How a newly ordained priest really feels

Go behind the scenes as a married man and father is ordained a Catholic priest.

Photo courtesy of Amber Rennier

On December 8, the Solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, I was ordained a Catholic priest. Since I often share stories about my family with the For Her community, this might be a little confusing. But what you may not know is that in 1980, Pope St. John Paul II created something called the Pastoral Provision to ordain former Anglican priests, and some of those priests like me were (and still are) married.

“How does it feel to be a priest?” is the most common question I’ve been asked since the big day. I could just say, “Oh, it feels great,” and move on, but I want to admit how it really feels—mostly great, but also kind of terrifying. I feel relieved that the long preparation is finally over, but also apprehensive about taking on the duties of a priest. I feel a bit unsure as I adopt a new identity as a pastor, but I also feel the same as always. There’s a sense of the weight of responsibility I now bear, but there’s also the knowledge that the weight rests lightly.

I don’t know that ordination is all that different than any other significant turning point each of us encounters — such as marriage, the birth of a child, or the death of a parent. The emotions are complex during such life-changing events, but no matter what we feel, the reality is that we are never quite the same. Life is a beautiful journey of huge, daunting moments and also the no-less important small moments in between. All of these are precious and no matter where life’s path has taken us, each of our stories is worth telling.

Here are a handful of some of those moments during my ordination, captured by Cori Nations and also by my wife, Amber Rennier.

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Photo courtesy of Cori Nations

My family before Mass sitting in the front row. They seem excited, which is funny because I think at this exact moment I was in the sacristy anxiously staring into a bathroom mirror and wondering if what I was seeing was real life.

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Photo courtesy of Cori Nations

I don’t know how Cori, the photographer, caught this picture of me smiling in the sacristy doorway before the ordination. Not that I wasn’t happy before the Mass, but I would have thought I was too focused to smile. It must have been a moment of grace.

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Photo courtesy of Cori Nations

The Church in which I was ordained is the Basilica of King Louis IX. It sits in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch on the banks of the Mississippi River and is one of the oldest Church buildings west of the river. The painting of the crucifixion hangs over the high altar and this picture is a perfect encapsulation of my emotions at the moment as I walk into the sanctuary to my ordination. In a way, it’s like being a lamb being led to the slaughter, a march to a spiritual death.

In the end, faith is individual and is about each one of us and God. No one else can have faith on our behalf. It can be a lonely feeling, until we look up and realize that we aren’t really alone at all, but God is with us every step of the way. He knows what we’re feeling, how we struggle, and all of our doubts. We can rest in the shadow of his wing.

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Photo courtesy of Cori Nations

Like a seed that falls to the ground and must die before putting up green shoots, in the moments before he is ordained, a priest lies face down while the Church prays for him. Among other prayers, a long list of saints are asked to join in with the intercessions of the whole Church. Lying facedown like this, I had some time to think and am more confident than ever that giving your life to God is daunting, but also incredibly freeing.

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Photo courtesy of Cori Nations

You can’t tell this from the picture alone, but this is the moment of ordination and the entire Church is deathly silent while Archbishop Carlson places his hands on my head. There are no words or audible prayer to accompany the action because whatever is happening in the soul of a man when he becomes a priest, it is not explainable in words.

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Photo courtesy of Amber Rennier

This is my eldest daughter helping me get ready for a Mass the next day. One of my favorite sights is to see children participating in and contributing to worship. She is so proud to contribute!

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Photo courtesy of Amber Rennier

The garments a priest wears are called vestments. Each one is highly symbolic and has a particular meaning. It can take a while to dress for Mass, but I appreciate how it makes me slow down and calm my mind. When it comes to vestments, I admit that I can be fussy, but what I wear helps me to pray better by reminding me that Mass is a special time set apart from daily life.

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Photo courtesy of Amber Rennier

This is my son as an altar boy. He’s only six-years-old but loves to help out and is actually much better behaved at Mass when he has a job to do. I suppose it is unusual for a priest to have a son of his own as his altar boy!

 

Read Fr. Michael Rennier’s column exploring one aspect of the weekly gospel in The Perfectly Imperfect Life every Sunday on For Her.

Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier graduated from Yale Divinity School and lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and 5 children. He is an ordained Catholic priest through the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal clergymen that was created by Pope St. John Paul II. He’s also a contributing editor at Dappled Things, a journal dedicated to the written and visual arts.

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