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Saturday was an extraordinary day. Eight deacons were ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in Westminster Cathedral: Oscar Ardila, Jeffrey Downie, Fortunato Pantisano, Giles Pinnock, Martin Plunkett, Jeffrey Steel, Martin Tate and Mark Walker. Seven are from Allen Hall Seminary in London, one is from the Beda in Rome; all are for the Diocese of Westminster.

Fr Mark Walker is from my home parish in Harpenden, and it was a particular joy to be back home on Sunday morning to join him at his first Mass in the parish church of Our Lady of Lourdes.

If you haven’t been to an ordination before, the text below gives you a flavour of some of the prayers and promises from the rite:

Homily

14.  Then all sit, and the bishop addresses the people and the candidate on the duties of a priest.  He may use these words:

This man, your relative and friend, is now to be raised to the order of priests.  Consider carefully the position to which he is to be promoted in the Church.

It is true that God has made his entire people a royal priesthood in Christ.  But our High Priest, Jesus Christ, also chose some of his followers to carry out publicly in the Church a priestly ministry in his name on behalf of mankind.  He was sent by the Father, and he in turn sent the apostles into the world; through them and their successors, the bishops, he continues his work as Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd.  Priests are co-workers of the order of bishops.  They are joined to the bishops in the priestly office and are called to serve God’s people.

Our brother has seriously considered this step and is now to be ordained to priesthood in the presbyteral order.  He is to serve Christ the Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd in his ministry which is to make his own body, the Church, grow into the people of God, a holy temple.

He is called to share in the priesthood of the bishops and to be molded into the likeness of Christ, the supreme and eternal Priest.  By consecration he will be made a true priest of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, sustain God’s people, and celebrate the liturgy, above all, the Lord’s sacrifice.

He then addresses the candidate:

My son, you are now to be advanced to the order of the presbyterate.  You must apply your energies to the duty of teaching in the name of Christ, the chief Teacher.  Share with all mankind the word of God you have received with joy.  Meditate on the law of God, believe what you read, teach what you believer, and put into practice what you teach.

Let the doctrine you teach be true nourishment for the people of God.  Let the example of your life attract the followers of Christ, so that by word and action you may build up the house which is God’s Church.

In the same way you must carry out your mission of sanctifying in the power of Christ.  Your ministry will perfect the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful by uniting it with Christ’s sacrifice, the sacrifice which is offered sacramentally through your hands.  Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate.  In the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection, make every effort to die to sin and to walk in the new life of Christ.

When you baptize, you will bring men and women into the people of God.  In the sacrament of penance, you will forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church.  With holy oil you will relieve and console the sick.  You will celebrate the liturgy and offer thanks and praise to God throughout the day, praying not only for the people of God but for the whole world.  Remember that you are chosen from among God’s people and appointed to act for them in relation to God.  Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.

Finally, conscious of sharing in the work of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church, and united with the bishop and subject to him, seek to bring the faithful together into a unified family and to lead them effectively, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, to God the Father.  Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served by to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost.

Examination of the Candidate

15.  The candidate then stands before the bishop who questions him:

My son, before you proceed to the order of the presbyterate, declare before the people your intention to undertake the priestly office.

Are you resolved, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral order as a conscientious fellow worker with the bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?

The candidate answers: I am.

Bishop: Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people?

Candidate: I am.

Bishop: Are you resolved to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience as the Apostle urges, and to proclaim this faith in word and action as it is taught by the Gospel and the Church’s tradition?

Candidate: I am.

Bishop: Are you resolved to maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer appropriate to your way of life and, in keeping with what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the hours for the Church and for the whole world?

Candidate: I am.

Bishop: Are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the gospel and explaining the Catholic faith?

Candidate: I am.

Bishop: Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?

Candidate: I am, with the help of God.

Promise of Obedience

16.  Then the candidate goes to the bishop and, kneeling before him, places his joined hands between those of the bishop.  If this gesture seems less suitable in some places, the conference of bishops may choose another gesture or sign.

If the bishop is the candidate’s own Ordinary, he asks: Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?

Candidate: I do.

If the bishop is not the candidate’s own Ordinary, he asks: Do you promise respect and obedience to your Ordinary?

Candidate: I do.

Bishop: May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.

