The Liturgy

This month’s Catholic Herald features the recent Ordination of Deacons. While I’ve prepared dozens of ordinations over the years, I often take it for granted that many Catholics never see such a beautiful liturgy. It is my hope that the following explanation of the ritual will help you to understand the various parts of this sacred rite.

The Ordination of Deacons takes place during Mass, specifically after the Gospel is proclaimed. It begins with the Presentation of the Candidates. As each candidate’s name is called, he stands in his place in the assembly and answers, “Present.”

Once called, the archbishop has to ensure that they are ready for ordination, so he will ask the Director of Diaconate Formation whether he considers the men to be worthy of this responsibility. After a couple of exchanges, the director will respond, “After inquiry among the Christian people and the recommendation of those concerned with their formation, I testify that they have been found worthy.”

Next, the “election” of candidates takes place: the archbishop accepts this testimony and agrees to ordain the men. By applause, the assembly shows their support for this decision. Now counted among the elect for ordination, the candidates take a place set apart from the assembly and the archbishop preaches a homily.

After the homily, the candidates make a series of promises, including their resolve to carry out the ministry of the diaconate with humility and fidelity. For the last promise, each candidate goes individually to the archbishop, kneels and places his joined hands between the hands of the archbishop and promises obedience and respect to him and his successors.

Next is a period of prayer and intercession for these men. The candidates lie prostrate — face down — in humble submission. The entire assembly kneels and calls upon the saints of heaven to intercede at this moment.

Then, in silence, the candidates once again kneel before the archbishop, who imposes his hands on the head of each man. This ancient, traditional gesture of invoking the Holy Spirit is a central act of the ordination rite. The Prayer of Ordination follows. Through the laying on of hands and the Prayer of Ordination, the gift of the Holy Spirit is conferred on each candidate.

The following words belong to the nature of the rite and are consequently required for the validity of the act: “Send forth the Holy Spirit upon them, O Lord, we pray, that they may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of ministry.”

After this prayer, the men are deacons and they are vested with a deacon’s stole and dalmatic, symbols of their new ministry and proper attire to be worn at Mass.

Once vested, the new deacon again kneels before the archbishop and is handed the Book of the Gospels with the accompanying words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

The ritual is then sealed with a greeting of peace exchanged between the archbishop and the new deacons.

Celebrations like these renew my own faith. May this summary of the Rite of Ordination renew yours.