For those of us who were present yesterday morning for Fr Reid’s ordination, I’m sure you’ll agree that it was an occasion not only of great joy, but also of immense relief. The pastor, teacher, guide and friend to his flock, whom he so tenderly and lovingly shepherded into the rich pastures of the Catholic Church, has now been returned to his people as their priest. In one sense, everything is right with the world and as it should be. The Father Almighty reigns supreme in his holy heaven, Fr Reid is happily, once more, parish priest, and the Sodality of the Annunciation will continue to bear witness to the sublime patrimony of the Anglican tradition, worshipping God in the beauty of holiness and the lowliness of humble service. So much is the same. And yet, all is change! “Behold, I make all things new,” (Revelation 21.5) so says Our Lord. And, boy, does he means it!
Yesterday, as we witnessed the final installment of what Msgr Steenson referred to as Five Ordinations and a Wedding, in the ancient rite of the Ordination of Priests, Fr Reid was anointed and set apart to be for the people of God a Catholic priest. And this has required of him, and of his people, sacrifice and humility. For those of us who were Anglicans, the call to Catholic unity has compelled, demanded and insisted upon the need to follow Jesus Christ with every essence of our being, transforming our expectations and understanding, renewing and recalling us to our first love. And whilst this necessarily involves change, it isn’t a change we should ever fear. In the manner of Charles Wesley’s great hymn, Love divine, all loves excelling, this change is from “glory to glory,” that is, from one degree of joy and blessedness to another. It is, in fact, all part and parcel of our growing into Christ; our perfection into his own image. As Blessed John Henry Newman tells us, “Here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
Yesterday, and today, in this First Mass, we thank God for the change that has been required of us. As we honour and value all in the Anglican tradition that is beautiful and good and holy; all that formed us, and fed us; all that we have treasured and still love, we do so knowing that we cannot simply remain where we were. We are seeking perfection. We are striving to live. Our call to Catholic unity, to the life of the Ordinariate, will continually require of us the need to follow to the fullest sense the meaning of the hymn Fr Reid has chosen for the Offertory at this Thanksgiving Mass: “Take my life, and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to thee“. Take my hands, my voice, my feet, my lips, my intellect, my voice, my heart, my will, my moments and my days, yes, even my silver and gold. We must offer up all we have and seek to be made new.
And today, this is a new day; a day when Fr Reid goes unto the altar of God, for the first time as a Catholic priest, to do what he was ordained to do – and will do – for the rest of his life: to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, making newly-present the reality of Christ’s abiding presence with us in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. This is no passive or everyday action. Rather, this First Mass of a newly-ordained priest is dynamic and radical, precisely because it is infused with the reality that this is, in a sense, for the Sodality of the Annunciation, their First Mass, also. This Mass is, as it were, a parable of their journey, of their call to change; to become, most fully and really, part of the Body of Christ; to go from one degree of glory to another. As we join with them and their new priest in celebrating the Mysteries of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection, we are all caught up in the call to newness of life, to a changed life; to a Gospel which compels us to become what we receive; to take Christ’s presence out into a waiting world; to “preach good news to the poor . . . to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” (St Luke 4.18-19) as today’s Gospel reminds us.
In yesterday’s Ordination Mass, through the action of the Holy Ghost in the laying on of hands you, Fr Reid, received the power to absolve, to consecrate and to bless: the three particularities of priesthood. You have been changed forever. You have been set aside by the Church, for the Church: consecrated to be for the people of God a priest – not just for as long as you feel like it, but forever.
In the words of Pope St Gregory the Great, you are “a servant of the servants of God,” and we all do well to remember, as we good Anglicans always did, that the diaconate remains at the heart of priestly ministry: Once a deacon, always a deacon. Indeed St Gregory had this advice for those embarking on a life of priestly service: “Whosoever, then, desires to obtain priesthood, not for the pomp of elation but for doing good, let him first measure his own strength with the burden he is to undergo…and also approach it with fear, even if he thinks himself sufficient for it.”
