From the Pastor: A Strange Start To Priesthood!
This past week I got my official invitation to the 2020 priest ordinations for our diocese. I feel sorry for the three men who will be ordained under such strange circumstances. Most men in Florida, regardless of which diocese they are going to live in once they are ordained priests, complete their studies at our Regional Seminary, St. Vincent de Paul, in Boynton Beach. Each diocese schedules the priest ordinations in such a way as to allow classmates to attend each other’s ordination either before or after their own. It is a good system allowing men who lived and studied together and became great friends to participate either as deacons or priests as their classmates around the state get ordained. Until this year. The coronavirus threw a monkey wrench into the whole system. I do not know how the other dioceses are handling the issue but I see no way that the guys will be traveling from one diocese to the other to the other as their classmates get ordained in empty cathedrals. The risk of exposure to the evil virus and then missing out on one’s own ordination will probably force the men into at least a couple of weeks of self-quarantine, so each will be ordained without being surrounded by their closest seminary friends. The men from the St. Petersburg diocese normally get ordained on the third Saturday of May. This year it was transferred, due to everything being shut down at that time, to August 15. Now, that being the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it seems that at least our three men getting ordained (Deacons Joshua Bertrand, Connor Penn, and Mark Woodke) get a great consolation prize, so to speak, for having to wait for this great sacrament. May the Blessed Mother always cherish these priests as special to her!
But even with the postponement, things didn’t get back to normal. With still-rampant fears of a coronavirus outbreak, the ordinations will not be “open to the public.” Only select family and friends of each of the three Ordinands will be allowed access to the cathedral. Even people who normally attend each ordination, such as permanent Deacons and diocesan staff will not be present but will instead be invited to watch it livestreamed. Priests of the diocese can attend but must remain anti-social at all times. I cannot imagine how they will get the priests vested while keeping them apart from each other. The vesting room is always jam-packed with priests both literally and figuratively bumping into one another, renewing old friendships, catching up on everything, and yelling across the room to get each others’ attention. Priests will also be seated 6' apart from each other in the cathedral and will be wearing matching white masks during the Mass. During the time of “laying on of hands” the priests will have disinfectant given to them to use before placing their hands physically on the heads of the newly ordained priests and then again to disinfect their hands after touching the new priests. I wonder if they will have to disinfect between each one? Then, after the Mass is concluded, there will not be a reception, which is where all of the people present for the ordination line up to congratulate the priests and to humbly knee and ask for his “first” blessing.
I understand the thinking behind these changes. After all, which bishop wants to see the worst case scenario emerge where one infected person takes out not only the three new priests but also every priest, deacon, and seminarian throughout the entire diocese, not to mention all of the parish and diocesan staff members?!?! Even so, I cannot help but pity these three men. During the lockdown, we had several weddings with basically the same limitations. Bride, groom, family, and wedding party. Nobody else except the priest. No rehearsal dinner, no wedding reception afterward, and no travel for a honeymoon. I am sure none of those brides ever dreamed of their wedding in such a manner! We also had several funerals with the same limitations. In fact, several priests lost their mothers during the lockdown and, though priests usually turn out in droves for the funeral Mass for the mother of a priest, none were able to attend except the one burying his own dear mother. And now the newly ordained are forced to experience that type of strange upheaval of normal life, perhaps showing a glimpse of what their entire priesthood will be like. Empty seats where there should be crowds. Anti-social behavior where there should be bear hugs and slaps on the back. Fear of being either infected or infectious where a common sense “stay home if you are sick” mentality used to be sufficient. Face masks covering up and hiding from sight the exuberance of those few blessed enough to be in attendance. And, most sadly of all, nobody to bless when the aroma of the chrism oil is still fresh on the newly consecrated hands of the new priests. It is difficult to determine if they are the new lepers or if the rest of the Church is.
The ordination Mass will be livestreamed for all who wish to view it. For the past few years this was done because not everyone could physically travel to or fit into the packed cathedral. This year it is being done to keep people out of an empty cathedral. What awaits these men in their priesthood? With such a strange beginning, expect the unexpected! Pray for them. They will need your support more than any of us can know!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka