. The Litany of the Saints also has a great deal of meaning; not only are the saints invoked and prayers are requested of them, their spiritual presence is acknowledged in the words of the invocation. The whole Church—in heaven, on earth—is at prayer in the sacred liturgy, and at ordinations in particular the unity of the Church is expressed in the chant by those present bodily calling upon those present spiritually. Moreover, this chant, analyzed musically, is the same chant that many of the saints would have known and sung when they called upon the saints as we do.

Recognizing their humility, the ones to be ordained are presented to God by the whole Church. In this special prayer—which is particularly easy for the ordinand who only needs to lay down—those to be ordained are united in prayer with the whole Church “that God the all-powerful Father will pour out abundantly the gifts of heaven on these, his servants, whom he has chosen for the office priest.” After the litany, the ordaining prelate finishes the prayer by calling on “the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the power of priestly grace, that those whom in the sight of your [God's] mercy we offer to be consecrated, may be surrounded by your rich and unfailing gifts.” The prayerful motion here is of the whole Church united and is of enormous momentum. Thanks be to God!

In Christ,

Deacon Christopher

From: "Rev. Mr. Christopher Gray" <christopher@ceegee.org>
Subject: Days, 47!
Date: May 13, 2013 5:17:20 PM GMT+02:00


In the last few days the first man from my class left the North American College for good to return to America to begin his priestly ministry (soon to be Fr. Brandon Macadaeg of Oakland, Calif.) and my first classmate was ordained a priest (Fr. Michael Casey of Hartford, Conn.--he was ordained at the same time, different place, my nephew Milo received his first Communion!); also, I've just moved into my new room at the NAC, now on the hallway called "First Rectory," the hallway on the first floor reserved for student priests. The time is getting very quick now--by the end of the month, about half of my class will be ordained. One by one my friends, these men with whom I've shared my life since July 19, 2009, are going home to receive priestly ordination from their bishops, then either returning to complete their exams and get ready for the next academic year or permanently returning home to begin their first pastoral assignment as a priest. Thanks be to God!

This is the photo of my class, classmates I respect immensely, from dioceses all over the US and Australia too. Please pray for us!

One of the neat things about ordinations are the promises made by those to be ordained (see n. 124 in the ordination ritual):
• "to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank,"
• "to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely,"
• "to celebrate faithfully and reverently… the mysteries of Christ" (sacraments)
• "to implore… God's mercy upon the people"
• "to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest"

The candidate assents and gives himself freely with these promises to the sacred ministry of the priest. The promises most typically associated with priestly life, however, were made at the ordination to the diaconate:
• celibacy
• prayer, specifically the Divine Office
• obedience to the bishop and his successors

Celibacy, prayer, and obedience are foundational to the priestly life. Here are some excerpts from reflections I wrote last year on these three promises:

On celibacy:
Without a deep love for the Lord, which is expressed in its most simple ways in fidelity to prayer, then not only celibacy but all aspects of priestly life lose the recourse to grace that this life needs. I love the Lord deeply; I love the People of God deeply. I thank God for the gift of my vocation, and out of love I am so happy to live this love through celibacy, which is not a celibacy-from in the sense of merely abstaining, but a celibacy-for, which is a sacrifice in Christ.

On prayer:
The Liturgy of the Hours was the foundation of my spiritual growth as I entered adulthood, and it is the framework even now of how I approach Scripture, which is the lifeblood of my relationship with Jesus Christ.

On obedience:
Christian obedience is the most critical action of the life that follows Christ. Likewise, priestly obedience is the most critical action of the life of the priest. Obedience is not merely a disposition of docility to the will of a superior, whether he be a bishop or brother priest, but a preferential option formed by charity and humility forged in Christ's example to the Church.

In the sacrament of Holy Orders, the grace and spiritual power are conferred for the discharge of duties in cooperation with Christ. Naturally, those who are to receive this grace must give an indication both of their readiness to accept this work as well as their desire to fulfill its obligations in perpetuity. This is the importance of the promises at ordination, and I joyfully look forward to taking five more promises June 29! See you there!

In Christ,

Deacon Christopher

From: "Rev. Mr. Christopher Gray" <christopher@ceegee.org>
Subject: A month away
Date: May 27, 2013 5:12:38 PM GMT+02:00


Happy Memorial Day! Here in Rome, of course, it's just another Monday—but as always here at the North American College we look forward to remembering our American holidays even if we can't observe them like at home. For those who know the tradition, for days like these we set up a small white table in our refectory with a single setting, a slice of lemon on the plate... A number of our men at the North American College have served in America's armed forces, and our community only benefits from their presence.

On Friday night I made some remarks on behalf of my class to the entire College at our Closing Banquet. For us, it's something like a valedictory address. Here's a recording, which I made at the request of my classmates who had already returned home for their own ordinations; my class already boasts of 18 priests, and that number will be growing steadily through June. Thanks be to God!

