Ceremonies of Ordination
From the beginning the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate were conferred
with special rites and ceremonies. Though in the course of time there was
considerable development and diversity in different parts of the Church, the
imposition of hands and prayer were always and universally employed and date
from Apostolic times (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). In
the early Roman Church these sacred orders were conferred amid a great
concourse of clergy and people at a solemn station. The candidates, who had
been previously presented to the people, were summoned by name at the
beginning of the solemn Mass. They were placed in a conspicuous position,
and anyone objecting to a candidate was called upon to state his objections
without fear. Silence was regarded as approval. Shortly before the Gospel,
after the candidates were presented to the pope, the entire congregation was
invited to prayer. All prostrating, the litanies were recited, the pope
then imposed his hands upon the head of each candidate and recited the
Collect with a prayer of consecration corresponding to the order conferred.
The Gallican Rite was somewhat more elaborate. Besides the ceremonies used
in the Roman Church, the people approving the candidates by acclamation, the
hands of the deacon and the head and hands of priests and bishops were
anointed with the sign of the Cross. After the seventh century the
tradition of the instruments of office was added, alb and stole to the
deacon, stole and planeta to the priest, ring and staff to the bishop. In
the Eastern Church, after the presentation of the candidate to the
congregation and their shout of approval, “He is worthy”, the bishop
imposed his hands upon the candidate and said the consecrating prayer.
We now give a short description of the ordination rite for priests as found
in the present Roman Pontifical. All the candidates should present
themselves in the church with tonsure and in clerical dress, carrying the
vestments of the order to which they are to be raised, and lighted candles.
They are all summoned by name, each candidate answering “Adsum”. When a
general ordination takes place the tonsure is given after the Introit or
Kyrie, the minor orders after the Gloria, subdiaconate after the Collect,
the diaconate after the Epistle, priesthood after Alleluia and Tract. After
the Tract of the Mass the archdeacon summons all who are to receive the
priesthood. The candidates, vested in amice, alb, girdle, stole, and
maniple, with folded chasuble on left arm and a candle in their right hand,
go forward and kneel around the bishop. The latter inquires of the
archdeacon, who is here the representative of the Church as it were,
whether the candidates are worthy to be admitted to the priesthood. The
archdeacon answers in the affirmative and his testimony represents the
testimony of fitness given in ancient times by the clergy and people.
The bishop, then charging the congregation and insisting upon the reasons
why “the Fathers decreed that the people also should be consulted”, asks
that, if anyone has anything to say to the prejudice of the candidates, he
should come forward and state it.
The bishop then instructs and admonishes the candidates as to the duties of
their new office. He kneels down in front of the altar; the ordinandi lay
themselves prostrate on the carpet, and the Litany of the Saints is chanted
or recited. On the conclusion of the Litany, all arise, the candidates come
forward, and kneel in pairs before the bishop while he lays both hands on
the head of each candidate in silence. The same is done by all priests who
are present. Whilst bishop and priests keep their right hands extended, the
former alone recites a prayer, inviting all to pray to God for a blessing on
the candidates. After this follows the Collect and then the bishop says the
Preface, towards the end of which occurs the prayer, “Grant, we beseech Thee
etc.” The bishop then with appropriate formulæ crosses the stole over the
breast of each one and vests him with the chasuble. This is arranged to
hang down in front but is folded behind. Though there is no mention of the
stole in many of the most ancient Pontificals, there can be no doubt of its
antiquity. The vesting with the chasuble is also very ancient and found
already in Mabillon “Ord. VIII and IX.” Afterwards the bishop recites a
prayer calling down God’s blessing on the newly-ordained. He then intones
the “Veni Creator”, and whilst it is being sung by the choir he anoints the
hands of each with the oil of catechumens.
In England the head also was anointed in ancient times. The anointing of
the hands, which in ancient times was done with chrism, or oil and chrism,
was not used by the Roman Church, said Nicholas I (A.D. 864), though it is
generally found in all ancient ordinals. It probably became a general
practice in the ninth century and seems to have been derived from the
British Church (Haddan and Stubbs, “Councils and Eccl. Documents”, I, 141).
The bishop then hands to each the chalice, containing wine and water, with a
paten and a host upon it. This rite, with its corresponding formula, which
as Hugo of St. Victor says ("Sacr.", III, xii), signifies the power which
has already been received, is not found in the oldest rituals and probably
dates back not earlier than the ninth or tenth century. When the bishop has
finished the Offertory of the Mass, he seats himself before the middle of
the altar and each of those ordained make an offering to him of a lighted
candle. The newly-ordained priests then repeat the Mass with him, all
saying the words of consecration simultaneously. Before the Communion the
bishop gives the kiss of peace to one of the newly-ordained. After the
Communion the priests again approach the bishop and say the Apostle’s Creed.
The bishop laying his hands upon each says: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,
whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them; and whose sins you
shall retain, they are retained.” This imposition of hands was introduced
in the thirteenth century. The chasuble is then folded, the newly-ordained
make a promise of obedience and having received the kiss of peace, return to
Written by Hubert Ahaus. Transcribed by Robert B. Olson. Offered to
Almighty God for the priests and brothers of the Legionaries of Christ and
all the men ordained into the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911.
New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911.
Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur.
+John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York