A priest for ever

A priest for ever

Last night, on the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, Michael Gallacher was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Michael and I started in the seminary together, and I count him among my closest friends. We should have finished in the seminary together, but midway through our fifth year, Archbishop Hart sent Michael to Rome for further study. That is testament in itself to Michael’s intellect, dedication, and leadership.

It was very moving to see Michael ordained a priest last night, and to be there this morning when he offered his first mass at his home parish. In fact it was every bit as moving as my own ordination nine months ago.

There might be a few reasons for this. Seminary life is not always easy, and it forges strong and lasting friendships. Every time a brother seminarian leaves, it’s something of a blow to those who remain. Doubly so when it’s someone from your own year level. When a brother seminarian is ordained a priest, it’s a great joy. Now, I find, it is doubly so when it’s someone from your own year level.

But another reason comes to mind. This is the first priestly ordination I have attended since becoming a priest myself. I count it a real privilege that I should lay hands for the first time on the head of one of my best friends. But now it’s not only a shared vocation and shared history which unites us. We’re also united by the priesthood itself.

Again and again as a seminarian, and especially on the occasion of my own ordination, priests remarked that I filled them with hope. Not me specifically. Or rather, not me exclusively. But all those men who discerned a priestly call and assented. But it wasn’t until last night that I really understood what they meant.

Seeing a man ordained a priest, as a priest myself, gave me new insight into the mystery of sacramental orders. “A priest is not his own,” goes the old saying. Nor, it can be added, is his priesthood his own. There is only one priest, Jesus Christ the High Priest, who has permitted me to share in his ministerial priesthood. I was acutely aware of that last night, as I watched my brother and my friend receive the same share.

The hope and joy which I experienced was not sectarian or self-satisfied: “Another one joins the club, affirming my own choice.” That doesn’t capture it. It was hope in the priesthood. The Lord’s priesthood: the marvellous gift of redemption and salvation which Jesus has given men and women. And again I was filled with awe and gratitude that the Lord had called me to share in his this.

Perhaps Fr Michael’s ordination was so evocative of my own because in some ecclesial sense, our ordinations – and every priestly ordination – is the one event, in a way analogous to the unity of every mass with the sacrifice at Calvary, offered once and for all. Or maybe I’m lurching into heresy – unintentionally of course!

In any event, I wasn’t the only one to share Fr Michael’s joy last night. The centre pews of St Patrick’s Cathedral were full from front to back with a remarkable microcosm: family, Whitefriar old boys, mates from footy and athletics and umpiring, friends from Monash and the Catholic Theological College and NET Ministries, young and old, believers and non-believers.

All of them were there to support Michael, and in many cases to pray for him. But ordinations – like all sacramental celebrations – can bring many unexpected graces on such observers. One of those graces is a much needed one: a prompting from the Lord to follow him in a particular vocation. To lay down one’s life for him, and for the world. Be it priestly or religious or another form of life.

In his words of thanks at the end of last night’s mass, Fr Michael remarked that he had no doubt there were young men in that vast congregation whom God was calling to the priesthood. I don’t doubt it either. The following image came to mind which captures something, I think, of the grace of last night’s event.

A small boy spontaneously imitates the ordinands,
prostrate before the Lord during the Litany of Saints.