'I was just ordained a deacon!'

Friday, Oct. 12, 2012
'I was just ordained a deacon!' Photo 1 of 2
Archbishop John J. Myers lays hands on Diocese of Salt Lake City seminarian Christopher Gray as a sign of imparting the Holy Spirit. 

VATICAN CITY — At approximately 12:20 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, a pilgrim from Latin America seated in one of the doorways of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican asked me to bless her rosaries. It happened as I was leaving the Basilica to return to my home at the Pontifical North American College (NAC). I paused for a second, collecting my thoughts. I reached into my satchel where I had that morning put a small edition of the Book of Blessings, found the blessing for rosaries in the index, turned to the right page, and began the rite.

To a passerby, it must have seemed utterly ordinary: a clerical-looking man in a cassock praying with some pilgrims and making the sign of the cross over them with his hand. Far from being an ordinary occurrence, however, it was something that had never happened before, which only a few hours earlier could not have happened: It was the first blessing I gave through the grace of Holy Orders.

That morning I was ordained a deacon for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, becoming a member of the clergy of the diocesan church I have served most recently as a seminarian and previously as a writer for the Intermountain Catholic.

I have also served the Diocese of Salt Lake City as a musician, but not until Thursday was I ever an ordinary minister of the Catholic Church, one sent to teach the faith, proclaim the Gospel, and serve the altar and the people of God as a deacon. Thursday morning I became incardinated into the Diocese of Salt Lake City, promising lifelong celibacy, faithful prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, and obedience to our Ordinary, Bishop John C. Wester, and all his successors. For the last six years I have prepared myself to be able to make these promises with full understanding and agreement, and to be as well-formed as possible in order to discharge my duties as a deacon and, God willing, as a priest, in a way that is worthy of Jesus Christ and his followers.

I arrived at the Vatican Basilica around 8:20 Thursday morning, proceeding to the sacristy, where I put down the satchel containing my alb and opened my breviary, praying Morning and Midday prayers for the last time as a member of the laity.

At 9 a.m. the masters of ceremonies, seminarians from the NAC in their second and third years, gave us the signal that the time had arrived to make our final preparations before beginning the procession. My classmates and I, 33 total, put on our albs over our cassocks and made sure we were all neatly arranged.

Entering the basilica from the sacristy, we heard the music sung by the choir and played by the organ and brass quintet, special music we had all heard for the previous three years only at the NAC’s diaconate ordination. We processed solemnly toward the back of the basilica, to the Altar of the Chair, where thousands of our guests from the United States of America and elsewhere were already gathered. Nearly 30 had come to share this moment with me personally, coming from Utah, California, New Jersey, as well as from Spain.

The Mass was presided by the Most Reverend John Myers, Archbishop of Newark, who reminded us in his homily to serve the Church diligently and faithfully, to be servants of the people and guardians of the faith.

We had practiced the ordination ritual several times, but standing before our ordaining prelate in that time and in that place brought the reality of the promises I was making into sharp focus. "Yes," I thought, "I do promise, unreservedly: to live my life celibately as a sign of the kingdom, to deepen my prayer in order to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the sake of the whole world, to be obedient to my bishop as an instrument of his ministry. Through Christ, for Christ, for his Church."

After the rite had been completed, my classmates and I shot glances across the spaces between us, smiling with the happiness of having finally arrived at a destination we had been approaching for so long. Wearing the same stoles and dalmatics worn by generations of new deacons from the NAC, we assisted throughout the rest of the Mass for the first time as deacons, specifically in the offertory and as ordinary ministers of communion.

Processing out from the area of the Altar of the Chair, we newly ordained deacons went to a nearby corner of the basilica to wait for the procession of over 100 concelebrating priests and many already ordained deacons to return to the sacristy so that a photo could be taken. As soon as we arrived near the altar of St. Leo the Great, we all expressed our joy and camaraderie with warm embraces and smiles of unbridled happiness. "Congratulations, deacon!" was heard many times, responded by "May God bless you, deacon!"

After photos with each other and with family, once the lights of the basilica began to dim, we made our way back to the sacristy, returning the College’s ordination stoles and dalmatics, packing away our albs, and walking out among the thousands of pilgrims visiting the basilica to make our ways back to the NAC.

Approaching the door through which I had departed the basilica so many times after Masses, confessions, and hours of prayer as a layman, I smiled again, entering the light of day now as a deacon of the Catholic Church, a servant of the people of God all around me. Perhaps seeing the joy on my face, the pilgrim with the rosaries stopped me and asked for my blessing, to which I responded with great joy: "Yes! Yes, I can. I was just ordained a deacon!"

It was the happiest moment of my life—though only a foretaste of the joy of my priestly ordination this upcoming June 29.

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