The mother of a priest

The mother of a priest

Three years ago today, at the conclusion of my ‘First Mass,’ I placed flowers before an image of Our Lady, and consecrated my priestly ministry to her Immaculate Heart.

But immediately before that, I presented my own mother with a special gift. The previous day, the bishop had anointed my hands with the Oil of Chrism. I used a specially bought cloth (an embroidered purificator, I recall) to remove the excess oil from my hands. It was this cloth, perfumed by the Chrism, which I presented to Mum after my First Mass.

This custom is the modern variation of an old and venerable tradition, wherein a newly ordained priest presented to his mother his manitergium.

The manutergium (from the Latin manu+tergium = hand towel) is a long cloth that was used in the preconciliar rite of ordination. It was wrapped around the hands of the newly ordained priest after the Bishop anointed his hands with the sacred Chrism. The purpose was to prevent excess oil from dripping onto vestments or the floor during the remainder of the ordination rites.

The manutergium (from the Latin manu+tergium = hand towel) is a long cloth that was used in the preconciliar rite of ordination. It was wrapped around the hands of the newly ordained priest after the bishop had anointed his hands with the sacred Chrism. The purpose was to prevent excess oil from dripping onto vestments or the floor during the remainder of the ordination rites.

According to tradition, the mother of a priest is to keep this precious cloth in a safe place. When she is buried, the cloth is placed in her hands. In the case of an open coffin, it serves as a reminder that one of her sons is a priest — a rare honour given to few.

The practice also evokes a pious legend, which imagines that when the mother of a priest finally meets our Lord face to face, and is asked that fateful question — “Did you love me?” — she can reply in the affirmative, presenting as part of her case, her Chrism-fragranced hands. This demonstrates that she loved our Lord so much, that she gave to him one of her sons, to serve him as a priest.

The literal details of that legend are of course superstitious, but I don’t think the gesture can be reduced to superstition. I think the presentation of the manutergium recognises and honours something profound. Not being a mother myself, I can’t very well describe it. (Perhaps I should ask my mum!)

In the meantime, we can consider this very moving footage from the ordination of three priests in Melbourne last June. If pictures tell a thousand words, then a motion picture must tell millions.

This video shows Fr Michael Kong, Fr Matthew Baldwin, and Fr Vinh Nguyen processing out at the conclusion of their ordination, and receiving the congratulations of their brother priests and seminarians. Then it cuts to Fr Michael blessing his mother, who is deeply, deeply, moved. That scene speaks volumes, I imagine, to what every woman of faith experiences, when her son becomes a priest.

H/T Bucky.

Three years a priest

Three years a priest

Three years ago today — three years already! — I was ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

I have to admit, this anniversary would have passed me by, except that my grandmother called last night to congratulate me. Which meant she also inadvertantly reminded me.

I think if she hadn’t called, I’d have realised today’s anniversary when I prayed this morning’s Office of Readings, which commemorates the Feast of Ss Cornelius and Cyprian. That would have jogged my memory.

But actually, it wouldn’t have come to that because dozens of other friends have also contacted me today, sending me their congratulations. I may have forgotten, but others didn’t. Thanks everyone!

The last few days have been a wonderful way to celebrate. On Saturday, I attended the ordination of three priests and six deacons in Melbourne, among whom are some of my dearest friends.

Here’s some photos taken by Junray Rayna, a Sandhurst seminarian who will himself be ordained a deacon this Saturday:

This was a great way to celebrate the anniversary of my own ordination. I was able to renew my promises and my consecration, and to share with my brothers the joy of priesthood.

In his homily, Archbishop Hart remarked on the value of friendships forged in the seminary, but he added that as important and blessed as this fraternity is, a priest’s relationship with the people entrusted to him is even more important and grace filled. I know what he means. The following day’s First Communion celebrations in Hamilton were another excellent way to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination. Nothing compares to preparing children to receive into themselves the Real Presence of Jesus Christ . . . except maybe all the other sacraments a priest is called on to minister!

Still, Ordinations and First Communions are my two favourite days in the year (after Easter and Christmas). So this last weekend was a great double whammy which has renewed my gratitude for the holy priesthood. Deo gratias.

