During the communist era in Czechoslovakia, Catholic religious orders were banned, and most existing clergy were jailed, sent to labor camps, or forced into military service. Some were even murdered. It was in this climate that some church leaders decided to ordain a few remaining qualified individuals--including some women--to be priests.

The ordination of Ludmila Javorova was a secret hidden not only from the communist government in Czechoslovakia but also from other members of the remnant Catholic Church. Her ordination stirred controversy even among the members of the Koinotes, or hidden church. Bishop Felix Maria Davidek, a member of this underground group, decided to ordain her against their wishes. Here is her story, as told to Miriam Therese Winter.

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Felix, Ludmila, and Jan Blaha were the last to leave Koberice. Ludmila went directly home. Late that evening, Felix came to see her. She tells of what transpired. "He told me to get ready. He asked me if I were willing to receive ordination from his hands. He was prepared to do it. He said the decision was mine, but not to take too long to decide or delay in telling him. I wanted to know why he was in such a hurry. Why not wait with the ordination for maybe six months or a year? He replied: 'Believe me, I cannot delay it, because I do not know what will happen with us.' The times were so uncertain. He felt the pressure of that intensely. Still I persisted. Why this haste? What else was there behind it? He told me it was his burden that he felt it was 'a matter of conscience,' that we had already spoken about it at the Council. 'If we wait for a man to approve this,' he said, 'it will never happen, so we must go ahead without it.'

"'But why have you chosen me?' He replied: 'It is natural. It is one minute to twelve.' By this he meant that the issue of women priests was urgent and could no longer be ignored. Later he told me that new things are not received with open arms, and that if we want them to be accepted, we have to make them present. And how would he inform the pope? 'It is my responsibility to inform the pope. I will investigate every possible way to inform him personally. Now let's pray to the Holy Spirit.'

"It is hard to identify the criteria whereby I made my decision. There was really no time to think much about it, because I had to work. At the same time I felt like I really did not have anything to think about. In my heart, everything was clear. I guess one might say that some things are done on another level of being, one that is too deep, too transparent for words. I had one full day to live with the question. Then on the way home from work on December 28, I stopped in to see Felix, and I said, 'Yes, I will receive it.' It was all very simple. I said yes to it, to receiving everything associated with it, to all of the consequences connected to it. Of course I had no idea of the size and shape of the cross that was standing just ahead of me, that was out there awaiting me. I had no idea how to develop this charism, but I accepted it with faith, with a feeling of responsibility, and with love."

Around 10:00 p.m. that evening, Ludmila went to Felix's place ready to receive the sacrament reserved through the centuries for men. "Why did I not make a retreat before becoming ordained?" It may seem surprising that she spent no time at all preparing for such a significant step, but she was already prepared, had spent a lifetime getting ready, had heard every argument for and against, deep within, waiting for a time such as this. What more could she have said to God that had not already been spoken in words and priestly ministry to hear God speak to her. Ludmila would say more pragmatically, "There just wasn't time."

Prior to her priestly ordination, Ludmila was ordained a deacon. The liturgy for ordination to the priesthood was from the Rite of Ordination According to the Roman Pontifical, literally, word for word. Felix followed the same rite used from time immemorial to ordain men as priests:

Consecrare et sanctifare. Vouchsafe, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these hands by this unction and by our blessing. That whatsoever they shall bless may be blessed, and whatsoever they consecrate may be consecrated and sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accipe potestatem offere sacrificium Deo. Receive power to offer sacrifice to God and to celebrate Mass, as well as for the living as for the dead, in the name of the Lord.

As a member of Koinotes, the hidden church, local manifestation of the universal church, Ludmila Javorova was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in the late night hours of December 28, 1970, by Bishop Felix Maria Davidek in the presence of his brother, Leo, who witnessed the event. Following the rite of ordination, Ludmila celebrated her First Mass-simply, quietly, together with Felix and Leo Davidek, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and all the angels and saints of God.

As she walked back home around midnight, the awareness of what had just occurred reached her in all its fullness. "It is hard to describe the moment," she says. "A space was opened up for me and I entered into it. Its depths, its beauty are perceived without words. I go toward it. I do not know what it is, but I go." She also felt happy, she says, but this was a different kind of happiness than what we usually understand by the word.

As she walked toward home that December night, she realized she was crying. Ludmila had spent a lifetime keeping her tears in check, had struggled to suppress her emotional response, to conceal the deep feelings within her. She did not like it when she cried. She had put up with it when she was young, but tonight? "I would always be holding my emotions back. I though I would be over it by now. But in those first hours of priesthood, I can say that I saw the beauty of God, at one moment I received the mercy of God, and I thought, I am crying. And I said, 'Get used to it. And let others get used to it. I am just going to cry!'"

On entering her home, Ludmila smiled. Another little girl was crying, her niece, Bohumila. She remembered it was her name day-the name means "loved by God"-and she gifted the child with her blessing, the blessing of a brand new priest. She whispered, "You have such an important day for celebrating your name. When you are grown up, I will tell you about it, but for now, it is a secret."

Ludmila kept her secret. That was one of the conditions of her being ordained. She could tell no one about it. She did not tell her mother, nor did she tell her father. "A major problem for me at the time was, how would I celebrate Mass so that no one at home would see it? For the first few days, I went to Felix's place or Felix came to mine and we would celebrate together. Because he usually came every day, nobody was surprised or suspected anything. Later, I celebrated alone when everyone was sleeping.
I thought of my bedridden brother, Vaclav, lying in the room across the hall, and I longed to tell him about it, because we loved each other a lot, but it was not possible. This was one of the many things I offered up for transformation during Mass.

"Felix always wished that the people would express aloud the words of consecration with the priest, so they would realize they too are celebrating the Mass. The priest is there as a servant. He is the one presiding, but they do everything together with him, and that's how a beautiful unity is formed. And so the Holy Mass becomes an act of salvation. Everything in this world is changing. There is nothing stable. People get used to its small acts and participate with joy. When the priest celebrates genuinely, he-or she-becomes attuned, and this helps to prevent the priest from becoming self-centered. Now that I was a priest and celebrating Mass together with him, I knew exactly what he meant and felt the same as he."

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