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I preached at the First Mass of a dear friend, Fr Robbie Low – a former Anglican clergyman who was ordained a Catholic priest in October. I was just sent a link to the audio of the sermon, so if you want to listen please click here. Of course it is a very personal homily, but there are some bigger thoughts about the meaning of the priesthood and the Year of Faith that might interest others.

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We’ve just finished our half-term break, and for various random reasons I spent the week North of the Watford Gap, an exhilarating experience for a southerner.

Due praise, before anything else, to the Victorian engineers and railway men whose vision and graft allowed me to travel from London to Elgin (near Inverness) on – in effect – an unbroken piece of track, via Lancaster, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, Leuchars (for St Andrews), Dundee and Aberdeen.

OK, I didn't travel on a stream train - but this captures some of the romance...

You could tell I was in that trainspotter’s twilight zone by the wad of rail tickets stuffed into my wallet. There was a magic moment in Lancaster when I was sorting through them to find the time of the next train to Manchester, and one of my friends who would be on the ‘danger zone’ end of the geekiness scale when it comes to all things public transport couldn’t resist swanning up beside me to note how many journeys I had timetabled for one holiday trip. I impressed myself that I managed to impress him.

Anyway, it wasn’t for love of trains that I set off, but – more or less – for love of the faith. Last Saturday, as I wrote about earlier, was the ordination of John Millar, one of our seminarians, at Lancaster Cathedral; with a great crowd of friends, family, parishioners, priests and fellow seminarians.

That afternoon I got to Leeds, via Manchester, for the evening event of the ‘Love@Leeds’ Youth 2000 retreat for young adults. It was the first time a Youth 2000 retreat had been held in the city, and by all accounts it was a huge success. Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form College proved to be a great venue. The school hall provided a dignified place for the worship and services (the chapel would have been far too small), and the dining room was a place not just to eat but to socialise and talk the night away.

For the Reconciliation Service (with individual confessions) and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament that evening there were over 200 young people there, mainly of university age; and I’d guess that a good 150 stayed over for the talks and Mass the following day.

After a couple of days to myself in Edinburgh (I’d never been before) I went to St Andrews as a guest of the Catholic Chaplaincy. I did all the touristy stuff, and went down on one knee to pat the 18th green (it’s all public). I’m not big into golf, but I wanted to experience the moment and have something to tell my golfing friends.

It was great to be in the chaplaincy there, and to meet the students and Fr Andrew the chaplain and parish priest. It has been a powerhouse for vocations over the years, as well as being just a friendly and solid formative environment for young Catholics; and I have known many priests who studied at St Andrews and identify it as the place where their vocation really crystallised.

My talk was entitled, ‘Is there a difference between human happiness and Christian joy?’ I’ll try to post about my reflections sometime soon.

Then, after a huge cooked breakfast in my B&B, I got the train to Aberdeen, had time for a brief look at the Catholic Cathedral, where Abbot Hugh Gilbert has recently been installed as bishop; and ended my journey at Pluscarden Abbey, where Bishop Hugh was from, to catch up with two old friends who are now ‘juniors’ in the monastery. It was my first visit, and I want to post about that later as well, to give it some proper space on the blog.

So that’s my week! Praise to the rail network, which was cheap, and mostly on time. And praise, above all, to the vitality of Catholic life in this country – which is the main reason for posting. An ordination of a man in his young twenties in Lancaster, giving his life to the Lord and to the service of God’s people. A powerful retreat for university students in the heart of Leeds, who chose to be there to deepen their faith when there are so many other pulls on their time and attention. A Catholic chaplaincy, forming its students, sustaining them, as it has done for many years. And a thriving Benedictine monastery in a place of breathtaking beauty that is simply doing what it has always done, and for that reason attracting young men to join it.

Thank God for these wonderful signs of faith in Britain!

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It was a very special weekend for the Diocese of Lancaster. On Saturday morning John Millar, one of our Allen Hall seminarians, was ordained deacon in the Cathedral Church of St Peter in Lancaster, on the diocesan feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. And the following day Sr Margaret Atkins made her final profession as an Augustinian sister in the community at Boarbank Hall.

There are many different reasons why the Lord calls people to diaconal/priestly ministry and to religious life, and the different forms of consecration take on different meanings for the individual, and for the Church and the world – often changing over time. But one of the meanings (not at all exclusive to Orders or to consecrated life) is to give a particular form of example to the Christian community and to the world.

