April 23, 2024 // Perspective

The Gift of Priests and Parents

Recently, I attended the joyful first Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by a newly ordained priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Father Nik Guiney. A priest’s first Mass is an occasion of great grace both for him and for the Church. This particular Mass represents the culmination of years of discernment, study, and formation. At the same time, it is the beginning of what will be, God willing, many years of joyful service to the People of God.

A wonderful set of traditions accompany a priest’s first Mass and the days and weeks that follow. Newly ordained men will offer individual blessings to the faithful who ask for them, and these blessings come with special graces in the form of a plenary indulgence (under the usual conditions of sacramental confession, reception of the Eucharist, detachment from sin, and prayer for the pope’s intentions). A plenary indulgence is also extended to those who participate in a priest’s Mass of Thanksgiving – and a priest can celebrate several of these Masses, usually in parishes and chapels to which he has a special connection, such as his home parish or the seminary where he did his formation.

At the end of his first Mass, Father Nik invited his parents to come forward and extend to him their own special blessing. Watching his parents stand before the altar and extend their hands over their son brought to my mind two of the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. The first was the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22-40), when Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to Jerusalem to fulfill the Jewish law that required every firstborn son to be consecrated to the Lord. This occasion in the life of Our Lord was marked by the encounter with the prophet Simeon, who had been promised by God that he would not die before he saw the long-awaited Messiah. I was reminded of this as I watched Father Nik, who as a priest is configured to Jesus Christ in a very special way, standing before the altar at which he had just offered the Eucharistic sacrifice that redeems the world.

The other joyful mystery I was reminded of at Father Nik’s first Mass was the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), when the 12-year old Jesus accompanied His parents to Jerusalem and then stayed behind to discuss the sacred Scriptures with the teachers of the Law. Watching Father Nik standing with his parents before the sanctuary called to my mind the Gospel moment when the Holy Family was reunited in the Temple. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph were beside themselves, yet Jesus explained it as the most natural thing in the world that He should “be in my Father’s house.” I imagine that most parents watching their son fulfill his vocation, whatever it may be, also experience a range of emotions. Ordinations, religious professions, and weddings are occasions filled with joy and tears for nearly everyone involved.

For the parents of a newly ordained priest, the Church offers some very special gifts. At his ordination, a priest’s hands are consecrated with the sacred Chrism, the specially-scented oil the bishop consecrates in Holy Week to be used to seal candidates for confirmation and to consecrate people and things for service to the Lord, including new churches and altars. After the ordination rite concludes, the newly ordained priest wipes his hands with a white linen cloth called a maniturgium. This cloth is then given to the priest’s mother, who will be buried with it in her hands as a sign of the gift that she made to God in giving her son for service as a priest. Pious tradition says that when she is conducted to heaven, she will present the maniturgium to Christ the High Priest, who will welcome her into the realm of the blessed as the mother of one of His own special servants.

The newly ordained priest’s father is also given a unique gift. The purple stole the priest wears as he hears his first confession is presented to his father as a sign of thanksgiving for forming him in the ways of justice, wisdom, and gentleness. These virtues, gifts, and fruits of the Holy Spirit are essential to the Sacrament of Confession, and young priests especially need them as they begin their ministry of reconciliation.

The ordination of a priest is a great blessing for the entire Church, and we are entering the “new priest season.” In our diocese, Bishop Rhoades will ordain new priests at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday, June 1. Many parents and family members will be present to pray with their sons and brothers that day, and we should thank them for the encouragement and sacrifices that they have made along the way to bring these men to that joyous occasion.

One other thought: Much like we should know and celebrate the anniversary of our own baptism, the anniversary of a priest’s ordination is a special occasion to be remembered. Ask your priests when they were ordained, and then please pray for them, especially on their anniversaries. Let us also constantly pray for many more faithful men to respond joyfully to the Lord’s call to serve Him and the Church!

Ken Hallenius is a syndicated radio host and podcaster living in South Bend.

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