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I brought a copy of the ordination rite with me on the retreat, and each day for one hour I would consider a different aspect of it. One of the expressions that I hear often, and which I myself have used over and over again, is that no one feels “worthy” to receive ordination at the hands of the Church–that the gift the Church sees fit to bestow on her sons is somehow too much. In many ways, standing before the prospect of ordination makes one feel a bit like King Belshazzar reading the writing on the wall: “you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Dan 5:27). This “unworthiness” is a real experience of many men, perhaps even all, at ordination.
So my experience of praying over the ordination rite during the retreat was all the more surprising. At the beginning of the ordination rite itself, which comes after the Gospel, is a dialogue between the ordaining bishop and the rector of the seminary. Between the two of these men, the will of the Church is expressed.
This is what is said:
Rector: Most Reverend Father, holy Mother Church asks you to ordain these men, our brothers, to the responsibility of the diaconate.
Bishop: Do you know them to be worthy?
Rector: After inquiry among the Christian people and upon the recommendation of those responsible, I testify that they have been found worthy.
Bishop: Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these, our brothers, for the Order of the Diaconate.
You will note that the ordination candidate has nothing to do with this dialogue. This is a dialogue among the Church herself: the one with the power to ordain is conferring with the one delegated the responsibility to prepare, evaluate, and discern the vocations of the candidates to determine publicly whether or not the candidate has truly been chosen by God. It is an incredible moment!
Look at the words: “they have been found worthy.” I realized on my retreat that, even though I may feel subjectively unworthy of so high an honor, the Church will declare me worthy, and so I resolved at that moment to stop trying to express my unworthiness and start trying to understand and to receive the Church’s judgment.
Read the rest. It’s rich food for thought.