This is phrased beautifully in the Prayer of Consecration at the Diaconal Ordination:

May he excel in every virtue: in love that is sincere, in concern for the sick and the poor, in unassuming authority, in self-discipline, and in holiness of life. May his conduct exemplify your commandments and lead your people to imitate his purity of life. May he remain strong and steadfast in Christ, giving to the world the witness of a pure conscience. May he in this life imitate your Son, who came not to be served but to serve, and one day reign with him in heaven.

Many congratulations to Deacon John and Sister Margaret. May their example and prayers inspire many others to serve Christ as his ordained ministers and consecrated religious.

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It’s the fourteenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood today. The weather was exactly the same – storms raging across the whole of the UK. Some people couldn’t make it because many of the trains were cancelled or stranded.

I was always disappointed that the date chosen wasn’t a feast day in the Church’s calendar (for various reasons it had to be the first Saturday of the year). I’ve always loved the serendipity of special occasions aligning with significant feast days – and in this case there was none!

So I am delighted that with the new translation of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, today is now the restored feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. So I can thank the Lord not just for the gift of ordination, but for the impetus to think and pray more deeply about what this Name means for me and for my ministry.

Mary Elizabeth Sperry has an article on the USCCB website about the new saints and feasts included in the 3rd edition:

 The new Missal will include 17 additions to the Proper of Saints, the part of the Missal that includes prayers for the observances of saints’ days. The Proper of Saints follows a calendar established by the Vatican and modified by the bishops of each country to include saints of local importance. Any changes to a national or diocesan calendar require the consent of the Vatican.

The saints new to the third edition of the Roman Missal include saints, like Saint Augustine Zhao Rong, who were canonized after the second edition of the Roman Missal was published in 1985.  Some of these saints, including Saint Lawrence Ruiz and Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, have been on the U.S. calendar for years.  However, the new Missal will be the first time their prayer texts have been available in the printed book.  Other added saints appeared on the liturgical calendar until 1969, when the calendar was simplified and many saints’ observances were removed.  Also restored to the calendar are observances for the Most Holy Name of Jesus and the Most Holy Name of Mary.  Still others saints and observances added to the Missal highlight important teachings of the Church such as the teaching on Mary (Our Lady of Fatima) and on the Eucharist as the Sacrament of Christ’s love (as promoted by Saint Peter Julian Eymard).

By canonizing these holy men and women, the Church presents them as models of Christian living.  The added saints come from all eras and areas of the Church’s life – from the fourth century (Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Apollinaris) to the twentieth century (Saint Josephine Bakhita, Saint Christopher Magallenes and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina) – and from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.  They include priests, religious women, martyrs, a married woman and missionaries.

With the exception of the memorials of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (better known as Edith Stein) and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (better known as Padre Pio), all of the new observances are optional memorials.

And here is the complete list:

