New Priest for the Ordinariate in Essex—Deo Gratias!

From left to right: Bishop Alan Williams sm, Rev Dr Michael Halsall, Mgr Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
It's been a joyous and busy week in Leigh-on-Sea. This has meant that there has been lots to blog about, but, somewhat paradoxically, I have not had time to write it up!

Last Saturday, my dear friend Michael Halsall, was ordained a priest by Bishop Alan Williams at St Peter's, Eastwood: Fr Jeff Woolnough's Parish, and the Church where Louise & I were married and which has been an integral part of our lives for many reasons. How wonderful then for us to return here to see our friend ordained.

Michael prostrate before the altar while the congregation invoke the Communion of Saints. Fr Stewart Foster is in the background looking to Heaven!

This was the culmination of a long road for Michael, who started his journey as a child born into (what Anglican's refer to as) a very low church. He dedicated his life to building the kingdom and began ministry in the Anglican communion. He gradually reasoned his way to the Catholic Church and converted well over a decade ago at some considerable personal cost. He was ordained a transitional deacon last October (see my post here).
Mgr Keith Newton lays his hands on the new priest under the watchful eye of Richard Hawker, who MC'd.

Bishop Alan Williams ordaining Michael

In this picture, Michael is vested with his chasuble, the vestment proper to him who celebrates the Holy Mass. In the past the liturgical books used the two Latin terms "casuala" and "planeta" synonymously for this vestment. While the term "planeta" was especially used in Rome and has remained in use in Italy ("pianeta" in Italian), the term "casula" derives from the typical form of the vestment that at the beginning completely covered the sacred minister who wore it. The Latin "casula" is found in other languages in a modified form. Thus one finds "casulla" in Spanish, "chasuble" in French and English, and "Kasel" in German.

The prayer for the donning of the chasuble references the exhortation in the Letter to the Colossians (3:14) -- "Above all these things [put on] charity, which is the bond of perfection" -- and the Lord's words in Matthew, 11:30: "Domine, qui dixisti: Iugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen" (O Lord, who has said, "My yoke is sweet and My burden light," grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace).

Bishop Alan Williams is the main celebrant with Fr Michael Halsall and Fr Jeff Woolnough on the left of the picture and Mgr Keith Newton with Mgr Kevin Hale (Brentwood's VG) on the right of the picture.

From the left: Bishop Alan Williams, Fr John Corbyn (Wickford), Fr Michael Halsall, Fr Martin Flatman (Eynsham), Mgr Keith Newton (Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham), Fr Basil Pearson (Leigh-on-Sea), Mgr Kevin Hale (Leigh-on-Sea), Fr Stewart Foster (Brentwood Diocesan Archivist), Fr Michael O'Boy (Vice Rector & Dean of Studies at Allen Hall Seminary), Fr Bob White (Ordinariate).

Father Michael gives his first blessings

Mgr Keith Newton preaching
Mgr Keith Newton gave a stunning homily which he has generously provided a text of here for your edification:

Ordination Homily 2016
St Peter’s Eastwood
On my desk is what I think in a lovely small modern statue of St John Mary Vianney, the Cure D’Ars, and the patron saint of parish clergy. What is special about him that he provides a pattern for priests to copy?

 John Marie Vianney was born near Lyon in 1786 and his early life took place within the context of the French revolution. It was not easy for him to be trained as a priest; he was not particularly well educated and had to return to school with children half his age to learn the basics. Eventually he was ordained at 29 and after three years was sent to be the assistant priest of Ars a small village 25 miles from Lyon where he spent the rest of his life.  He soon began to awaken the faith of his parishioners not only through his preaching but more importantly by his life of prayer and his way of life.  Soon hundreds came to visit the small village particularly to make their confession.  Despite his popularity he was overwhelmed by his own sense of unworthiness and weakness. On three occasions he tried to escape from the parish and was dragged back. It said that towards the end of his life he spent 18 hours a day in the confessional.  He died exhausted 4th August 1859 aged 73 years having spent 45years in the parish of Ars.

Well, Michael you will be relieved that I don’t expect you to spend 18 hours a day in the confessional, though you will exercise that ministry far more in the Catholic Church than ever you did in the Church of England, and I pray that more people would make use of that sacrament of comfort and use their priests in this way.  What then can we learn from the life of this saintly priest?

In St Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth St Paul makes it clear that his job was not to promote himself but Jesus as Lord and he was merely a servant.
We are only earthenware jars to hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.
The messenger is not important what matters is the message.  The Corinthians had been concentrating on the messenger, on Paul, and they were not too impressed.  After all he ought to look more important if the message was from God.  But they had missed the point; it is because the message is all important that the messenger is dispensable.  It is like putting something very precious in poor breakable jars otherwise the jars might think themselves more important than the contents.

