Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Ordination of a Bishop

I suppose some people might think I’m obsessed with the ordination of a new bishop for the Diocese of Baker. I am! I’m thinking this is not a common occurrence for anyone! How many times will I have the opportunity to witness the ordination of a new bishop for my own diocese?

Some of us have endured some trials over the last year, and we have been praying hard – not just for a new bishop, but for a wise and holy bishop who is true to the teachings of the Church, and who will recognize and act according to the mens of the Holy Father. You know: someone who is already a saint!

Okay, we know that’s not probable. Still, by all accounts, Bishop-Elect Fr. Liam Cary is at least a good candidate! I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, as well as my heartfelt prayers as he turns a new page of his priestly history.  

So, due to my obsession, I’ve been examining the Rite of Ordination of a bishop as described in The Roman Pontifical, second typical edition (all of the quotes below are from that document)…because that’s another obsession I have: liturgy by the book.

The Roman Pontifical opens with a description of sacred ordination:

1          Through sacred Ordination certain of the Christian faithful are appointed in the name of Christ and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to shepherd the Church with the word and grace of God.[1]
You see, it’s special, this ordination. Only certain of the faithful may receive this gift…only certain men…only certain priests.
3          “Signed with the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders,”[2] Bishops, “through the Holy Spirit who has been given them” at Ordination, “have been made true and authentic teachers of the faith, high priests, and shepherds.”[3] As such they preside over the Lord’s flock in the person of Christ the Head.
A bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament. Priests, the Pontifical tells us, do not possess the fullness of the high priesthood; they are dependent on the bishops for the exercise of their power. This is not to diminish the importance of the order of the priesthood; but thinking about it this way helps make clear to me the increased responsibilities of the bishop.  
6          Sacred Ordination is conferred by the Bishop’s laying on of hands and the Prayer of Ordination by which the Bishop blesses God and calls upon the gift of the Holy Spirit for the fulfillment of ministry.[4] For from tradition…it is clear that the laying on of hands and the Prayer of Ordination bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit and impress a sacred character in such a way that Bishops, priests, and deacons are, in their respective ways, conformed to Christ.[5]
As I read, it’s beginning to dawn on me, just how sacred and important this ordination of a bishop really is. The man is already a priest – “consecrated to preach the Gospel, to shepherd the faithful, and to celebrate divine worship” – and this new ordination lifts him to a higher level. He will be responsible for a much larger flock than the pastor of a parish – and he must also be a father to his priests. Since he will have greater duties and responsibilities, he needs greater divine gifts in order to meet them. A man could not meet these requirements of the office of bishop on his own power.
Next, the Pontifical considers “the structure of the celebration”:
7          The laying on of hands and the Prayer of Ordination make up the essential element of every Ordination; the prayer of blessing and invocation specifies the signification of the laying on of hands. Accordingly, since these rites are the center of an Ordination, their meaning should be instilled through catechesis and brought out clearly through the celebration itself.
While the laying on of hands is taking place the faithful should pray silently. They take part in the Prayer of Ordination by listening to it and by affirming and concluding it through their final acclamation.
Call me weird (I’ve been called worse), but I love reading documents like this one: it lays out the elements of the celebration, their significance, and the manner in which they are all to be accomplished and integrated. As I read through it, I start imagining how the celebration actually looks, and how it is meant to impact us spiritually. I start to anticipate a reverent liturgy that will be filled with the majesty of God’s power and grace. I imagine the effect on the candidate receiving the sacrament, as he is filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit. I start to think about the chants for the Mass…
[Eeerrch. Sound track screeches to a halt.] At that point, harsh reality breaks through. All of a sudden I can hear the bad music (even if performed well): a mish-mash of musical styles; guitars, tambourines, and saxophones; “contemporary” songs with watered-down theology…
Then the pessimist in me takes over, and I cringe as I anticipate some added elements that are not called for in the rubrics (like Native American blessings of water, or Aztec dancers in traditional native dress, or liturgical dancers with bowls of incense…).
And I weep, because it always seems to work out this way... when it could be so beautiful.
It could be so…dare I say it?...manly.

Let’s pray that we are NOT left with the sense of having been to the victory party of a candidate who just won a secular election, and who is giving his acceptance speech.
Let’s pray that we come away from this ordination with the sense that we’ve been to a ceremony with the worship of God at its center.
Let’s pray that the ordination of the next bishop of the Diocese of Baker observes all of the liturgical rubrics that will help us to understand the solemnity of the occasion and the dignity of the office.
Let’s pray that we are left with a sense of awe and reverence, of humility and hope.

[1] Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, no. 11.
[2] Ibid., no. 26.
[3] Vatican Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, Christus Dominus, no. 2.
[4] Cf. Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis: AAS 40 (1948), 5-7; Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani recognitio; Codex luris Canonici, can. 1009, §2.
[5] Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Pontificalis Romani recognitio.

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