New saints and observances in the third edition of the Roman Missal

January 3 – Most Holy Name of Jesus — This is part of the Church’s celebration of Christmas, recognizing that God “bestowed on [Jesus] the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9). February 8 – St. Josephine Bakhita, virgin – Born in Darfur, Josephine survived kidnapping and slavery to become a nun who embraced and lived hope as a redeemed child of God. April 23 – St. Adalbert, bishop and martyr – Martyred near the end of the first millennium, Adalbert was a missionary in the countries of central Europe, striving to bring unity to God’s people. April 28 – St. Louis Mary de Montfort, priest – This French priest is best known for his devotion to Mary, encouraging the faithful to approach Jesus through his mother. May 13 – Our Lady of Fatima – The Virgin Mary appeared to three children in the Portuguese town of Fatima in 1917.  During these apparitions, she encouraged penance and praying the rosary. May 21 – Sts. Christopher Magallanes, priest and martyr, & Companions, martyrs – Martyred in 1927, this Mexican priest was noted for his care of the native peoples of Mexico and for his work to support vocations to the priesthood. May 22 – St. Rita of Cascia, religious – A wife, mother, widow, and nun, Saint Rita was known for her patience and humility in spite on many hardships.  Conforming herself to the crucified Christ, she bore a wound on her forehead similar to one inflicted by a crown of thorns. July 9 – Sts. Augustine Zhao Rong, priest and martyr, & Companions, martyrs –Canonized with 119 other Chinese martyrs, Augustine began his career as a soldier.  Inspired by the martyrs, he was baptized and eventually became a priest and martyr himself. July 20 – St. Apollinaris, bishop and martyr – Martyred in the second century, Apollinarius was the Bishop of Ravenna in Italy.  He was known as a great preacher and miracle worker. July 24 – St. Sharbel Makhluf, priest – A Maronite priest in Lebanon, Saint Sharbel spent much of his life as a hermit in the desert, living of life of extreme penance. August 2 – St. Peter Julian Eymard, priest – Founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, Saint Peter devoted his life to promoting First Communions and devotion to the Eucharist as the sacrament of Christ’s love. August 9 – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, virgin and martyr – Born of Jewish parents as Edith Stein, she received academic renown as a philosopher.  After her conversion to Catholicism, she became a Carmelite nun.  She died in Auschwitz in 1942. September 12 – Most Holy Name of Mary – After beginning in Spain in 1513, this celebration became a universal feast in the seventeenth century.  A companion to the Memorial of The Most Holy Name of Jesus, it follows the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. September 23 – St. Pio of Pietrelcina, priest – Padre Pio was known throughout Italy and the world for his patient hearing of confessions and for his spiritual guidance.  In poor health for much of his life, he conformed his sufferings to those of Christ. September 28 – Sts. Lawrence Ruiz & Companions, martyrs – Saint Lawrence and his companions spread the Gospel in the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan.  Saint Lawrence was born in Manila and was a husband and father, November 24 – Sts. Andrew Dũng-Lạc, priest and martyr, & Companions, martyrs – Saint Andrew and his 107 companions, both priests and laity, were martyred in Vietnam in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.  Through their preaching, lives of faith, and witness unto death, they strengthened the Church in Vietnam. November 25 – St. Catherine of Alexandria, virgin and martyr – Martyred in the early part of the fourth century, Catherine was known for her intelligence, her deep faith, and the power of her intercession.

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I’m not trying to argue someone into accepting the importance of celibacy for Catholic priests (I’ve already given my own personal perspective in a previous post); but if you want you want to have a summary of the meaning of celibacy in the life of the Catholic priest and deacon, as the Church understands it, there is no better place to look than the ordination rite for a ‘transitional’ deacon who is on the road to priesthood.

This image is from last year's ordinations, but Lorenzo (holding the book) was one of the three ordained this year!

Three of the seminarians from Allen Hall were ordained deacons at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday. The beautifully phrased words of their commitment to celibacy really struck me, and reminded me of what my own commitment (made fourteen years ago) is meant to mean in all its richness.

Here are the words the bishop uses:

By your own free choice you seek to enter the order of deacons. You shall exercise this ministry in the celibate state for celibacy is both a sign and a motive of pastoral charity, and a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world.

By living in this state with total dedication, moved by a sincere love for Christ the Lord, you are consecrated to him in a new and special way.

By this consecration you will adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart; you will be more freely at the service of God and mankind, and you will be more untrammeled in the ministry of Christian conversion and rebirth.

By your life and character you will give witness to your brothers and sisters in faith that God must be loved above all else, and that it is he whom you serve in others.

Therefore, I ask you:

In the presence of God and the Church, are you resolved, as a sign of your interior dedication to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind?

The candidate replies: ‘I am.’ There is quite a lot contained in those two short words.

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Many Catholics think that the main step on the road towards priesthood is the decision to go to seminary. There is some truth in this: You think, you pray, you discern; you put in your application. If you are accepted, you take the plunge, and that involves leaving a job, moving home, starting a completely new life, and the challenge of telling friends and family that this is really happening.

Allen Hall Seminary - Front Door

But sometime around the middle of your seminary formation you take the formal step of becoming a ‘candidate’ for ordination. On Saturday evening here at Allen Hall four men celebrated their own candidacy. What’s it all about? How can you become a candidate for ordination when you are already a committed seminarian three or four years down the road to priesthood?

Here are one or two passages from the Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI which set it all up.

Since entrance into the clerical state is deferred until diaconate, there no longer exists the rite of first tonsure, by which a layman used to become a cleric. But a new rite is introduced, by which one who aspires to the diaconate or priesthood publicly manifests his will to offer himself to God and the Church, so that he may exercise a sacred order. The Church, accepting this offering, selects and calls him to prepare himself to receive a sacred order, and in this way he is properly numbered among candidates for the diaconate or priesthood [...]

