On Saturday March 14, 2022, the Archdiocese of Toronto celebrated the ordination of four new priests for the Archdiocese of Toronto at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. I have attended a number of priestly ordinations, each time I am reminded of what St. John Vianney has said, “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.“ And I am reminded of this fact every time I hear and struck by what the presider says in the preface, “As they give up their lives for you and for the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they strive to be conformed to the image of Christ himself and offer you a constant witness of faith and love.“ That is, it seems, the very essence of the priesthood, to be a reflection of the image of Christ by virtue of their lives and I pray that everyday for our priests.
I share here a journal entry that I wrote at the start of July 2020, shortly after I partook in the Ordination of seven priests. This ordination left a special mark on me, because unlike the other annual priestly ordinations I attended in the Archdiocese of Toronto, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this one was celebrated in late June, just shortly after some lockdown restrictions were lifted, and churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto were opened for some months. Due to limited attendance, as part-time Sacristan at St, Michael’s Cathedral Basilica at the time, I had the honor of being able to serve at this ordination. It was also at this ordination that I was able to witness at close-range, the symbolism, actions and external signs of the Ordination rite very clearly.
“The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.” (St. John Vianney)
Many emotions ran through me on June 27, 2020 as I participated in the ordination of eight men to the Order of the Presbyterate through the imposition of hands by Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto. It was my third priestly ordination I ever attended and probably the first one I actively participated in as sacristan and server for the Mass.
Often, an Archdiocesan Ordination would mean a packed Cathedral with “pomp and circumstance”, especially if it was a large ordinandi class like this year. Unfortunately, as COVID-19 swept through the world, that typical ordination was not possible. Originally planned for mid-May 2020, the ordination was postponed until June 27, 2020 – eight deacons awaiting ordination.
How that ordination unfolded was unusual, but understandable considering the circumstances: a sparse Cathedral with people physically distant, concelebrating priests sitting on the sides of the Cathedral also observing social distancing, ordinands seated and stood stationary throughout practically the whole Mass, small choir, no incense, no assisting deacons… Yet, even with the unusual setting, this ordination was not deprived of any solemnity.
While I have been to ordinations before, I seemed to be in a much more prayerful mode as I carefully observed at close range all the parts of the ordination, from the calling of the candidates, the Archbishop’s homily, the priestly promises, the promise of obedience, the Litany of Saints with prostration of the candidates, the laying on of hands, the prayer of consecration and the external signs of priesthood which included the vesting in stole and chasuble of the newly ordained and the presentation of the chalice and paten containing bread and wine.
Then, the Liturgy of the Eucharist began in the usual manner and the newly ordained were prepared to concelebrate their first Mass. When it came to the Communion Rite, I observed the newly ordained very carefully as for the first time, they approached the altar to consume the host themselves (not through the hands of a minister) and consume the Precious Blood and each of them purified their own chalice.
At the end of Mass, as “O God Beyond All Praising” was sung, the small crowd gave a loud applause congratulating the newly ordained. After the Mass, all eight priests were lined up in front of the sanctuary to offer their first blessings. It was the first time I ever got eight blessings in a row!
I felt truly moved during that ordination, and it costed me some wet eyes from some tears of joy and awe of beauty. Sometimes, simplicity really moves you and I know, the journey for so many people during these times have been very difficult both physically and spiritually. Yet, to see priests being ordained at this point in time assured me: God can do and work through everything. Even during these times, there are heroic people answering the vocation that God has instilled in them.
On a more personal note, this ordination really struck me in the sense that the desire to become a priest has come up more frequently than before. Yes, I do have fears of the priesthood and fears with other possible vocations in my life. However, just a couple days after the ordination, I picked up a book on my shelf which I have failed to spend time reading, To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide to Discerning Diocesan Prieshood by Fr. Brett Brannen1 and I learned that when God gives you a vocation, then he will give you the grace to do it and I add, “to do it well.” I just felt that God is really working in my life.
I honestly don’t know for certain what God’s vocation is for me is for the future. I am still discerning. However, what I know is that while I discern my secondary vocation, God is calling all of us including ourselves to the vocation of holiness, to be saints in our everyday life and I see that God has given me countless means to do so.
- As of the posting of this journal entry nearly two years since the ordination on June 27, 2020, I am re-reading “To Save a Thousand Souls.” It is truly an inspirational, helpful and eye-opening book. Thank you Fr. Brannen for writing this guide for Catholic men discerning the priesthood.