Ordination in Adelaide

Ordination in Adelaide

Adi Indra, a second year seminarian for the diocese of Sandhurst, has applied his considerable talents to the production of a short film promoting Corpus Christi College.

Having credited Adi, I don’t want to diminish the work of the priests and seminarians which collaborated with him. The result is an engaging and informative glimpse into seminary life.

One of the seminarians featured in the video is Rev Michael Romeo, whom Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson will ordain to the priesthood this Friday. Keep him especially in your prayers!

Adelaide Ordinations

What seems a lifetime ago — only two weeks — I travelled to Adelaide to attend the ordination to the diaconate of one of my dearest friends in the seminary.

Someone remarked to me recently — and I agreed wholeheartedly — that in Michael Romeo, Adelaide will get three priests, such is his competence and work ethic. (I’ll get in trouble if he reads that, so here’s hoping he’s so busy with diaconal duties that he doesn’t have time to read this blog.)

Michael was ordained deacon en route to priestly ordination next year. Ordained with him were Arturo Jimenea and Michael Moore, who will be permanent deacons, dedicating the rest of this lives to diaconal ministry.

Video of the ordination has been uploaded to YouTube. An hour-long YouTube clip is a stretch in whatever circumstance, but the beauty of YouTube is that it leaves you free to watch your own customised highlights package. I recommend watching from 29:48, which begins the rite of ordination itself, and from 46:15, which begins a very beautiful post-communion motet. (I forget which. Maybe someone more conversant with sacred music might identify it.)

Colloquially speaking, deacons “hatch, match, and dispatch.” (They preside at baptisms, marriages and funerals.) More formally:

The deacon’s ministry is to bring God’s Word to believer and unbeliever alike, to preside over public prayer, to baptise, to assist at marriages and bless them.  To give viaticum to the dying, and to lead the rites of burial. Once he is consecrated by the laying on of hands, he will perform works of charity in the name of the Bishop. The deacon is to celebrate faithfully the liturgy of hours for the Church and for the whole world.

The “permanent diaconate” was restored to the Latin Church only recently. For many centuries, the only Roman Catholic deacons were “transitional deacons” — that is, men like Rev Romeo, who are ordained deacon in preparation for priestly ordination. The order of “permanent deacons” was restored in 1978.

Notable deacons include St Stephen Protomartyr, St Laurence, and St Francis of Assisi. May they bless and intercede for Michael and his brother deacons, permanent and transitional both.

Canberra’s Catholic festa

Canberra’s Catholic festa

The Canberra Times has a nice article and photo gallery on last weekend’s ordination of Fr Paul Nulley, who succeeds Ballarat’s Fr James Kerr as youngest priest in Australia.

For two days, the precinct around Canberra’s cathedral evoked something much smaller and low key but still similar to World Youth Day. I think several factors contributed to this.

Firstly, the ordination and First Mass were both in Canberra’s cathedral, which is quite central (insofar as Canberra has a centre at all). Before and after both masses, the surrounding restaurants and cafés were filled with people who were attending Fr Paul’s ordination. Many of them were dressed in clerics or habits, which naturally attracted the curious attention of passers by.

Secondly, the Corpus Christi seminarians attended in great numbers. This is the Melbourne seminary’s greatest claim to fame, I think: students cultivate a genuine fraternity, which means that guests of one seminarian enjoy the hospitality and attention of many seminarians, and when a man is ordained, his brothers will make every effort to attend. The spectacle of so many seminarians, who are both young and enthusiastic, left an added impression on passers by, quite apart from the vision of Roman collars and religious habits.

Thirdly, Canberra is a long way from Melbourne, which means that visiting clergy, religious, and seminarians stayed and socialised. Ordinations in Melbourne and Ballarat and Bendigo don’t have quite the same impact because many visitors make a beeline for the event, and then quickly return home. It is entirely understandable, and I did this myself when I attended Fr Ashley Caldow’s ordination in Bendigo. But when an ordination is in a more remote place like Canberra or Bathurst, that option isn’t available, and the alternative lends itself to something of a spontaneous Catholic festival.

I must say, the weekend was a wonderful celebration, and a great opportunity for Catholic witness. I had several conversations with curious locals — in the cathedral precinct itself, at the airport, and on the flight home. I can only imagine other priests and seminarians had similar conversations.