1. (a) A rite of admission for candidates to the diaconate and to the priesthood is introduced. In order that this admission be properly made, the free petition of the aspirant made out and signed in his own hand, is required, as well as the written acceptance of the competent ecclesiastical superior, by which the selection by the church is brought about. Professed members of clerical congregations who seek the priesthood are not bound to this rite.

(b) The competent superior for this acceptance is the ordinary (the bishop and, in clerical institutes of perfection, the major superior). Those can be accepted who give signs of an authentic vocation and, endowed with good moral qualities and free from mental and physical defects, wish to dedicate their lives to the service of the Church for the glory of God and the good of souls. It is necessary that those who aspire to the transitional diaconate will have completed at least their twentieth year and have begun their course of theological studies.

(c) In virtue of the acceptance the candidate must care for his vocation in a special way and foster it. He also acquires the right to the necessary spiritual assistance by which he can develop his vocation and submit unconditionally to the will of God.

You can see what a special moment this is for each of the candidates, and for the Church. It’s not just a formality or an external recognition that they have ‘put the hours in’. It’s a way of offering oneself to God and to the Church, freely and publicly, and having the Church accept that offering. It’s a new commitment, not just to enter more wholeheartedly into the process of discernment, but to actively foster the priestly vocation. There is a psychological and spiritual shift. From this moment onwards, the assumption is that this man has been called by the Lord to priesthood, and in fact the ceremony itself acts as a public call by the Church.

Candidacy would have the same significance, more or less, as a couple getting engaged. They move from wondering and questioning to committing and planning. It doesn’t mean the wedding or ordination is inevitable, and it’s important that each person still feels completely free – but you’d need a major rethink to call it off.

It was a great evening for everyone involved!

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It was very moving to be in Westminster Cathedral yesterday morning at the very moment when the Anglican Ordinariate was formally established in England and Wales, and to discover its proper name: the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman. There are only so many historic moments you can claim to have witnessed in the space of a few months; but this, along with Pope Benedict’s visit to Westminster in September, was definitely one of them: the first time ever that Anglicans in this country have been able, as a group, to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church without having to renounce anything of fundamental importance from their Anglican heritage.

Our Lady of Walsingham

 

Andrew Burnham, John Broadhurst and Keith Newton were ordained to the Catholic priesthood; and Keith Newton was nominated as the first Ordinary.

Their ordination to the diaconate took place two days before at our own chapel here in Allen Hall. If you’ve never seen the chapel you can see a clip of the ordination rite here – a shot from the balcony as the three candidates prostrate themselves in the centre aisle during the litany of the saints. The huge silver crucifix that sits above the altar on the sanctuary wall was originally placed on the outside wall of the chapel, facing the street, as a powerful witness to the thousands of people passing down Beaufort Street every day – especially those on the top deck of the buses who would have had a great view. It was moved into the chapel when the sanctuary was simplified and the hanging baldacchino removed a few years ago.

Here is the text from Cardinal Levada that was read out at the beginning of the Mass yesterday:

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Ordination to the Priesthood of our three friends, Andrew Burnham, John Broadhurst and Keith Newton, is an occasion of great joy both for them and for the wider Church. I had very much wished to be present with you in Westminster Cathedral today in order to demonstrate my own personal support for them as they make this important step. Unfortunately, however, a long standing commitment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to meet with the Bishops and theologians of India in Bangalore has meant that I am unable to be in London today. I am very happy, therefore, to have the opportunity of sending this message and am grateful to Archbishop Nichols for agreeing to represent me and for his willingness to deliver my best wishes.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has today published a Decree erecting the first Personal Ordinariate for groups of Anglican faithful and their pastors wishing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. This new Ordinariate, established within the territory of England and Wales, will be known as the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and will be placed under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman. Its establishment, which marks a unique and historic moment in the life of the Catholic Community in this country, is the first fruit of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, issued by Pope Benedict XVI on 4 November 2009. It is my fervent hope that, by enabling what the Holy Father calls “a mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies”, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will bring great blessings not only on those directly involved in it, but upon the whole Church.

