An Ordination- Deo Gratias!

Lou & I really did have the most splendid weekend. I actually had a rather splendid week, with our year six leaver's Mass on Monday night, a meeting on Tuesday night which afforded the opportunity for a cheeky Nando's (which I will never pass up), and then a day at Berry Bros & Rudd's Wine School on Thursday with my brother-in-law to learn all about Spanish wine (which was, I have to say, absolutely excellent, and very enjoyable).

On Friday however, we were fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Priestly Ordination of Stefan Kaminski, bestowed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, with Mgr Keith Newton, and a host of other clergy, at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington High Street. The Church was looking magnificent, the reredos having been recently renovated, it provided a fitting setting for such a special occasion.

I met Stefan's mum about eight years ago, when we started a degree course at Maryvale together. Stefan had just started studying for the priesthood at that time. He has featured on my blog before, many moons ago, when he wrote on The Annunciation.

Over the years, Louise and I became close friends with the Kaminski family. We have spent some lovely times together, including meeting up with Stefan at the Venerable English College in Rome and a number of wonderful holidays, and they were all very supportive when we lost Ruth. Marie-Claire has a great knowledge and love of the faith, and though a talented musician by trade, she is a passionate theologian who helped and inspired me greatly through five years of study. It was also very interesting that her own study paralleled the subjects her son was studying simultaneously in Rome.

At the weekend, it seemed slightly surreal that after so many years anticipating, here was the magnificent moment. With all the usual family nonsense that comes with the end of term, Lou and I faced a mad dash across London before checking in to our hotel and quickly changing into some presentable cloths. At this point I realised I hadn't packed any socks and, somewhat enivitably, faced the usual comments about not being able to do the most mundane things for myself from my wife! Most acutely for Louise were Marie-Claire's feelings at this moment. Her only son was to be consecrated and changed ontologically on this day: to become a man set apart--Sacerdotus-- a man for others-- called to be “alter Christus” -- another Christ. She was giving him away just as surely as if he was getting married, and the emotion was palpable.

Of course, she was doing so with a profound sense of joy. Indeed I would say joy was the emotion most evident throughout the whole event. It was somewhat like a wedding, but a wedding where everyone present understands the lifetime of preparation that has led up to this moment; a marriage formed at the point of conception:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” ~ Jer 1:5
This means there is a profound sense of a spiritual reality evident to everyone present. That's what this is about after all; a tangible calling from God to this young man, who has had the courage to answer "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." Priesthood requires extraordinary sacrifice for the individual contemplating it. I think this is especially the case as we expect it of our most able, our brightest and best to take up the challenge. Take celibacy for example: the celibate way of loving asked of the priest can sometimes manifest "aloneness". Marriage and family life are among our greatest joys and blessings and the priest comes from a family environment in which they have necessarily been loved and cherished; exposed to all the love a Catholic family can give (of course this is not always the case, but certainly it is in Stefan's case). The priest Hands over the freedom to plan his own future in the promise of obedience to his bishop, and this is a tremendous sacrifice and something bishops must be ever aware of. The priestly ministry calls also for a poverty of spirit, which involves not only a simple lifestyle, but also the loving surrender of much of one's time and privacy.

Fr. Stefan with the family at Allen Hall.
The priest is asked to make the entire gift of himself, to lay down his whole life as a sign of his great love for the Lord and his flock. However this is not some vulgar imposition forced on an individual from an authoritarian Church, on the contrary. It flows naturally from all that it means to be a priest – someone who 'signs', 'images', 'represents' and shares in a very special way the ministry of the Good Shepherd himself. If a priest is to be a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, in his mind and heart he must be the same as Jesus himself (Philippians 2:5). Everything we say about the ministry of the priest ‑ his servant authority, the sacrifices required, his way of life - flows from his relationship with Christ and the call to be a living sign of His presence and action. If he is to be the image of Jesus for his community, he has to reflect deeply on what the New Testament tells us about Jesus: what he came to do, how he carried out his ministry, how he lived his life.

All this was going through my mind as I watched this young man being consecrated before his community in West London, on a sweltering hot evening.

