The Mundelein faculty and staff take great satisfaction in seeing our seminarians being ordained to the priesthood. It is fulfilling because it shows the purpose of all of our work. If you have never been to a priestly ordination, I encourage you to go. It is one of the most beautiful moments in the life of the Church. Watching this year’s fourteen men of the Archdiocese of Chicago give themselves entirely over to God and the Church to serve as priests is just as touching as a spiritually-aware wedding. Not only is it like a wedding but it has a spousal dimension that is a crucial aspect of the priesthood.
Thinking about the Ordination in spousal terms brought to mind Francis Cardinal George’s in memoriam card. On that card a crucified Christ is leaning towards what seems to be his Mother. Likewise, his Mother is leaning towards Her Son with her head resting on his breast like the Apostle John at the Last Supper. Blood and Water flow out from the pierced side of Christ, pouring into the chalice held by his Mother. I do not know exactly why this image came to me during the priestly ordination but I can only surmise that the image of Christ completely giving himself to His Bride, the Church (Mary, the Mother of Christ, who is the type or figure of the Church), was actually happening in these men wholly giving themselves to the Church to serve her like a Bride, giving her the Body and Blood of Christ through the sacrifice of the Mass. This spousal character of the ordination of priests was significant and you could see such nuptial joy on the faces of the newly ordained.
An integral part of an ordination and a Catholic wedding is self-gift and sacrifice, sharing in the action of Christ in His Paschal Mystery. Paradoxically, through humiliation comes exaltation. During the Litany of Supplication the men lay face down on the ground. Other than Christ on the Cross, what could be a more humble stance than that! As Christians we believe in the intrinsic relationship between the sacrificial giving of self and spousal love. I saw this connection in the ordination, and I walked away encouraged and joyous in my own vocation. All vocations share in communicating the Love of God.
Read the following statement from The Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests published by the Congregation for the Clergy in 1994 and you might understand why the nuptial symbolism in the Rite of Priestly Ordination is fitting:
“The sacrament of orders makes the priest participate not only in the mystery of Christ as Priest, Teacher, Head and Shepherd, but also, in some sense, in Christ as “Servant and Spouse of the Church.” This Church is His Body which He loved as continues to love to the point of giving Himself for her (Eph 5:25); He regenerates and purifies the Church continuously (Eph 5:26); He strives to make her ever more beautiful (Eph 5:27); finally, He nourishes her and cares for her (Eph 5:29)….Priests, who within “the individual local communities of the faithful make present, so to speak, the Bishop, to whom they are united with a trusting and generous spirit,” must be faithful to the Bride, and, as it were, living icons of Christ the Bridegroom. They must make effective Christ’s multiform gift to His Church. By this communion with Christ the Bridegroom, even the ministerial priesthood is established – like Christ, with Christ and in Christ – in that saving mystery of love of which marriage between Christian is a participation. Called by a supernatural, absolutely gratuitous act of love, the priest must love the Church as Christ loved her. He must, that is devote all of his energies to the Church and make a gift of himself with pastoral charity, even to the point of daily giving his very own life.” (Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Ministry and life of Priests (Jan. 31, 1994), no. 13.