Also today the Holy Father has nominated Reverend Keith Newton as the first Ordinary of this Personal Ordinanate. Together with Reverend Burnham and Reverend Broadhurst, Keith Newton will oversee the catechetical preparation of the first groups of Anglicans in England and Wales who will be received into the Catholic Church together with their pastors at Easter, and will accompany the clergy preparing for ordination to the Catholic priesthood around Pentecost. I urge you all to assist the new Ordinary in the unique mission which has been entrusted to him not only with your prayers but also with every practical support.

In conclusion, I offer my personal and heartfelt best wishes to these three Catholic priests. I pray that God will abundantly bless them, and also those other clergy and faithful who are preparing to join them in full communion with the Catholic Church. In the midst of the uncertainty that every period of transition inevitably brings I wish to assure you all of our admiration for you, and of our prayerful solidarity.

At an audience granted to me by Pope Benedict XVI on 14 January 2011, His Holiness asked me to convey to you that he cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing upon the ordinandi Andrew Burnham, John Broadhurst and Keith Newton, together with their wives and family members and upon all other participants in this solemn rite.

Entrusting you confidently to the intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, and to the intercession of the great saints and martyrs of England and Wales, I am

Yours sincerely in Christ,

William Cardinal Levada

Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

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Some of our seminarians at a recent ordination

We are now two weeks into the new academic year at the seminary. Westminster Diocese has just put out a press release about the rise in priestly vocations at Allen Hall over the last few years: 

Eleven men have started studying for the Catholic priesthood at the start of the 2010–2011 academic year at Allen Hall, the Diocese of Westminster’s seminary in London. The new intake of eleven new seminarians brings the number of men preparing for the priesthood at Allen Hall to 46. This number includes men who are preparing to become priests in Westminster diocese and other English and overseas dioceses, including Lancaster, Nottingham and Helsinki, as well as religious orders, including the Salvatorians, Passionists and Norbertines. 

There are now 33 men preparing for the priesthood for the Diocese of Westminster. Eight men started this September with three studying at Allen Hall, three at Vallodolid, Spain, one at the Beda College in Rome and one at the Venerable English College in Rome. 

The statistics for the last few years for Allen Hall are given in a footnote (I’ve added this year’s figure): 

Number of men studying at Allen Hall seminary at the start of academic years since 2002: 2010 – 46, 2009 – 45, 2008 – 43, 2007 – 40, 2006 – 37, 2005 – 31, 2004 – 32, 2003 – 34, 2002 – 33. 

It’s interesting to compare this with figures from the National Office for Vocations of men entering seminary in England and Wales over the last three decades (although I’m not sure if this means ‘in England and Wales’ or ‘for the dioceses of England and Wales’ – which would include those studying in Spain and Rome). You can see a graph here (scroll down), which shows how from a peak in 1985 (156 entrants), to a trough in 2000 (only 22 entrants), things have been slowly picking up (the average over the last four years has been about 40).

And the global picture is also healthy. The most recent reliable Vatican statistics are from the end of 2008:

The Vatican said the number of Catholics reached 1.166 billion, an increase of 19 million, or 1.7 percent, from the end of 2007. During the same period, Catholics as a percentage of the global population grew from 17.33 percent to 17.4 percent, it said.

The number of priests stood at 409,166, an increase of 1,142 from the end of 2007. Since the year 2000, the Vatican said, the number of priests has increased by nearly 4,000, or about 1 percent.

Looking at the way priests are distributed around the world, it said: 47.1 percent were in Europe, 30 percent in the Americas, 13.2 percent in Asia, 8.7 percent in Africa and 1.2 percent in Oceania.

The number of seminarians around the world rose from 115,919 at the end of 2007 to 117,024 at the end of 2008, an increase of more than 1 percent, it said.

The increase in seminarians varied geographically: Africa showed an increase of 3.6 percent, Asia an increase of 4.4 percent, and Oceania an increase of 6.5 percent, while Europe had a decrease of 4.3 percent and the Americas remained about the same.

There is a good article on the BBC website with interviews with seminarians and former-seminarians, and these comments from Fr Stephen Langridge giving some historical perspective. 

Father Stephen Langridge, chairman of England and Wales’ vocations directors, says there was a boom in the number of vocations in the aftermath of World War II compared with the 1920s. He says there was another rise in men entering seminaries following the visit of Pope John Paul in 1982. Figures from the National Office for Vocations show this peaking at 156 in 1985 before falling to a low of 22 in 2001. But over the past five years numbers have steadied at about 40 per year.

