By Maureen Smith and Mary Woodward
The Mass of ordination for Binh Nguyen, José de Jesús Sánchez and Rusty Vincent honored the cultures of all three men and the church. Hymns, chants and readings in Spanish, Vietnamese, English and Latin alluded to the ancient tradition and modern reality of Catholicism. Bishop Joseph Kopacz greeted the congregation and thanked the ordinands’ families in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Planning for the celebration began months ago as the men completed their studies. Volunteers and staff members from the cathedral and chancery helped with every detail from parking arrangements to handing out programs and making sure the tables at the reception were well stocked with food.
The night before the Mass the ordinands gathered in the cathedral with Bishop Kopacz, the other seminarians, who acted as servers at the Mass and the ministers of ceremony to rehearse for the big day. The rehearsal began with Vespers, evening prayer, sung by all those gathered. The mood was quiet, but expectant as the seminarians led the small congregation in song and prayer.
The Rite has many parts so the then-deacons walked through every movement so they could better understand the mechanics of the ordination as well as have some time to reflect on its impact. Mary Woodward spoke to each seminarian about the responses he would be expected to give, when to stand and kneel and how the Mass would proceed. The Rite of Ordination commences after the Gospel. It began when Father Matthew Simmons, director of the diocesan vocations office, called forward the men and Father James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, attested that the men were ready to be ordained priests.
Bishop Kopacz directed his homily to the three, calling to mind Pope Francis’ exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” (The Joy of the Gospel), explaining that our joy is a reflection of God’s joy for us.
He called Holy Orders a special gift given directly to the men, but also to the whole church. “In turn, the gift of their lives laid down in loving service will be a blessing to the People of God, the Body of Christ, scattered throughout the Diocese of Jackson,” said Bishop Kopacz. “Without a doubt you are a gift to all of the clergy of this diocese. Each year at the Chrism Mass priests renew the promises we made on the day of our ordination. In a singular way today, as we lay hands upon you, you are inspiring us to stir into flame the gift we received with the laying on of hands,” he added.
He told them the call to the priesthood does not end at ordination. It is a life-long call, starting in the family, the domestic church, and continuing through their lives. “Those in the vocation ministry and in seminary formation, through dialogue, discernment, teaching and preaching, brought the Lord’s call in your lives into living waters. Without a doubt it takes an entire church to inspire and cultivate a vocation. It’s a community effort, and ultimately God’s work,” said the bishop.
After the homily each of the ordinands made five promises. As described in the rite the promises are to discharge the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops; to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith; to celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ handed down by the church, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people; to implore God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to their care by observing the command to pray without ceasing and 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 to consecrate themselves to God for the salvation of all.
The men then knelt individually before the bishop, placed their hands in his and promised obedience to him and his successors. The next part of the rite is perhaps the one that most people associate visually with ordination. The men then prostrate themselves before the altar as the congregation prays the litany of the saints. The prayer calls to mind the ancient tradition of asking the saints to pray for us and calls for the Holy Spirit to come down on the men about to be ordained.
Bishop Kopacz laid hands on each candidate’s head, and then each priest present also imposed hands on the men in silence symbolizing the men are joining the presbyterial college of the local church. The priests remained in the sanctuary, surrounding the bishop as he invoked the prayer of ordination. This prayer traces the priesthood from the call of Aaron in the Old Testament to the work of Jesus in the New Testament.
The new priests were then vested in stole and chasuble by a priest they had chosen, usually a mentor. Father Nguyen had Archbishop Emeritus Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, his spiritual director help vest him. Father Joseph Palermo, director of spiritual formation for Notre Dame Seminary vested Father Sanchez and Father Vincent’s uncle, Father Patrick Mascarella of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, vested him. Ideally priests should always wear a stole and chasuble when they celebrate Mass thus vesting symbolizes the men’s new status as priests.
Following the vesting came the anointing of the new priests hands. Anointing is a tradition dating to the earliest days of God’s covenant with his people. The bishop anointed the palms of each ordinand with Sacred Chrism consecrated on Tuesday of Holy Week at the Mass of the Oils.
Family members then brought up the gifts so the bishop can present each new priest with a chalice filled with water and wine and a paten with a host on it. The men held the gifts as the bishop recited the command, “Receive from the Holy People of God the gifts to be offered to God. Know what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”
The Rite concludes with the ancient exchange of the fraternal kiss of peace. The bishop offered it first to each priest and then all the priests in attendance took their turns giving the men a hearty hug. The exchange of peace is a way for the local clergy to welcome their new coworkers into their ranks.
The Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Before the final blessing each priest greeted the congregation. Father Nguyen read his greeting in Vietnamese, Father Sanchez in Spanish. Father Vincent approached the ambo and began, “I guess I’ll just talk in English.” He spoke of how he was feeling the joy St. John felt upon hearing Mary’s voice, saying he could barely contain it. That same joy rippled throughout the congregation as the bishop announced parish assignments for the men.
The congregation erupted in applause as each assignment was read. Father Nguyen will serve at Madison St. Francis of Assisi; Father Sanchez in the Catholic Community of Meridian, St. Patrick and St. Joseph, and Father Vincent will go to Greenville St. Joseph.
Festivities continued in the Cathedral Center with a reception for everyone. Those who attended were treated to a variety of foods. Members of the Vietnamese community came early to prepare hundreds of hand-rolled spring rolls on site to serve at the party along with catered food served by dozens of volunteers.
The Cathedral Flower guild created overflowing flower arrangements for the tables in the center full of dark pink, white and green flowers to compliment the colors of the cathedral. Well-wishers could sign guest books congratulating the three new priests and leave cards and gifts on a table set up just for that purpose.