1858, 1960, 2021: Tales of Small Episcopal Ordinations

Monday January 25, 2021, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, apostle will be a special day in the Archdiocese of Toronto. No, the Pope is not coming to Toronto. There will be no members of the Knights of Columbus with their iconic swords forming an honour guard. No, there will not be many priests of the Archdiocese gathering at the Cathedral. However, some ‘successors of the apostles’ will be present. And yes, a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto will be ordained a bishop and become a ‘successor of the apostles’ through the laying on of hands. This day will be a ten-person episcopal ordination at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica for the Most Reverend, Ivan Camilleri. Nevertheless, this will just be one of many signs that Christ, the “Chief Shepherd” was, is, and will continue to be present among His people.

Some readers residing outside of the Archdiocese of Toronto may be wondering, “What’s with these drastic measures. Ten people at an Episcopal Ordination?” The answer is simple – it could be larger, but like many events in North America, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. Toronto is still in its second lockdown that has been in place since the end of November, right before Advent.

Often episcopal ordinations, like priestly ordination and diaconal ordinations are great celebrations, and more visibly, involve liturgies of pomp and circumstance, not to glorify the individual being ordained to a certain order, but emphasizes the grandeur of these celebrations emphasizes that importance of what is about to take place. The Sacrament of Holy Orders changes the individual receiving the sacrament. Holy Orders puts on the individual a mark that can never be taken away. We see within the sacrament, the work of God within the Church through His ordained ministers. Ultimately, we come to the celebrations, like we should in any celebration of the Eucharist in a spirit of thanksgiving, which is the definition of Eucharist. Thus, the grandeur of these liturgies, more so at an episcopal ordination, from its outward signs, the presence of concelebrating bishops, concelebrating priests, the presence of the faithful are beautiful indeed. However, they are not the essential part of the sacrament.

The episcopal ordination of Bishop Camilleri, though it will be very limited in number of people present, I think probably the smallest in North American Catholic History will not be stripped of its sacramental nature. Bishop Ivan will still be ordained a bishop, he will have in himself the fullness of the priesthood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

While it may sound pitiful to have only an ordination with only ten-people present in the Cathedral, Bishop Camilleri’s ordination will not be the smallest episcopal ordination in Church history. A story that comes to mind is the ordination of “giám mục mũ giấy, gậy tre” (bishop of paper mitre and bamboo crozier) in the history of the Church in Vietnam. While Bishop Camilleri’s ordination will have ten people present (including Bishop Camilleri), the ordination of the “bishop of paper mitre and bamboo crozier” had only four people (including the ordinand) present. This episcopal ordination took place in secret in Bùi Chu (North Vietnam), in the dark of night in a parishioner’s home between 25-26 of June, 1858. The ordinand at the ordination rite was given a paper mitre with a bamboo crozier – which from what I have read, rather, a crozier of twisted hay covered with some lustrous material. Overall, it was an ordination with the bare-essentials. This was the ordination of St. Valentino Berrio Ochoa Vinh, who was canonized alongside with 116 other martyrs in 1988. This episcopal ordination was secretive in nature due to the harsh persecution of Christians that occurred during this time in Vietnam.

Fast forward to 1960, again, in the boundaries of the same diocese of Bùi Chu, due to the political state and the war in Vietnam, another small episcopal ordination took place, this time for the ordination of the Most Reverend Joseph Maria Tĩnh Năng Phạm. While this time with dignified mitre and crozier, and with a server and assistant (or MC) for the ordinand, similar to St. Valentino’s ordination that took place over 100-years earlier, Bishop Tĩnh’s ordination took place in the darkness of the night. It is said that the bishop himself had to ride a bicycle and travel by boat at night to reach the episcopal palace in which the ordination was to take place. Different than St. Valentino’s ordination, Bishop Tĩnh brought with him a small cake which he shared in celebration, with those present after the ordination.

Therefore, Bishop Camilleri’s ordination on Monday while unusual for many today – the fact that there will be no grandeur pomp and circumstance – especially in these modern times, is not something unusual in the history of the Church due to circumstances of a specific time such as persecution, war, or now, the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even without the exterior solemnity of the big crowds, and loud applause after the Papal Bull is read, many concelebrants… the ordination still goes on, Christ still works in His Church, and that even in the midst of all the ups and downs of this world, God still grants us shepherds, like Bishop Ivan, according to God’s own heart (cf. Jeremiah 3:15).

Thankfully, in these modern times, unlike the episcopal ordinations of St. Valentino and Bishop Tĩnh, we can follow the episcopal ceremony via livestream at https://www.stmichaelscathedral.com/live/ on Monday January 25, 2021 at 2:00pm EST. More importantly, we join the Most Reverend Ivan Camilleri in prayer and thanksgiving to God as he undertakes this new office.  

Congratulations Bishop Ivan Camilleri!
Ad multos annos!


For more information on the story of these secret ordinations in north Vietnam, visit: http://gpbuichu.org/news/Giao-Si/Le-tan-phong-giam-muc-chi-co-4-nguoi-1924.html


About Vincent Pham

Vincent is a humanities student of the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science. He hopes to pursue a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy.
This entry was posted in Catholic Reflection, Catholicism, Christian and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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