At my first Mass at a Catholic priest which was celebrated on the Feast of St Benedict, 11th July 1998, in the Church of the Holy Souls, Acocks Green, Birmingham, I quoted the words of a beautiful poem by John Keble.
A mortal youth I saw
Nigh to Christ’s altar draw
And lowly kneel, while o’er him pastoral hands
Were spread with many a prayer.
And when he rose up there
He could undo or bind
The dread celestial bands.
When bread and wine he takes
And of Christ’s Passion makes
Memorial high before the mercy throne.
Faith speaks, and we are sure
That offering good and pure
Is more than angels’ bread to those whom Christ will own.
What is that silent might
Making the darkness light,
New wine our waters, heavenly Blood our wine?
Christ with his mother dear
And all his saints is here
And where they dwell is heaven and what they touch divine.
I had been ordained to the Priesthood in St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, just the night before and so that ordination scene was still very fresh in my mind. And as I stood at the altar and took the bread and wine into my newly anointed hands I felt very strongly that my personal journey of conversion had finally come to an end and that I was not only safe now within the fold of the Catholic Church but that God (in what St Paul called his “foolish wisdom”) had chosen me to serve his holy people as a Priest. It is very hard to put into words how I felt that day. What I certainly felt was the presence of Christ and His Blessed Mother and that of the Communion of Saints whose prayerful assistance had been invoked on my behalf as I had lain prostrate before the altar upon the cathedral floor the previous evening. And I felt too the loving presence and support of innumerable relatives and friends, living and departed, who had helped me on my journey. Sadly my grandmother had died just days before but she was just as present to me as those who were physically present with me both in the cathedral and the church the next day.
So much of this came flooding back to me at the recent ordination of Alistair Ferguson, John Konstantin Tee and Michael Thompson who were ordained as Deacons by Bishop John Wilson on Saturday, 12th January, in the beautiful Ordinariate Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory, Warwick Street, London. Their journey to the Priesthood is not yet over but their ordination to the Diaconate clearly marks a significant step on the way. They will eventually be not only Priests forever but Deacons forever as Monsignor Keith Newton reminded us in his homily. The three of them have been beneficiaries of the St Barnabas Society and to their number as Deacons in recent months can be added John Owens and Sam Randell as well as Jack Lusted who has already been ordained as a Priest. For the Society to be able to help in giving these men as gifts to the Church to serve as Sacred Ministers is the most important and precious thing we have to offer. For not only does it represent personal fulfilment for them but also the continuing growth of the Church at this challenging time in her history. I am not sure that any of these men would now regard themselves as “a mortal youth” since they are just a little more mature in years than that! But their willingness to give themselves to God in this way will touch the lives of innumerable people in the future and help to nourish them with God’s precious gifts of Word and Sacrament.
As I travel around the country making appeals on behalf of the Society something I am particularly keen to stress is that to support the work of the St Barnabas Society is also to help maintain the Catholic religion in this country. Many of our Catholic dioceses would be seriously struggling were it not for those who have found the fulfilment of their conversion experience in ordination as a Catholic Priest. May that always be the case. May God continue to lead men of faith into the full communion of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and, through that experience, raise them to serve Him at His altars.
Almighty God, give us priests:
To establish the honour of your holy name;
To offer the holy sacrifice of the altar;
To give us Jesus in the holy sacrament;
To proclaim the faith of Jesus;
To baptise and teach the young;
To tend your sheep; to seek the lost;
To give pardon to the penitent sinner;
To bless our homes; to pray for the afflicted;
To comfort mourners; to bless our graves;
To strengthen us in our last hour;
To commend our souls;
Almighty God, give us priests!