Key moments of an episcopal ordination

Denver Catholic Staff

The Ordination Mass for a bishop can be a lengthy liturgy, and if you don’t know what is going on, you can miss out on a lot of rich symbolism and meaning behind the various moments of the rite.

Here’s a brief summary of the key moments of an episcopal ordination.

Procession: Over 160 priests, bishops and one cardinal will process into the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, beginning at 12:15 pm, and the procession will take approximately 15 minutes. As a side note, the 54-person choir, directed by Dr. Mark Lawlor, represents various parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Denver, and includes many seminarians.

Veni, Creator, Spiritus: The “Come, Holy Spirit” prayer is chanted after the Gospel reading, and marks the beginning of the Ordination Rite of the Mass. The ancient prayer invokes the Holy Spirit.

Presentation of the Elect: The bishop-elect is presented to the consecrating bishop by two assisting priests of the archdiocese: Msgr. Michael Glenn of Our Lady of Peace in Silverthorne and Msgr. Jorge de los Santos of Holy Rosary Parish in Denver. Msgr. Glenn will ask the consecrating bishop to ordain the bishop-elect in the name of the Archdiocese of Denver.

Apostolic Letter: The apostolic letter from Pope Francis is then read aloud by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. This letter testifies to the desire on the part of the Vicar of Christ that a man receive the third and final “degree” of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, namely, the episcopate.

Assent: After the document is read, all present give their assent to the election of the bishop by saying: “Thanks be to God.”

Nine Promises: After the homily, the bishop-elect is asked nine questions to ascertain whether the candidate is 1) prepared to discharge this sacred duty until the end of his life, 2) remaining “faithful and constant” in proclaiming the Holy Gospel, 3) maintaining without change the “deposit of faith” that the apostles have passed along down through the ages, 4) to “build up the Church as the Body of Christ,” 5) to “remain united to it within the Order of Bishops under the authority of the successor of the Apostle Peter,” 6) to guide the People of God “as a devoted father,” 7) to “be welcoming and merciful to the poor,” 8) to “seek out the sheep who stray,” 9) and to pray unceasingly for the People of God.

Litany of the Saints: The principal consecrator invites all of the faithful to pray for the bishop-elect, who then prostrates himself while the entire congregation sings the Litany of the Saints.

Laying on of Hands and Prayer of Ordination: The principal consecrator followed by the other bishops lays hands upon the head of the bishop-elect. Then, the open Book of the Gospels is placed over the head of the bishop-elect, while the principal consecrator offers the Prayer of Consecration, in part with all the consecrating bishops. The placing of the Book of the Gospels illustrates that the preaching of the Word of God is the “pre-eminent obligation of the office of the Bishop.”

Anointing and Investiture: The Book of the Gospels is removed from above the head of the new bishop. The principal consecrator anoints the head of the new bishop with the Sacred Chrism, hands him the Book of the Gospels, places the ring on his finger, the miter on his head, and gives him the crosier or pastoral staff, symbols of the office of bishop.

Seating of the New Bishop: The new bishop then takes the first place among the concelebrating bishops.

Kiss of Peace: Before the Mass continues, the Rite of Ordination ends with the kiss of peace from the principal consecrator and all the other bishops who are present, which seals the new bishops’ admittance into the College of Bishops.

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.