St John Marie Vianney was only too aware of his own unworthiness that he was simply an earthenware jar containing a great treasure.  He would often say ‘the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus when you see the priest think of Our Lord Jesus Christ’.  The priest is himself to be the presence of Christ in the community he serves.  In fact he is ‘another Christ’.  Of course, every baptised Christian is called to live like Christ, love like Christ, and be like Christ. But the priest is in a special way called to be another ‘Christ’ in his community.  This is most powerfully seen when he presides at the Mass and utters the words of Christ himself ‘This is my body given for you, This is my blood shed for you’. In the same way in the sacrament of penance the priest speaks for Christ when he says ‘I absolve you from all your sins’.  God allows another sinner, the priest, to speak in Christ’s name. In the sacraments the priest acts in the person of Christ.  This a daunting and great privilege but one that requires humility remembering that  
We are only earthenware jars to hold this treasure

How then did the Cure’ have such an effect upon the people of France. It was certainly not by his intellect and not even by his preaching but by his way of life.  People saw his reverence for Christ in the Eucharist, his life of prayer, his diligence in his pastoral ministry.  Blessed Pope  Paul VI wisely said ’Modern man listens more willingly  to witnesses than teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses’  In a few minutes Michael, Bishop Alan will ask you some questions  about your life and commitment

Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest

Thankfully the effect of the sacraments is not dependant upon our own worthiness otherwise none of us would be able to be a priest.  Nevertheless if we are to present Christ to the world people will look at the quality of our own witness to the gospel.  What we say in the Lord’s name should not be drowned out by what we are and how we behave.

Our Gospel reading today is the conversation between Peter and our Blessed Lord on the shores of the lake after the resurrection and the call to feed the flock.  Further on in that Chapter Jesus says to Peter ‘Follow me’.  We have all been called to follow Christ by virtue of our common baptism and confirmation. Yet Our Lord calls some in a particular way to follow him by responding to the promptings of the Spirit and offering themselves for ordination.  Michael has responded to the Lord’s call to follow him as one of his priests in the Catholic Church.  It has been something of a long journey for you.   Fourteen years of ministry in the Church of England and then 10 years as a Catholic Layman after reception into full communion, and now the setting up of the Ordinariate has allowed you again to discern your vocation which will be fulfilled and completed in the priesthood of the Catholic Church.  

Jesus was sent by the Father and he in turn sent the apostles into the world; through the ordained ministry he continues his work as teacher, priest and shepherd.  The words in today’s Gospel which spring from the page are ‘Feed my sheep’.  The Cure d’Ars used to say ‘The priest is not for himself’.  He does not celebrate the sacraments for himself, all of his priestly duties and functions are done for others’. ‘He is not for himself ‘St John Vianney reminds us ’He is for others’. 

This is why you are being ordained today – to be set apart for others – not for your pleasure though I hope you will enjoy being a priest and be fulfilled by it.
Not for your own ambition or a spurious feeling of enhanced status in the Church – after all you are only a servant after the pattern of Christ himself.
You are ordained, to preach, to administer the sacraments, to show Christ’s love for others.
St John Vianney has been described as a ‘tireless worker for God whose only motives were the love of God and the salvation of souls’.  Not a bad epitaph for all priests.

People ask a great deal of their priests and rightly so.  It is an office of great dignity but it is the dignity of service and not of superiority.  It is the dignity of Jesus who took off his robe to wash his disciple’s feet.  It is not about status but the commission to continue Christ’s work in our own day.  

Michael there will be days of sadness and the experience of failure, of not living up to this great calling.  He does not ask that you should be successful whatever that might mean in a priest's life.  Much that you do will be hidden.  He does not ask that you be popular but he does ask you to be faithful - never conscious of status but always aware of holding Christ's commission to be his priest and servant.  You are simply a fragile vessel containing a great treasure.

What art thou priest
Not for thyself but out of nothing wast thou made.
Not for thyself dost stand between men and God.
Not for thyself dost live but for the Church thy Bride.
Not thine own art thou; but slave of all men.
Not for thyself art thou, but servant of God
What art thou then.
Nothing priest and everything.

Mgr Keith Newton May 2016


  1. Fantastic Post, Mark...Many thanks!

  2. What a great blessing the Ordinariate is - and a wonderful homily by Mgr Newton.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Pope Francis: we planned it all before the conclave

Pope Francis: Dismantling Marriage

Establishing a New Object of Worship