I might add, Pope Francis was often raised in these conversations. His words and gestures, like the “spectacle” of Fr Paul’s ordination, evidently made a positive impact on the people who spoke to me. Such encounters can hopefully contribute, in a small way, to the edification of God’s Kingdom. I always keep faith in the mysteries of grace!

I hope that we will see something similar unfold in Adelaide some time next year. Michael Romeo will be ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese in a few weeks time, which means that he will probably be ordained a priest in 2014. Then we have all the ingredients for another weekend like Fr Paul’s.

Pray for Fr Paul Nulley, and for Michael Romeo, and for the men who will be ordained transitional deacons for the Archdiocese of Melbourne this Saturday: Michael Kong, Linh Pham, Minh Tran, and Sang Ho. Ad multos annos!

The current sixth years, four of whom will be ordained on Saturday.

The current sixth years, four of whom will be ordained on Saturday.

Highlights of an ordination

Highlights of an ordination

The photos in this post are of Fr Ashley Caldow’s ordination, in Bendigo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, on 14 September this year.

The photos are mostly from the Catholic Community of Bl John Henry Newman and Michael Daniel’s Flickr page. There is one exception: Carmel Righetti took the photo of me laying my hands on Ashley’s head.

Seminarians in choir


“In choir” doesn’t mean these guys will lead the singing. It means they are dressed in soutane and surplice, they process in and out with the clergy and altar servers, and they sit in a designated place. Critics of this custom say it is clerical and sets the seminarians apart; proponents — and I am one! — say that it’s good witness to the vitality of the priestly vocation. It can only have a positive impact on the young man who is sitting at the back of the church, moved by the ordination he is attending, but wrestling with the possibility that God might be calling him to be a priest too.

Apart from that, ordinations are a great highlight in the seminary year. Seven or so years at the seminary is a tough slog. There were times when I was discouraged, and I contemplated leaving. Ordinations are an occasion for seminarians to renew their assent to the priestly vocation, and share in their brothers’ joy.

The two seminarians at the head of this procession will be ordained deacons in the next few weeks. Pray for them!

The priestly ordinand


This photo shows then-Deacon Paul Nulley (he was ordained a priest last night) processing in, like the other seminarians, “in choir.” You might just make out a red stole hanging from his left arm. He will wear the diaconal stole during the rite of communion, in the same style that Deacon Ashley Caldow is wearing his.

Ashley, you can see, is not “in choir.” He is vested in soutane, alb and stole. The alb belongs to the late Fr Les Ring, who was Ashley’s parish priest when he was younger. This gives you a better view of the alb:


Incidentally, at an ordination mass the clergy are usually vested in white or gold. But Fr Ashley was ordained on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, so the vestments were red.

Presentation of the candidate


After the Gospel, the seminary rector, Fr Brendan Lane, presented Ashley to the bishop. Bishop Tomlinson asked, “Do you judge him to be worthy?”

Fr Brendan replied, “After inquiry among the people of Christ and upon recommendation of those concerned with his training, I testify that he has been found worthy.”

The bishop then declared his intention to ordain Ashley, and the people replied, “Thanks be to God.” That’s the cue for everyone to applaud. I’ve heard it said that in ancient times, if people did not applaud or otherwise express their consent, the ordination didn’t go ahead!

The bishop preaches


After this, the bishop preaches. Here you can see that Bishop Tomlinson is preaching from a chair placed in front of the altar. The bishop could also preach from the ambo, where the Gospel was proclaimed and where priests usually preach, or he could preach from his cathedra, which is the ordinary place for a bishop to preach (ex cathedra).

I guess Bishop Tomlinson is preaching from here because this is where he will minister the sacrament of ordination. It is closer to the people, and affords them a better view of the rite. This is also the practice in Melbourne and Ballarat.

The ordinand is examined


After the homily, the ordinand resumes his place standing before the bishop who asks him a series of questions. The ordinand resolves to devote himself to the priestly ministry “as a conscientious fellow worker with the bishop.” He resolves to celebrate the sacraments “faithfully and religiously.” He resolves to teach and preach “worthily and wisely.” He resolves to consecrate his life to God, and unite himself with Christ the High Priest.

