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Father Muench Says...

‘I still remember that day well’

May 29, 2024

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Today, I would like to share with you something about ordinations to priesthood and diaconate. In our Catholic Church, ordinations are scheduled near the Feast of Pentecost, the memorial of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. We believe the Holy Spirit continues to be very active in our Church. We believe priests and deacons are ordained by the coming of the Holy Spirit through the imposition of the hands of a bishop on the candidate.

So, let me tell you about my ordination: I was ordained as a priest on May 16, 1959, but I still remember that day well. I was ordained at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg by Bishop Navagh. There were seven of us ordained that day. Sadly, five of my classmates are with the Lord. Presently, my only classmate still active in the diocese is Father Philip Allen.

I remember I drove up to Ogdensburg from my home in Syracuse. I gathered with the others at the cathedral to prepare ourselves for the ceremony. I remember that afterwards, my friends and I stopped at a store to buy some ice cream to share with the present seminarians who were at Wadhams Hall.

On the day of the ordination, I remember feeling confident that this is what the Lord wanted for me. The ceremony began when we were called forward from the congregation by name. Our bishop then gave an instruction of all that was expected of us as priests.

I want you to know that the promises we made then are the same as now. We promised to consecrate our lives for the ministry of the Church. We promised to fulfill the office of priest with humble charity to benefit the Christian people. We promised to hold fast to the mystery of faith and to proclaim this faith in word and deed. We promised to embrace the state of celibate chastity as a sign of dedication to Christ the Lord. We promised to pray the liturgy of the Divine Office. We promised to respect and obey the bishop.

Then, the more dramatic part of the ordination: We are asked to prostrate ourselves on the sanctuary floor as the choir chants the Litany of the Saints. Now, I want to be honest, I cannot remember exactly what I was thinking during that time. I suspect I was listening for my favorite saints in the litany. I like to think I was also remembering the other mentors who led me to this moment – there were many priests and many people who had touched my life.

Then we approached the bishop, who imposed his hands on our head, and we were priests. This was the moment. There were other ceremonies – the one I remember well was when the bishop blessed and anointed my hands with the Sacred Chrism, preparing me for the celebration of Mass. My hands belonged to the Lord.

We were then vested in the Mass vestments. We had each chosen a special priest – a friend, a mentor – to assist us in this vesting. I remember well that I had chosen Father George Whittaker to be with me. As a seminarian, I had spent time at his parish, helping where I could. Father Whittaker shared so many wonderful stories. He had served in the Army in World War II before entering the seminary. I can still tell you many of those stories.

We then went to the altar for the Eucharist. We were now priests. We were ready to celebrate Mass. The day after our ordination, I went back to my home parish and celebrated my first Mass with family and friends. This was one of the most important and exciting weekends in my life and became the foundation of my priesthood.

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