In the ritual for ordinations, one of the most important moments, done in silence, is the laying-on of hands (section 129 and on in the rite). Together with the prayer of ordination which follows, this is the moment when the ordination occurs—and this is the tradition of the Church since Apostolic times. This gesture, the imposition of hands, has a long history as being one of the most powerful actions of priestly ministry. Scripturally, we see Jacob the patriarch passing on his blessing and inheritance to his sons by placing his hands on their heads (Genesis 48:14), and so did Moses with Joshua (Numbers 27:18.23). There are several references in the Acts of the Apostles for examples of this in the early Church, as the Apostles gave the blessing of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized. Together with the bishop, all the clergy assembled impose their hands on those to be ordained, saying nothing—and this action is substantial for the sacramental reality of the ordination. The gesture signifies the special prayer that is occurring, which is the conferral of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the candidate for ordination. To say it differently, this is the moment when the Holy Spirit is most active in the ritual of ordination; at this point, it's all the work of the Spirit! This reminds us in an important way how it is not the priest working on his own that bears any importance in his sacramental ministry in the Church, but that he is blessed with special spiritual gifts and so cooperates with God for the sanctification of the world. As the ritual states at section 112, it is through this action and the prayer of ordination that the candidate becomes a priest—that's how important it is!

A little while after the hands are imposed on the head of the ordained, another gesture appears in the rite, the fraternal greeting between the newly-ordained and (especially) the priests of the diocese, of whom he is now a brother (see section 136 of the ritual). Receiving the embrace from the bishop is a sign of admittance into the sacred ministry; from the priests it is a sign of welcome into the ministry they all share with the bishop. More than that, recalling also that part of the priestly ministry by which the priest acts on behalf of the people, this greeting given to the newly ordained is not merely their own but also on behalf of all present, one family in Christ.

On a different note, I'm happy to tell you that through a special rescript of the Apostolic Penitentiary (the Vatican office that, among other things, is concerned with the granting of indulgences) anyone who attends any of my first several Masses may receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions: reception of Holy Communion, sacramental confession, prayer for the pope, and detachment from sin. An image of the document, as well as a translation, is attached.

We're now only a month away from ordination! Thank you all for your continued prayers, and I look forward to seeing you all very soon!

In Christ,

Deacon Christopher

From: "Rev. Mr. Christopher Gray" <christopher@ceegee.org>
Subject: Fewer than 10 days until I get home and 20 until ordination
Date: June 10, 2013 1:46:54 PM GMT+02:00


Time is flying! We're getting very close now to my ordination; on Wednesday of next week I return home to Salt Lake to make my final preparation for the ordination—and to finally serve as a deacon in my own diocese before the priestly ordination. As of this last weekend, more than half of the men in my class have been ordained priests; by the end of June there will only be two priestly ordinations left for members of the NAC class of 2013, both in July. Thanks be to God!

We have been so blessed by God—not merely for the opportunity to live and study in Rome or for all the many other good things we have received along the way, but for the gift of this vocation. There's no such thing as someone who is really worthy of Holy Orders, and we depend on the Lord's help entirely to be his ministers. Our preparation forms us into better cooperators with Christ, but in all things the glory that we might garner from this work is only His—just as any scorn we might merit tarnishes the office of His sacred ministry. While our formation prepares us for priestly life, it is only Christ who conforms us to be His priests, to carry out in sacred duty what is truly the work of God. This conformation occurs in a personal contact with Christ: this is the substance of the sacrament of Holy Orders. Through this personal conformation to Christ the priest as Christ confects the Eucharist, forgives sins, and opens to all the graces of the sacramental life of the Church with actions and words that are at the same time both Christ's and his own. Indeed, we have been blessed by God far beyond what we could have ever imagined.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the imposition of hands that occurs during the Ordination rite; following that part of the ritual, the bishop prays the prayer of ordination; these two things together form the necessary parts of the ordination. The prayer, the most substantial text in the ordination rite, is at section 131 (or section 159 when there is only one ordinandus) of the ritual book. It begins with an invocation to the Lord in the form of a thanksgiving recalling that the Lord is the source of human dignity, the administrator of all graces, the origin and destination of creation. It continues noting that the priesthood of Christ in the Church exists to form a priestly people, Christ's followers throughout the world. Calling to mind the sacred ministry that the Lord provided for His people Israel through Moses and the priests of the Old Testament, the prayer connects the priesthood and sacrifices to God that began in the tabernacle in the desert with the ministry of Christ and His apostles through the Holy Spirit. Acknowledging in prayer the need for more priests to carry on this work, the prayer arrives at its most important section.

The text that comes next is required for the validity of the ordination (as commented in the rite, section 112): "Grant, we pray, Almighty Father, to these, your servants, the dignity of the priesthood; renew deep within them the Spirit of holiness; may they henceforth possess this office which comes from you, O God, and is next in rank to the office of Bishop; and by the example of their manner of life, may they instill right conduct." While other sections of the prayer have been revised over the centuries—while keeping the structure and general contents—these words are essential and central to the ordination, in much the same way that at Mass the words "Take this, all of you, and eat of it/drink from it..." are necessary for the validity of the celebration of the Eucharist.