Of course none of us is sufficient for it in our own strength but only through the help of God who has called us to share in his mission and given us this wonderful gift of priesthood. And it is a gift because despite the sheer hard work, priesthood brings great joy: the wonder of celebrating Mass can never be equalled. We who are priests are called into a share in Christ’s own priestly ministry – reconciling, blessing and being given the power to make Christ present in the Mass. There is nothing else like it on earth.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey, in his book of Ordination retreat addresses, The Christian Priest Today, said “The priest is called to reflect the priesthood of Christ and to serve the priesthood of the people of God and to be one of the means of grace whereby God enables the church to be the church.” So priests are called to be a means of God’s grace to those they serve. That is, at one and same time, awesome, but also an immense responsibility.
To emphasis this, at yesterday’s Ordination Mass Archbishop Prendergast asked Fr Reid, “Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure Sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourself to God for the salvation of all?” A priest’s life follows the pattern of Christ’s; from Passion and death to Resurrection and new life; changed from glory into glory. It is a life modelled on the Way of the Cross; a way that seeks perfection; a way that serves; a way where the standard of love is total. But in order to fulfil the demands as well as the joys of this calling a priest must be, before all else, a man of prayer. Faithfulness in prayer strengthens and forms the priestly life, and I know you know this already, Father. So, crucially, I want to encourage your people to care for you by supporting you in prayer and ensuring you have the time to do so. Archbishop Ramsey speaks of “being with God with your people on your heart“ as you offer Mass and pray faithfully the Divine Office. We are called to be near to Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus; to adore him; to be still in his presence.
I mentioned the three ‘particularities’ of priesthood – to absolve, to consecrate and to bless.
In absolving, the priest is called upon to declare God’s healing forgiveness and peace. And this means that the priest is ordained to be mediator ad Deum – mediator before God, mediating his forgiveness through the ministry of Confession and Absolution, preaching the Gospel of God’s reconciling love and wrought once for all on Calvary and freely available to all who are penitent. Jesus said in handing on this reconciling power to His apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit – whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sin you retain, they are retained.” I cannot emphasise enough the importance of this: going to Confession; examining your consciences; making full use of the Sacrament available so that you can deal sensibly and accurately with sin, and begin to “lead the new life, following the Commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways”. See your priest. Make use of him. Don’t go once a year; go every time you fall into mortal sin. Pour out your hearts to him; weep with him. Be reconciled to God through the ministry of your priest.
In consecrating, the priest is called upon to make holy. In the Mass, the priest stands in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Through the action of the Holy Ghost he has the power to make the everyday and mundane things holy so that Christ can truly be among us. It is one of the reasons why new priests hands are anointed with the Oil of Chrism at ordination. In taking, consecrating, breaking and distributing, the priest acts in Christ’s name and not only in the name of the gathered congregation but of the Church universal – on earth and in heaven. Again, I can’t say this more strongly: go to Mass. Fulfil your obligation to be present on the Lord’s Day, to participate in that great Sacrifice which will strengthen you for service, which will transform you, and make you whole. Be fed by your priest.
And in blessing, the priest is called upon to mediate God’s blessing on his people and to be a visible sign of that blessing. Priests are bearers of grace. They are called to guide and sanctify the faithful and to call down upon them God’s blessing. In blessing, the priest follows the example of our Saviour who blessed those who came to him for healing and simply to be in his presence. At the end of Mass Fr Reid will bless us with the Sign of the Cross in order that all may be strengthened and made holy to be bearers of Jesus Christ – to engage in his mission to the world.
This may all sound too much to live up to. No! It isn’t. The Apostles were all clay vessels, and so are we. Yet God calls us: to change, to live, to be perfect. He calls us from our comfortable places, and he calls us in times of anxiety and distress. We are to be conformed to the image of his likeness; to be one with him in the Body of his Catholic and Apostolic Church, from the glory of our Anglican life, to the greater glory of the fullness of Catholic truth.
Today your dear and humble priest is returned to you. Fr Reid has been set aside by the laying on of hands to watch for the signs of God’s presence in the world, to witness to Christ’s redeeming love, to absolve, consecrate and bless. Pray for him, support and uphold him, be challenged and renewed by him, be fed by him, be loved by him. And, Father, rejoice and be glad in the One who has called, and the One who is faithful – today as you offer the Holy Sacrifice at the altar, as a Catholic priest, for the first time, and every day. He chose you as his priest to bear fruit – fruit that will last; to go where he leads, to be for his people and to celebrate his presence. He has consecrated you to a life of dedication and holiness. He has called you in the particularity of your personality to be his priest forever. And for that: Thanks be to God.