Fr Langridge says England has been used to a relatively high concentration of priests compared to other countries – about one for every 350 parishioners. But the fall in vocations since the 1980s means a priest in a parish may now be responsible for two or three smaller churches.

In an attempt to address the shortfall, in recent years the Church has changed its recruitment strategy. Instead of simply asking people to become priests, they now encourage Catholics to pray and discern what God wants them to do. Marriage is also viewed as a vocation, which helps keep people’s minds open to hear a call to the priesthood instead.

Fr Langridge explains: “That means a youngster who’d always thought about marriage, perhaps in the stillness of their prayer suddenly thinks, ‘perhaps there’s something else.’ So the seed of a priestly vocation is sown in that way.”

However you look at it, there was some kind of bottoming out around 2000; and now, both nationally and internationally, the numbers of those in formation for the priesthood is on the rise. 

These are long term trends. I wonder if there will be a short term ‘Benedict bounce’ in our own country.

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Four men from Allen Hall were ordained to the diaconate at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful end to the seminary year. Archbishop Vincent said that a deacon is consecrated to a life of service to others, and that this spirit of service is like a seal that is imprinted on his very being. You can read a full report about the service here, which includes a few paragraphs from each of the new deacons about their own story and what helped them in their vocation.

St Vincent the Deacon

If you have never been to an ordination, here are the questions that the bishop puts to the candidates before they prostrate themselves for the litany of saints. It’s very powerful to hear a group of young men make these lifelong commitments in front of so many people. The answer to each question, by the way, is ‘I am’!

Are you willing to be ordained for the Church’s ministry by the laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit?

Are you resolved to discharge the office of deacon with humility and love in order to assist the bishop and the priests and to serve the people of Christ?

Are you resolved to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, as the Apostle urges, and to proclaim this faith in word and action as it is taught by the Gospel and the Church’s tradition?

Are you resolved to maintain and deepen the spirit of prayer appropriate to your way of life and, in keeping with what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the Hours for the Church and for the whole world?

Are you resolved to shape your way of life always according to the example of Christ, whose body and blood you will give to the people?

And after the prayer of consecration and the putting on of the stole and dalmatic (the deacon’s vestments), the bishop places the Book of the Gospels in the hand of the new deacon and says:

Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.

A reminder that you do not have to be a saint in order to preach the Gospel, just a believer, but that you do need to have a desire to live by your own preaching.

(Lawrence OP gives the following commentary on the image above: “According to legend, after being martyted, ravens protected St Vincent’s body from being devoured by wild animals, until his followers could recover the body. This painting in Burgos Cathedral depicts that miraculous event.”)

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We have had three separate ordinations this month — two men were ordained deacons and one a priest. It’s quite unusual for January.

One of the moments that always strikes people most powerfully is just after the prayer of ordination, when the new deacon or priest is clothed with his new vestments for the first time.

St Edmund in Pontificals

There is a natural human pride in seeing someone finally ‘make it’ to the end of a long journey (and the beginning of another one). But there is something deeper too: The recognition that the ‘office’ of being an ordained minister matters more than the gifts or personality of the individual, that the gift of ordination is much more than what the person deserves in his own right.

Father Dermot Power, a friend and colleague here at the seminary where I work, is often saying that part of the poverty of being a priest, the asceticism, is this anonymity. In quite a touching and telling way, most Catholics know that in a moment of crisis ‘any priest will do’ — as long as he can hear my confession, or come to the hospital at three o’clock in the morning, or celebrate the baptism of my child.

There is no disrespect or lack of love here, and Catholics have a huge well of affection for the priests that they know. It’s simply that the treasure of sacramental ordination is more important than the earthenware vessel that carries it. Or put another way, as von Balthasar said, priests are pygmies in giants’ clothing.

It’s very humbling, as a priest, to be reminded of the enormity of the gift of ordination, and to be reminded that the gifts we share as priests with others — especially the sacraments that we minister — are far beyond what we have to give through our natural abilities.

Of course this doesn’t mean that there is no dignity associated simply with being human, or with the grace of being a Christian. It simply highlights the particular grace that comes with ordination, for which we can all be grateful – whether ordained or not.

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