Secunda die infra Octavam Dormitionis B.M.V.
[Septa die infra Octavam S. Laurentii]
Ordinands… in my first post I touched on the process of formation, particularly in my own jurisdiction but primarily on the practical academic aspect. As we approach the retreat taking place during September’s Embertide, my thoughts have turned towards the “Scrutinies” which traditionally take place on the Ember Wednesday.
“In promotion to orders a scrutiny or examination of the candidate is to be made according to the warning of the Apostle: “Impose not hands lightly upon any man” (1 Timothy 5:22). That the practice is ancient is testified to by St. Cyprian (who died in 258) in his thirty-eighth epistle. The ninth canon of the Council of Nicæa (325) supposes the scrutiny of candidates to be already in use. Many later synods enforced and defined more exactly this scrutiny of those who aspired to orders. The present discipline is laid down by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, Cap. v, de ref.), though its observance in every detail has not been reduced to practice in all countries. A three-fold scrutiny is ordered: first, through the inquiry into the qualities of the candidates by the parish priest and teachers and by public proclamation in the Church. The information thus obtained is to be embodied in a testimonial letter to the bishop. Secondly, shortly before ordination through the bishop himself and ecclesiastical persons appointed to examine into the morals, faith, and doctrine of the candidates. Thirdly, through the ceremonial form prescribed by the Pontificale Romanum for the ordination of a deacon or priest.” [The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13]
During the Ordination after the chanting of the Litany of the Saints, the Bishop asks the Archdeacon “Scis illo esse dignos?” (Do you know them to be worthy) and in order for that question to be satisfied intelligently and honestly, the Bishop needs to determine the result of the discernment and formation that each candidate has been through. Of course, there isn’t the time to do that during the Ordination service, so the Scrutinies which traditionally take place during the prior week are the opportunity for the Bishop to examine the candidates and himself, make a final determination. By this time he has received the personal, professional and academic references, now with the candidate in person, he establishes the faith, doctrine and morals of the ordinand for himself. Afterall, and this is something regrettably many fail to appreciate the import of, he will answer to God for the men he ordains!
All of this is necessary of course, to establish that each ordinand has both a Divine and Ecclesiastical vocation, i.e. that both God and the Church have called him. The former of course begins the whole process, sometimes with a little coercion from others, but generally an ordinand senses his vocation from God. The latter is the affirmation by the Church of that vocation from God, it involves however a dialogue with the Church, a trying (testing) of vocation through mutual discernment, the Church both encourages the individual to test for himself, as well as for her own purposes too, as it is she who has the care of souls to consider and weigh the suitability of someone who is called. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” [Matt 22:14] Throughout his formation a candidate will have undergone all sorts of “testing” and this will have been observed and directed by various people on behalf of the Bishop – the Rector of Formation, the academic tutors, the retreat chaplains, spiritual directors, pastoral placements, personal references and examining chaplains etc. By the time of the Scrutinies, the Bishop will have heard from all quarters the “sentire cum Ecclesia” (the thoughts and feelings of the Church) and as the person of the Church, deduce the “sensus fidelium” (sense of the faithful) about the ordinand before him; have the majority reached the same conclusion, that he is called to be ordained?
“Vocation to the clerical state is…an act of Divine Providence whereby God selects some above others for His priesthood and prepares them with suitable gifts for the worthy exercise of priestly duties. For this reason, and because this sacrament has been instituted not so much for the recipient as for the common good of the faithful, one who is conscious of a lack of vocation or who has made insufficient inquiry or who is in serious doubt about his vocation is liable to grave sin in approaching the reception of Holy Orders.” (Halligan, The Administration of the Sacraments , 376)
Sancta Dei Genitrix, Matrem Sacerdotii, ora pro nobis!