Eventful Weekend – Promises, Ordination, Blessings and Masses

We’re back from Washington, D.C. and I don’t know that there’s any way I can properly capture the experience for you. It was, in truth, a little overwhelming. Perhaps the best thing to do is to share little slices of what happened to give you a sense of what it was like.

40441562_10215510457571119_4307391833228443648_n.jpg
Fr. Eric Andrews, president of the Paulists, receiving Evan’s final promises.

Final Promises

Friday evening was the Promises Mass for the Paulist community. At present, the Paulist seminary occupies the top floor of St. Joseph’s seminary. The main chapel is a beautiful, compact space with a soaring ceiling and a sanctuary space surrounded by marble. The Mass was a celebration of the community during which two novices made their first promises, the continuing students renewed their promises for the coming year and Evan made his final, lifetime commitment to the community.

The Mass was lovely, with Fr. Andrews hitting the right notes of service and devotion during difficult times.  The voices of the congregation, led by seminarian and cantor Richard Whitney, filled the worship space giving the occasion a sense of unity.

When it came time to make his commitment, Evan spoke clearly and firmly. I don’t think I was prepared for the emotional impact of the moment. I keep rewriting this paragraph over and over trying to find the words to capture the experience and I just can’t seem to manage. (Which doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of this post as there are bigger things coming!)

After the Mass there was a reception for everyone in attendance. Kit and I had some time to meet and mingle with the Paulist community. Over the past five years we’ve gotten quite close with several of the Paulist priests and others who are associated with the community. (Shout out to the Paul and the media team who were providing great coverage for the event.) We also met the parents of a young man who made his first promises. It was great talking to them and reflecting on our own experience of having a son in seminary.

Deaconate Ordination

0901180931.jpg
Crypt Church at the Basilica.

After Final Promises, the next step on the road to the priesthood is ordination as a transitional deacon. Bishop Roy E. Campbell presided over the Mass in the Crypt church in the basement of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Evan was one of four men ordained that morning. The others represented other orders, but all of them had family there to support them. We have been to a deaconate ordination once before–for a friend who was entering the permanent deaconate in Salt Lake–but it is very different when it is your own child.

IMG_20180901_104249316
Evan laying prostrate before the altar.

With an acapella choir of Franciscans for accompaniment, we spent about two hours in the solemn observance of the Mass and ordination. As has been the case in other ordinations, the most powerful moment came when the candidates lay prostrate on the floor while the choir and congregation chanted the Litany of the Saints. It was a few minutes of heaven on earth as we asked the Universal Church to pray for the men as they moved forward in their formation as priests.

A bit later in the Mass Evan was vested in his stole and dalmatic (the traditional vestments of the deacon) by his friend and inspiration Fr. Michael Hennessey C.S.P.

IMG_20180901_110222569.jpg
Ian assisting in bringing forward the gifts during the ordination Mass.

Ian, Evan’s older brother, was given the opportunity to bring forward the gifts during the Mass.

It was a timeless sort of experience. We were participating in a centuries-old ritual as our son joined an organization which is two millennia old. The cool perpetual twilight of the Crypt church, the smell of the incense, the plain chant and the ancient prayers and formulas made this a moment out-of-time; at once ephemeral and eternal. We were able to be fully present as the Mass unfolded and, at the same time, it seemed to end too soon.

Kit and I wanted to be completely present to the Mass, so we didn’t take any pictures. We’re grateful to Kit’s sister Beth and to the Paulist media team for sharing the pictures they took.

First Blessings

As a consequence of their ordination, deacons are able to impart blessings on objects and people. Some time ago Kit and I realized that we didn’t actually have a crucifix in our home. We decided we’d buy one and ask Evan to bless it for us. We found a San Damiano crucifix at the Basilica gift shop. We took it (along with a few other religious items we picked up) to the seminary after the ordination. Evan put on a stole and blessed everything by following a rubric from a book of blessings he received as an ordination gift.

This was, for me, a very surreal moment. I have seen hundreds of objects blessed. I have a modest understanding of the theology involved. But, to see my own son performing the ritual was … odd. It reinforced the fact that by virtue of ordination he has been ontologically changed. Again, words fail me in conveying exactly how it felt.

IMG_2198.jpgFirst Mass

The final event of the weekend was the first Mass at which Evan served as a deacon. He’s been assigned to work at St. Elizabeth’s parish in Rockville, Maryland. To this point, he’s mostly worked with the young adults and RCIA groups. As a deacon, he’ll be spending a lot more time in the sanctuary. We were able to attend Mass with him before we had to catch our flight home.