The Church was stifling, I have to say, but despite the heat, we were all enthralled. The music was beautiful and helped focus the mind on the sacramental realities being played out before us. Cardinal Vincent Nichol's gave an excellent homily as well. Afterwards, we had a bit of a party in the Parish Centre and Stefan gave this speech, which I think gives you an idea of how he was feeling after this.

We had the opportunity to catch up with a number of good friends, and wandered back to our hotel with a warm feeling, privileged to have witnessed this event, a "beginning" in so many important ways, but also the "end" of a journey for Stefan and his family.

The next day was Stefan's first Mass, so after a most enjoyable breakfast we headed back along Kensington High Street, where, upon arrival at the Church, Daniel ushered a lot closer to the front than we had been the night before. This afforded the opportunity for me to take a bit of video. Mostly I wanted to record the incredible music to share. Dr. Timothy Bowers, faculty member at the Royal Academy of Music had especially composed a Missa Brevis, Mass setting for this first Mass. It was sung by the Schola Cantorum from the Oratory School AND IT WAS STUNNING!!!

I didn't get all of it, but here is the Sanctus for your edification:

And this is Jubilate Deo by Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) which was sung at the preparation of the gifts:

I also got some footage of Stefan distributing Holy Communion:

Fr. Anthony Doe gave a really brilliant homily, I felt like it was a Christology lecture actually, about the profound nature of the priesthood and the kenotic dimension therein. He worked this alter Christus perspective back through a Marian dimension, to show how Mary helps us with all these issues so profoundly. If we want to understand the things that we are given, we need do no more than reflect on it from a Marian dimension. It is Mary who provided us with the gate through which our divine destiny became possible. It is Mary who watched her beloved Son grow and who "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." Lk 2:19

Fr. Stefan with his mum.
I can't help but go back to Stefan's mother, Marie-Claire, and how she has heard the Word of God, and it has grown inside her as she has pondered it and nurtured her children with the wisdom she has found therein. How profound is a mother's input, how important her influence. I said to someone there (I can't remember who) that I couldn't help but wonder what Cardinal Nichols was thinking at the Ordination Mass, and Cardinal O'Connor at the First Mass. Here are these two men at a celebration of profound and orthodox Catholicity. The Mass is packed with worshipers. Mass is over two hours long, the music sublime, the Sacrifice is conducted with great reverence and care. Many worshipers receive the blessed sacrament on the tongue, some kneeling on the stone floor. Surely they can see that Ordinations come from families who are seriously Catholic, and thus these are the people the Church needs to support and nurture with great affection? What young man will commit his life to uncertainty or relativistic ideals? Yet this seems to have been our teleology for nearly fifty years. Do they look round at the lack of vocations and think that it is just the way of the world? Or do they see that if we want our children to take the faith of Christ seriously, we must take it seriously? We must live it and so them how transformative it can be; why being Christian makes a difference. It really is quite a simple equation!

Despite all the challenges, all the disappointments, Daniel and Marie-Claire have stayed strongly aligned to Christ, always to Christ, and to His Mother, and through their strength and the grace bestowed on them, God has called their son to the sacred priesthood. We should thank God greatly for this, because each and every ordination is a gift to us, the flock, the people of God. Each ordination strengthens us; provides us with another leader, another minister, a servant who will feed us with good food. We must look after our priests and cherish each vocation.
O Jesus, our great High Priest, Hear my humble prayers on behalf of Stefan as he begins his journey as your priest. Give him a deep faith, a bright and firm hope and a burning love which will ever increase in the course of his priestly life.

In his loneliness, comfort him In his sorrows, strengthen him In his frustrations, point out to him that it is through suffering that the soul is purified, and show him that he is needed by the Church, he is needed by souls, he is needed for the work of redemption.
O loving Mother Mary, Mother of Priests, take to your heart your son who is close to you because of his priestly ordination, and because of the power which he has received to carry on the work of Christ in a world which needs him so much.

Be his comfort, be his joy, be his strength, and especially help him to live and to defend the ideals of consecrated celibacy.
Please pray for Fr. Stefan, for vocations, for our bishops, and for all our clergy.


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