Saturday, January 3, 2015

What does it take to become a true Catholic cleric?

PATRIARCHAL SEE 3 December 2014 (ORCNS) - There are many Old Catholic and even Old Roman Catholic jurisdictions today that seem to ordain anyone at the drop of a hat (or the drop of a coin). Formation in some places has all but gone, leaving some wondering "How do these people get ordained?"

Church-shopping has become equally prevalent among potential clergymen as it has among the laity. If Church A requires 4 years of training and Church B requires 6 years, then Church C starts looking might attractive, for it only requires 2 weeks! This, dear readers, isn't Catholic. It is nothing more than instant gratification.

What, then, does it take to become a true Catholic cleric? Let's answer that by explaining what the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church requires. So what all is involved in becoming a cleric in this traditional Old Roman Catholic Patriarchate? Let's find out!

What it takes to become a true Catholic cleric can be summed up in three words... Formation, Formation, Formation! Now let's look at what that means in a bit more detail.

First it is essential for the candidate to be strong in the true Catholic Faith. He (and only men can validly receive Catholic Holy Orders) must embrace all that is meant by the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. It must be at the core of his identity. It must bring the man to his knees. It is from this perspective that discernment of a clerical vocation can begin.

Once a vocation is initially discerned (and that is an ongoing process throughout formation), formal application must be made to the Patriarchate. This requires a 7-page application, plus a large amount of supporting documentation. All candidates must be recommended by a Catholic priest who knows them personally and pass a thorough background investigation performed (at the candidate's expense) by Oxford Document Management (a firm with a long legacy of service to Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other churches). They must also pass a psychological examination performed by a licensed psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. Also with the application must be submitted a series of signed oaths. Before an officer of a civil court (usually a Notary), the candidate must sign an statement of intent and truthfulness and an oath of voluntary permanent submission to the laws of the Patriarchate. The Candidate must also sign the Oath against Modernism of Pope Pius X and the Clerical Oath. 

Once this is completed, then the candidate must participate in an in-person interview. If the candidate is subsequently admitted as a postulant, he must then make formal petition and take the clerical oath kneeling before the throne of his Bishop with his hands placed on the Book of Gospels. At this point he is admitted as a Minor Seminarian at the Patriarchate's official seminary, Pontifical Georgian College. The Minor Seminary program is approximately 2 years long. It may be done during the junior and senior year of the candidate's regular bachelor's program at another university or else after graduation if he already possesses a baccalaureate degree. Typically new seminarians are presented wearing lay attire to their Bishop, who blesses their clerical cassock and invests them with it.

During Minor Seminary, the postulants typically are eligible to become clerics through the conferral of First Tonsure after their first year, and then to be ordained as Porters 6 months to a year later. Each level of ordination requires a formal petition and oath to be taken upon the Book of Gospels, kneeling in front of the throne of the candidate's Bishop. After Minor Seminary, the successful student receives the degree of Diplomate of Sacred Theology and enters Major Seminary.

The Major Seminary program is approximately 4 years long. Training includes theology, Latin, canon law, pastoral work, homiletics, pastoral counseling, history, liturgy, and more. After the first year, successful seminarians are usually ordained to the next two Minor Orders, Lector and Exorcist. Six months later they enter the Sub-Diaconate. Before being ordained to the Sub-Diaconate, the cleric must also take a practical examination in which he demonstrates proficiency, devotion, and competence in the liturgical duties of a Sub-Deacon. Once ordained as Sub-Deacons, the laws of the Patriarchate forbid marriage if the cleric is not already married.

After three years of Major Seminary (5 years of study including Minor Seminary), the Sub-Deacons are eligible to be considered for admission to the Major Holy Order of Deacon. This requires another practical examination in the liturgical duties of a Deacon, a written liturgical exam, a written General Ordination Exam, and an interview. These Deacons are often called "transitional" Deacons because they are planning to become Priests.

The Sacred Vessels are presented to a new priest at his ordination.

In the final year of Major Seminary, the Deacons intensify their studies directly for a ministry as a Priest. Upon successful completion, they receive the degree of Licentiate of Sacred Theology. Then they are eligible to make a formal petition for admission and ordination to the priesthood. Deacon-Candidates for the priesthood are also required to pass both a written and a practical liturgical examination on all sacramental duties of priests, a written General Ordination Examination, and an oral exam before a Board of Examining Chaplains. The final decision of ordination is made by the Deacon's Bishop. The successful Deacon is then ordained to the priesthood. In the ancient rites of ordination, the new priest prostrates before the altar and receives the laying on of hands. His palms are anointed for the sacred work he is to perform, and the Sacred Vessels of the Holy Mass are presented.

Becoming a cleric at any level, especially a priest, is not easy. It is not and cannot be an overnight endeavor. He who seeks Holy Orders through the path of least resistance does himself a great disservice and harms those whom he otherwise could help. Men with a true vocation seek constantly to make themselves better and to study, that their knowledge may benefit the salvation of others. Seminary is not the end. Priests are required by canon law to continue studying in their vocation on their own.

So there you have it. This is what it takes to become a true priest through the Patriarchate of St. Stephen. It is not an easy path. Many are called - few are chosen.