The Paulists brought along the students and novices and some of the priests who had come for the ordination. We watched as the familiar beats of the Mass moved along, but with a new joy as we saw our son performing the actions of a deacon. This rendered the ordinary extraordinary in every sense of the word.

For Kit and I, the overwhelming response is gratitude to a God who has invited us to a ringside seat as our son cooperates with grace. It is humbling and beautiful to witness. We are also grateful for the many people who have prayed for Evan and for us through this experience. May God richly bless you as he has blessed us.

–Dad

Advertisements

Next Steps – Final Promises and Deaconate Ordination

21271175_1399737096761469_3696261805606950579_n
Paulist seminarians (now priests) Ryan Casey and Mike Hennessy lie prostrate before the altar during the chanting of the Litany of the Saints at their ordination as transitional deacons in 2017.

As we’ve noted elsewhere, one of the challenges involved in blogging about the seminary experience is that there’s a lot to write about at the beginning, not much in the middle, and then a whole lot to write about at the end.

Evan is entering his last year of formation and we find ourselves approaching a couple of important milestones. Although the process of priestly formation no longer includes the full formality of all of the minor orders, there are still several important milestones along the way. Those who are members of a society of apostolic life must make final promises and all who are headed toward priesthood must be ordained as transitional deacons.

God willing, this coming Labor Day weekend Evan will make his final promises and be ordained a transitional deacon. To help understand these two important events, it we’ll take a look back to last year’s final promises and deaconate ordinations with Ryan Casey and Mike Hennessy.

Final promises Mass is the time when a seminarian (who has been making annual promises) makes a final, life-long commitment to the Paulists. You might be wondering why “promises” and not “vows”. As the Wikipedia explains:

The Paulists are a society of apostolic life, meaning they do not make religious vows; rather, by means of promises they are supposed to pursue their mission through living in community.

This is an important moment in the life of a Paulist. It was a moving moment for both Mike and Ryan:

Like Ryan, Mike Hennessy was also touched by being surrounded by brother priests. The most moving moment for him was “when the other Paulists who have already made their final promises came up and we were all together — surrounded each other.”

“They’ve all been where I’ve been,” Mike said. “And, you know, they have years of experience and ups and downs and struggles and joys that I’ll be able to, God willing, share in now myself.”

Fr. Eric Andrews presided over the Mass and carried on a Paulist tradition.

Friday’s celebration also included a traditional moment of levity when Fr. Eric gave Ryan and Mike each a symbolic penny in payment for a lifetime of ministry work. The men also were given the traditional Paulist Mission Cross, dark wood crucifixes that symbolize the community’s mission.

“For some, the cross is foolishness, for others a stumbling block,” Fr. Eric prayed during the blessing of the mission crosses. “But for those who believe, it is the Power of Christ and the Wisdom of God.”

The day after final promises, Ryan and Mike were ordained as transitional deacons.

Ryan and Mike committed to several promises including obedience. One of the most moving points of ordination masses is the moment when the ordinands lie prostrate in front of the altar and the congregation sings the Litany of the Saints.

As part of [the ordination] liturgy, Ryan and Mike were publicly vested in new garments to indicate their new status, and they immediately took their place at the altar, and then, seated on either side of the bishop.

“These days after surgery you’re up and walking within hours,” Bishop Knestout said. “After ordination, you’re serving at the altar within minutes.”

Deacons, whether transitional or permanent, are ordained clergy. As a result, deacons are permitted to do a number of things which aren’t possible for lay people. They can:

  • preach during Mass
  • expose and repose the blessed sacrament for adoration
  • impart many types blessings
  • conduct Baptisms, weddings and funerals

Deacons may not:

  • celebrate Mass
  • hear confessions and grant absolution
  • perform the anointing of the sick
  • ordain anyone

There are some people who think of a deacon as a sort of “lite priest,” but that misses the point. The role of the ordained deacon is different from and complimentary to the roles of other ordained clergy. (For more information on the deaconate in the U.S. check out the resources available from the USCCB.)

By the way, the passage through the transitional deaconate isn’t just an idea that someone came up with to mark the time. It is a requirement of the law of the church. Canon law requires that a man entering the priesthood must be a transitional deacon for at least six months before being ordained as a priest.

We are looking forward to being with Evan and our extended Paulist family in D.C. in a few weeks. We hope to celebrate not only Evan’s milestone, but also the dedication and faith of all the in the Paulist community.

The deaconate ordination is a time or great joy for the community and the families of those involved. To give you a taste of that, I’ll leave you with a some sound clips from Ryan and Michael’s families.

— Dad