In a span of two weeks, the Archdiocese of Chicago will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Orders five times. This past Saturday, in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mundelein Seminary, sixteen men were ordained to the transitional diaconate, along with one married man for the permanent diaconate. Next Saturday, twelve transitional deacons will be ordained priests at Holy Name Cathedral. The following day, Sunday, the Cathedral will again host the ordination of seven men from the English-speaking deacon formation program. One week later, at Saint Michael Church in Orland Park, nine candidates from the Spanish-speaking deacon formation program will receive Holy Orders. And on May 27th, three deacons will be ordained priests for service with the Canons of Saint John Cantius.
The paragraph I have just written is filled with descriptive adjectives. A descriptive adjective qualifies the noun which follows it. Far from being limiting, these descriptive adjectives reveal the richness that can be found in the ordained ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In this short blog, I want to share a couple of thoughts about the Sacrament of Holy Orders and then talk about the Archdiocese of Chicago’s diversity, a diversity which required the use of several descriptive adjectives to tell the story of ordained ministry.
First a word about ordination. Holy Orders is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. While it is one sacrament, it is administered in three degrees: bishop, priest and deacon. All sacraments make the Lord Jesus present in his Church. The Sacrament of Holy Orders makes Christ present as Shepherd, High Priest and Servant. The fullness of Holy Orders is the Order of Bishop. The bishop makes Christ present as prophet (the teaching ministry), priest (the sanctifying ministry) and king (the pastoral or governing ministry), continuing the role which the apostles had in the early Church. The bishop is head and shepherd of the local church, the diocese. In a large diocese like Chicago, the diocesan bishop is also assisted by several other bishops, who share in his apostolic ministry. The diocesan bishop gathers around himself other priests of a second order (also called presbyters) who are his co-workers in the three offices of teacher, priest and pastor. Some of these priests stand in his place as pastors of the local communities, the parishes. Others share in his teaching ministry, for example as seminary professors. Still others collaborate with him in the governance of the diocese in the Chancery or Tribunal. Both the bishop and his priests are assisted by another order, the Order of the Diaconate. These men are ordained, not to the priesthood but to service of the Word, the Altar and Charity. Chicago is proud to boast that it has the largest diaconate in the entire Catholic Church with over 600 deacons.
Next, I want to look at the adjectives that reveal the richness of the ordained ministry in our local Church. Speaking first of the deacons, I mentioned several adjectives above: transitional, permanent, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking. What do these mean?
The Catholic Church chooses her priests, and therefore her bishops, solely from the ranks of men who have served as deacons. Rather than a stepping stone to higher office, it is best to think of the diaconate as revealing the foundational quality of any ordained minister. This is the quality Pope Francis has been calling on all clergy, bishops, priests and deacons to recover in their lives and ministries. It is also the quality that Jesus himself mandated when, at the Last Supper, he took a towel and began to wash the feet of his disciples. It is for this reason that some men are ordained as transitional deacons. As part of their preparation for the priesthood, they must first acquire a deacon’s heart of service.
The bishops of the Archdiocese of Chicago are a mirror of this local Church, of her catholicity as are the priests and deacons who will receive the sacrament in the next two weeks. Our priests come both from the Chicago area, other parts of the United States, Latin America and Poland. Like all diocesan priests, the commit themselves to life-long service to the Church of Chicago. Our deacons reflect both the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities of the Archdiocese. It is a testimony to the strength of the faith in these communities that they are producing vocations to the ordained ministry.
As Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote, the vocation to the ministerial orders places a man at the service of the Order of the baptized. The model for all those in holy orders is Jesus at the Last Supper. Before celebrating with the first apostles in the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus took on the role of deacon, and gave them the mandate to do the same. We who are ordained in succession after them, must do likewise. Please pray for your ordained ministers.