Homily of the Right Reverend Alan Hopes, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster & Episcopal Delegate of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales for the implementation of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus:
Every ordination to the Priesthood is an important event at so many levels: for the Bishop, as he exercises the fullness of his Priesthood and adds new members to the Presbyterate who are the closest collaborators with the bishops; for the whole Church as she is endowed with new ministers of grace, new shepherds; for the particular Church into which men are ordained, a great sense of joy for the wonderful gift of a new priest; and, of course, for those who are to be ordained, a unique and significant moment in their lives.
So today, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will receive two new priests into its Presbyterate – Allen and David. Your lives have already been of service to the Lord in the number of years you served in the ministry of the Church of England. Now in full communion with the Catholic Church, you are to be ordained as her priests.
At an Ordination Mass in 1967 in Rome, of a number of priests from England, Pope Paul VI said very beautifully, something which is true of our own Celebration today:
Today’s Ordination is distinguished by special; circumstances: these new priests have been chosen among a people who in the course of history have been, to us in Rome, a cause of special drama: divided from us by half a world; but then, under the auspices of Pope S Gregory and S Augustine, most dear and close to us; later with immense pain, torn asunder from us; finally in recent times marked by new friendship and new hope, that people strongly and sweetly draws itself to our very heart.
David and Allen, as soon as you have been ordained to the priesthood you will stand at the Altar and concelebrate with the bishop, your Ordinary and with all the priests here today. This is so right, for as a priest stands at the altar he is most fully himself. From the celebration of the Mass flows everything else. The Eucharist is indeed the source and summit of all the Church’s activity, as the second Vatican Council puts it. And so it is for each individual priest.
As a priest, throughout the Mass you will greet the people with the same words with which Gabriel greeted Mary: The Lord be with you. As Gabriel prepared Mary, you are preparing the people for a special moment of grace through which God will act and equip them for their Christian lives. The people in their turn greet you as you exercise your particular ministry with and for them: and also with you. I want to reflect today on those words for they point us to a real understanding of the priest’s ministry.
First, you greet the people at the beginning of Mass. You are gathering a particular people for God, called into communion with each other and with the whole Church. Throughout the history of salvation, communio, communion is what marks out those whom God has called to himself.
This communion is first of all an invitation to union with God. Your own life of prayer and self-offering is the first and greatest gift you can offer in leading the people to such union with God. The grace of Ordination must always have at its heart your own constant search for a deeper union with the Lord. You will lead the people in prayer through your own example and discipline in being men of prayer yourselves.
This union with God must be closely linked with our union with our brothers and sisters in the Faith: from your local congregation, within the local church of East Anglia, in the unique structure of the Ordinariate, through communion with the Successor of Peter and the One Church down the ages, this communion of the faithful constitutes the One Church, the Body of Christ. Your task must be to draw people into the intimacy of all these aspects of communion – parish, diocese, Ordinariate, Universal Church. None are separable from each other. This Communion must never be closed in on itself. It must always be an open invitation to everyone to be united as one, in union with the one God. This is the mission of the Church.
Second, you will greet the people in preparation for the proclamation of the Gospel. This together with your preaching is your primary task. It is in catechesis and in all the other ways of forming people in the faith, (including teaching at the university!), and in engaging in all the pressing concerns of those you serve and meet, that you will bring the light of the Gospel to bear on the lives of the men and women of our age.
Third, you will greet the people in preparation for the moment of Holy Communion. The peace of the Lord be with you always. You are to be ministers of peace and reconciliation. You will exercise this ministry most intimately in the Confessional. Bringing the Lord’s peace and words of forgiveness in this Sacrament is a great privilege for you as priests and must be administered lovingly and sensitively. Of course, this will extend beyond the Sacrament so that as a priest you will bring peace and reconciliation into the great variety of situation where sin and division have sought to undermine the goodness of God.
Fourth, you will greet the people in preparation for blessing them and sending them out to be God’s agents of love in our world. God’s people will also come to you at the key moments of their journey of faith to ask for a blessing and to seek guidance. Kindness is often the greatest blessing you can impart to someone. Your whole life must be a blessing for the holy people of God.
And finally, the greeting that comes before the Eucharistic Prayer, not only prepares the people to welcome the Risen Lord among them, present in his Sacred Body and Blood, but is the model for your own life. As you offer the Holy sacrifice with and for God’s people, you will be acting in the very person of Christ. In a few moments you will prostrate yourselves in abandonment and self-offering to God. After your consecration as priests, you will be given a chalice and a paten – you will be exhorted to imitate the mystery you celebrate and to model your life on the Lord’s Cross. This is the centre of that the priest is. For while we do indeed act in the person of Christ, we must never forget that the offering he made of himself as the great High Priest, was of himself. Your offering of Christ to his father each day at the altar, must also be an offering of yourself, in complete trust like that of Jesus Christ.
Dear brothers, may the grace poured out onto you today sustain you for the rest of your lives and may God grant you his strength, his joy and his peace.