Monday, May 23, 2005


It's spring. The trees are blooming and the beaches are booming. And just as constant in Philly's cycle of the seasons, habemus presbyterorum -- we have new priests.

Yesterday was Third Saturday; another year, another batch of ordinandi as we've had every single year since 1837. Five men comprised the class of 2005.

Bevy was present, which is always a blessing. But this year's iteration of the rite of spring will be remembered not for what did happen, but what didn't.

Last time we checked, priests were ordained to go out into the world and change it through their engagement. But this is Philadelphia, where the faithful are an afterthought and it's all clericalism all the time. And so, as opposed to giving communion to his flock (on this day, the parents and families of the ordained) Pharaoh stayed behind the line and held the ciborium for the other priests to take the host.

Such a gesture, however lacking in sound ecclesiology, might be appropriate on Holy Thursday at the Chrism Mass. But ordination is not Chrism Mass, Part Deux. Laypeople are Catholics, too. (Isn't that the most bizarre statement that's ever been called for?)

Behold, it gets better....

One of the time-honored traditions of Philadelphia culture -- a favorite moment of mine -- comes after the Ordination liturgy. After the pictures in front of the altar, the new priests station themselves at different points in the galleries which flank the nave, where they would receive congratulations from the public and give their first blessings to all takers, a beautiful way of starting their ministry.

Not this year.

At the 2004 ordination, his first as archbishop of Philadelphia, Rigali broke custom and gave the newly-ordained their assignments from the Chair at the end of mass. (In Bevy's time, they would have a "honeymoon" of a few weeks before receiving their assignments with the rest of the clerical changes.)

But again, this is Philadelphia, where "open" is synonymous with "verboten." And so, keeping with that rule -- "because the Holy Father told us to" -- the class of '05 were summoned into the Cathedral Rectory to receive their charges. They did not return to the Cathedral, and the gathered friends and relatives seeking those first blessings were left cold.

Candidly, it's tragic deprivation, another case of the unnecessary usurpation of pastoring by administration. Then again, remember that these are the people who tried to keep Daddy from walking his little princess down the aisle on her wedding day, then balked because the gathering stampede of people running away from the church could be felt at the chancery.

Given such a record, it's par for the course.



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