Then the ordinand approaches the bishop, kneels before him, and joins his hands in fealty. The bishop clasps his hands and asks him, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”


Every time Christians kneel and join their hands in pray, we evoke this posture of obedience. It recalls our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Lk 22:42)

The litany of saints


During the litany of saints, everyone in the church kneels towards the altar, and prays for the ordinand. The ordinand himself lies prostrate before the altar.

This always moved me when I was a seminarian, and it moves me still.

The laying of hands


The bishop lays his hands on the ordinand in silence.


All the priests present — me too! — do the same. The act of the priests isn’t sacramental. Their imposition of hands merely makes more forceful the outward sign of power being conferred through the bishop’s sacramental action.



The bishop stretches out both hands and speaks or sings the prayer of consecration. At Ashley’s ordination, the priests present formed a semi-circle behind the bishop, raised their right hand and prayed in silence.

I’ve never seen this happen before, but apparently it was the universal practice in the pre-conciliar rite of ordination. I guess it’s one of those things that some dioceses have held on to.



The bishop anoints the new priest’s hands with the oil of sacred chrism. This oil is also used at baptism, confirmation, and in the coronation of Christian monarchs.


Here Fr Ashley wipes the chrism from his hands. Since the oil is perfumed, the cloth becomes perfumed. The day after I was ordained, at the conclusion of my Mass of Thanksgiving, I presented the purificator I had used to my mother.

The mother of a priest is often buried with the cloth wrapped around her hands. Then — this is a superstition, but a pious and edifying one, if not taken literally! — when she stands before the Lord, her hands smell of chrism, and our Lord recognises her as the mother of a priest.

The priest is vested


A priest assists the newly ordained to be vested. Fr Ashley asked Fr Michael McAffrey FSSP, from Adelaide, to assist him. As you can see, Fr Ashley was vested in a Roman chasuble, also known as a “fiddle back” chasuble.

Many people view this design as “pre-conciliar” and associate it with the Traditional Latin Mass. The Gothic chasuble, which is much more commonly used, is viewed as its modern counterpart. In fact, though, the Gothic design is more ancient than the Roman design. Both designs are perfectly legitimate, and may be used at either form of the Roman Rite.

Presentation of gifts

The bishop presents the new priest with the gifts which will be offered for sacrifice. An ordinand will often receive an ordination gift of a new chalice and paten, so these are used in this rite. The paten is loaded with bread and the chalice is filled with wine and water.

Having received the gifts for the sacrifice, the gifts are moved to the altar where they are offered at the same Mass.

The sign of peace


The rite of ordination concludes with the sign of peace. The bishop is the first to express his fraternity with the new priest.


And then Fr Ashley’s sacerdotal brothers are able to do the same.

Consecration to our Lady


At the conclusion of his ordination Mass, Fr Ashley consecrated himself to our Lady and entrusted his priesthood to her. This is an entirely optional addition, and quite distinct from the ordination. After all, the sacrament itself already consecrates a priest to the Holy Trinity.

Speaking personally, though, I think this is a beautiful custom. I did the same, not at the conclusion of my ordination Mass, but at the conclusion of my Mass of Thanksgiving the next day. I keep the text of my consecration and entrustment on my desk, and I make it a daily habit to to read it and interiorly renew it.

Priestly blessings


It’s an old and venerable custom to ask a newly ordained priest for his blessing. (“Newly-ordained,” in this context, applies for 18 months after the ordination!) You can say, quite simply, “Father, your blessing,” and if you’re able, you kneel before him. (He won’t mind whether you stand or kneel.) The priest then gives his blessing.

From the look of this photo, my guess is that Fr Ashley is giving the traditional blessing of the newly ordained, which is very lengthy and easier to read than to memorise!

At the conclusion of the blessing, many people kiss the palms of the priest’s hands. These hands, after all, were recently anointed with the sacred chrism, and the same hands handle the Body and Blood of Christ and minister the sacraments. In my experience, half the people kissed my hands, and half didn’t, so don’t feel pressured either way. Again speaking personally, I think this is a beautiful custom.

So, if you run into Fr James Kerr, or Fr Ashley Caldow, or Fr Paul Nulley, or Fr Siju Mukakejakayil in the next 18 months, ask them for a blessing!