The next two weekends feature three ordinations to the priesthood for the FSSP in Australia and New Zealand, so I thought it might be a good thing to use this week to ponder a little the nature of the priesthood, and its implications for us all. But first a few practical issues...
Pray for the ordinands
First of all, I want to urge everyone to pray especially hard for the ordinands - Revs Marko Rehak, Dominic Popplewell and Antony Sumich FSSP - this week (and next for the last named), since that last stretch before the big day can often be a time of intense spiritual warfare!
So say a Veni Creator or some other suitable prayer for them each day!
Get to Canberra (or Auckland) if you can
Secondly, if you possibly can, do make a point of attending. Those who have been privileged to attend previous ordinations, particularly in the traditional rite, will know what a truly wonderful experience an ordination is. This is a very ancient and powerful ritual indeed, and not to be missed under any circumstances, and I'm sure the source of much grace for all attending as well as those receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Get that first blessing....
The third issue is to make sure you receive a first blessing from the new priests! A priest can give the special first blessing any time in the first year of his priesthood, so you do have some time, but remember to prepare a little - it comes with a plenary indulgence if you meet the usual conditions. Attending a new priest's first Mass (the only information I have on the FSSP one's is that the Rev Rehak's is scheduled for Sunday November 23 at 11.30am in Canberra) also has a plenary indulgence attached to it.
Pray for vocations
Finally, as we come up to the ordinations, it seems appropriate to ponder again the question of vocations. Vocations to the religious life and priesthood are probably the best measure of the health of a community that there is, and certainly the number of priests and religious is the most important measure of the state of the Church it seems to me. And although there has been a slow trickle of vocations, we desperately need more traditional priests and religious for Australia if we are going to rebuild a Catholic culture!
It is often claimed that the high level of vocations before Vatican II was an aberration. I'd argue that it was actually just a recovery to the norm represented by the middle ages and eighteenth century before the ravages of the Enlightenment hit. In seventeenth century Florence, for example, there were actually more nuns than married women! In our day, I think there is a strong case that what we need first and above all are those who pray. But it is also important to keep in mind that in the past, religious sisters provided the infrastructure in the form of schools, hospitals and other services that made it possible for the laity to live a catholic lifestyle.
So we all have a duty to pray for vocations both to the priesthood and religious life, and this time seems a particularly appropriate to do so. In fact this Friday (November 21) is Pro Orantibus Day - a day set aside by the Church to pray for those who pray on our behalf (especially those in cloistered religious communities), so you might want to think about how to mark that occasion.
Secondly, those who are parents should be thinking about whether they are doing enough to encourage their children to consider a vocation - are their teenage boys, for example, acting as altar servers?
Finally, all of us need to ponder afresh whether we ourselves might have a vocation. Discernment is something very neglected in our day - but in fact we all have a duty to test out our capacity, short of any obvious impediments or contrary indications, to pursue the priestly or religious life. The problem is that such a life requires sacrifices. And today many are reluctant to make the considerable sacrifices involved in faithful married life, let alone a vocation involving that demands a total surrender of self to God.