Since I wrote about it last week, Deacon Christopher Manning is now Father Christopher Manning, having been ordained to the priesthood-the presbyterate-by Bishop Stika this past Saturday. I regret that I was not able to attend, although Nicole and I had originally planned to do so. I’m praying to be able to attend the ordination of four new transitional deacons on the 22nd of this month. The mystery of what has happened to Father Christopher, and what happens to men who receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders as deacons and as priests each year around this time is probably just beginning to settle in with Father, but that very simple ritual, the laying on of hands, is how a man is ordained and how the Church’s authority, given to her by Jesus Christ, is passed on, and how the ability to validly administer the Sacraments is given.
Without the laying on of hands by a bishop, who was himself ordained through the laying on of hands by a bishop who was laid hands on, all anyone can do is play sacramental pretend. With the laying on of hands a man, whether he is ordained a deacon, priest, or bishop, inherits 2,000 years of incredible Christian heritage and the awesome responsibility of being a public voice of the Church and a custodian of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Word and Sacrament.
Father Christopher is the latest in that long line which stretches all the way back to Jesus and the Apostles, and as such he now brings us Christ in the most literal sense which Jesus gives us in this present world, through the Holy Eucharist. This reality causes me to reflect not only on the need to pray for Father Christopher, but for my own future vocation since I am a current Aspirant for the permanent deaconate. I have written here before of the great privilege and honor that I often feel when I think that the Lord has placed me where I am, in formation with some truly spiritual men of God. The reality that we will share in common with Father Christopher if the Grace of God leads us on to ordination is that just as Father Christopher has the hands that bring us Jesus (and has the appropriate name for the task), we will be the hands, the feet, the face of Christ and of his Church to many people both inside and outside the Church.
I pray daily for the Lord to grant me an increase in holiness and humility, but I somehow think Father Christopher is praying for increases in those same graces for himself. While I am sure that every new priest, or for that matter every new deacon, or seminarian, or diaconal Aspirant, prays for those graces to a great degree, humble and holy priests (and deacons) are especially important in our little corner of the world. We are all acutely aware that despite the fact that our diocese is experiencing phenomenal growth and tremendous blessings that can only be seen as the clear hand of God upon our local Church, we know that we remain a tiny religious minority in East Tennessee, at least for now. Whole communities, including the one where this writer lives, lack Catholic churches of any kind and that means that for many of our neighbors, the first and primary exposure they will ever have to the Church is through the Catholics they meet. Holiness of life on the part of both laity and clergy is truly essential, then, because the way we appear to the world outside of the Church is the way that the world will believe that we are.
The grace to live in holiness has been given to Father Christopher and all of us through the Sacraments. Father Christopher now has a bit of an added advantage that St. Paul seems to hint at to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5-7:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you. Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.
Paul reminds Timothy that the faith was handed down to him from his mother and grandmother and that he needs to “rekindle” the “gift of God” that is now within Timothy due to the laying on of hands which was done by Paul to Timothy-Paul ordained him. Paul also seems to tell us that with that gift of the Sacrament of Holy Orders should come power, love, and self-control.
Father Christopher is now, by virtue of the laying on of hands, admitted into the Order of the Presbyterate, the Holy Priesthood. As with all priests, he is a priest forever and remains and will always be a deacon, a servant of the people of God. That fraternity into which he has been ordained is of those who have chosen to give their lives over to the service of God and his Church for the sake of the souls of humanity. Being a priest is not what he does, it is who he is, as is the case with all clergy. His priesthood is as essential to his person as the very air he breathes. His outward authority to exercise priestly ministry comes from Bishop Stika and his successors, but the grace to minister comes from the Holy Spirit-the same Spirit we are all blessed to receive in the Sacrament of Confirmation, which is also ordinarily administered by the Bishop.
And the Spirit is given to humanity to carry the Good News to the whole world through the simple laying on of hands.
I don’t have any video available (yet) of Father Christopher’s ordination, but to give you a flavor of ordination, here is an ordination that Pope Francis recently conducted at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.