Three things are given to the ordinand with these words:

  • the dignity of the priesthood;
  • the renewal of the Spirit of holiness;
  • permanence of the priestly office.

There is also a fourth part granted to the priest, which is a formal declaration that by his life he instill right conduct in the lives of those entrusted to his pastoral care. Of course, this is a duty that belongs to all Christians; the priest, however, must live his life with even greater devotion and care, always remembering that he is entirely Christ's. In the original Latin of this text, which is very ancient, the word used for "manner of life" is "conversatio," literally "conversion"—through his own conversion, the priest must convert the lives of those around him. The priest must always preach, and most especially through the way he lives his life. The next section of the prayer describes the life the priest must live: "worthy" (in the Latin, "probus," meaning "good" or "honest"), "faithful," imploring the mercy of the Lord, for the sake of the conversion of the world. The priest is a man of conversion, both for himself and for the world. This conversion is oriented toward the life of perfection to which all Christians are called through Baptism... but that's a matter for another day!

Phew! That was a heavy one. Thanks for making it all the way to the end! There is a great richness in the rite, in the sacrament, in many things, and it takes a long time to appreciate it all. But do try—my ordination will be a grace-filled moment both for me and for you, and we indeed have much to be thankful for.

See you soon!

In Christ,

Deacon Christopher

From: "Rev. Mr. Christopher Gray" <christopher@ceegee.org>
Subject: Forget counting days… HOURS!
Date: June 25, 2013 7:23:43 AM MDT


Yesterday as I prayed in the Cathedral of the Madeleine (for me this is pretty cool as I spent most of the last year other places far away from home) I listened to the organist (Dr. O'Neill) prepare the final movement to Widor's 10th organ symphony, the "Roman Symphony." It's a sprawling tone poem of Easter week in Rome, based on two chants that are used throughout the liturgy of that week—in the Divine Office, at Mass, even at meals. One chant in particular, the Haec Dies, has pride of place during the octave of Easter; it sounds like birdsong, like spring, like life, like joy, like everything that is good and pleasing. The text is also very important:

This is the day
that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Throughout this movement all that can be heard is this theme: Haec dies, haec dies, haec dies... This is the day, this is the day, this is the day.

Usually I would include a sound sample with a musical exposition like this—but you don't need one; it will be the postlude for my ordination. On Saturday. This is the day.

[The music for the ordination, first Mass, and Vespers on Sunday evening will be extraordinary and full of meaning—I hope you enjoy it! Here's a page I made forever ago about the music.]

We're now just a couple days away from my ordination! Please continue to pray for me as we now arrive at this Pindaric moment. (Yeah, I used a fancy word—but it's really cool!)

I don't think I'll have another chance to share more of these reflections with you before the ordination. I've saved something very special for the end: the anointing of hands and the handing over of the bread and wine (sections 132 and on in the rite). This is the point when newly ordained wear the chasuble for the first time, the priestly garment that symbolizes the charity, the love, of Christ. Immediately afterward, the bishop anoints the hands of the new priest with chrism, the special perfumed holy oil that was consecrated at the chrism Mass that has the character of the overflowing anointing of the Holy Spirit. With this anointing, the hands of the priest are in a special way given to being Christ's hands, so that with these hands the priest may pray for the people, offer sacrifice for the people, and reconcile the people with God. Next, the bishop gives the new priest the offerings of the Mass, bread and wine, reminding the priest to "Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's cross." That which the priest does is sacrifice, that which the priest celebrates are the sacraments of the Church, and these only have merit through the Passion and Cross of Christ.

The rite of ordination having been completed, the newly ordained exchanges the sign of peace with the bishop and the other priests present, and the liturgy continues on in the normal course of the Mass. The new priest celebrates the Eucharist for the first time as one of the concelebrants, and so begins his priestly life and work of sanctifying the world. Thanks be to God!

Following the ordination, the best thing to ask of the newly ordained priest—something he is very happy to give—is a first blessing. On Saturday I think a kneeler will be set up to help those who want to kneel for this blessing, though it's certainly not necessary to do so. Simply ask for the first blessing, and receive the grace that accompanies the grace the priest has just received in his ordination. In some places it is customary at this point to kiss the palms of the priest's hands, though this is only a regional tradition and I don't know if it's the practice in Utah. That being said, the palms, having only just been anointed with chrism, have a particularly beautiful odor about them, and so you may enjoy doing that--but don't feel obligated. This is a particularly happy moment, and should be natural and easy for everyone Enjoy it!

Well, here we are! Please be assured of my prayers for your safe travel to Salt Lake; whether you must travel far or only a short distance, I pray that my ordination may be a grace-filled experience for you. Even if you cannot come, please continue to pray for me! Also, for those who will be away, a live web stream of the ordination can be viewable at Radio FECA. We're not so far away after all!

See you soon!

In Christ,

Deacon Christopher

PS The photo below is from the future (but sometimes the future is now...)—it's the weekly schedule board from the Cathedral rectory, ready to go for Saturday and afterward. This is getting real!

All ready to go!


Sit nomen Domini benedictum in sæcula!