The weekend of Aug. 12-13 had me driving from Springfield to El Dorado Springs and then to Joplin for the installation of new pastors: Fr. Tuan Van Nguyen, CRM, from the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer, in Carthage, is now the pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, El Dorado Springs, and St. Peter, Apostle Mission Church, in Stockton. In addition, Fr. Brian Straus is now the pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish, in Joplin.
In the “old days,” the Rite of Installation of a Pastor was a simple, private event. The Dean of the Deanery would simply come to the rectory and the new pastor would make his profession of faith and sign the documents at the dining room table. Because of that, the public ceremony done these days during Holy Mass is new to many people.
The new pastor is introduced to the staff, Parish Pastoral Council, and the Finance Council, and makes a simple pledge to them: “My friends, I pledge to seek your counsel, guidance, and advice in the spiritual and temporal care of my pastorate.” And what is his first official act as pastor? He leads the people in the Profession of Faith, the Nicene Creed. Following the Creed, the new pastor makes an Oath of Fidelity in front of the bishop. I always find it to be a very touching moment as I hear the words: “With firm faith, I believe as well everything contained in God’s word, written or handed down in tradition and professed by the Church—whether in solemn judgment or in the ordinary and Universal Magisterium—as divinely revealed and calling for faith. I also firmly accept and hold each and everything that is proposed by that same Church definitively with regard to teaching concerning faith or morals. Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff with the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise the authentic Magisterium, even if they proclaim those teachings in an act that is not definitive.”
With these words, the bishop of the diocese is assured that the bonds of unity are strengthened between the parish to the diocese and to the Universal Church. The pastor never acts alone. Everything he does in the parish is to be in union with the bishop, who is in union with the Bishop of Rome. In essence, that is what we say every time we refer to our mutually-shared vision, “One Church, East to West.” That is not just a pipe dream or a cute, convenient slogan. The Oath of Fidelity reinforces that bond and could be seen as a further clarification of what was already promised by the priest on the day of his ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. Have you been to an ordination of a deacon or priest? In both ceremonies, the man being ordained kneels before the ordaining bishop, places his joined hands between those of the bishop and is asked, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors? The man responds, “I do.” And with that freely-given consent, the union between the priest, his bishop, and the Universal Church is established. In my experience as a bishop and priest, the obedience that is given is key to building up the local church. Throughout the Ordination Rite, the deacon or priest is reminded of the importance of collaborating with the bishop in the work of the diocese, assuring the unity of faith. And so, even though a new pastor has already promised obedience to his bishop twice—at his ordination as a deacon and priest—at his installation, the pastor once again reaffirms that all that he does in the parish will be in union with and in collaboration with the mind and heart of the bishop and ultimately the Supreme Pontiff.
What can destroy it all? One simple act of disobedience. That is how fragile the unity of the Church is. It does not take much for one’s ego, pride, or arrogance to destroy the unity that a bishop should have with the pope or with his priests. That sentiment is expressed so powerfully in Eucharistic Prayer 1: “Be pleased to grant her (the Church) peace, to guard, unite, and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant, Francis, our Pope, and Edward, our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the Catholic and Apostolic faith.” Without unity, the devil drives a wedge and we become divided and conquered.
“O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.”
Published in the September 01, 2023 issue of The Mirror.
Photo Source: Marjorie Comer/The Mirror