Should we meet a priest and an angel, Bishop “Soc” Villegas once admonished, we should greet the priest before the angel.
The priest has God-like powers angels don’t have. The priest can turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and he can forgive sins.
That awesome awareness hit me like thunder as I stood absorbed in the ordination rites of my cousin, Cirio Kabamalan.
I felt the miraculous solemnity the moment I stepped inside the beautiful church of Gesu Bambini Chapel in chilly Tagaytay last March 26. My heart beat faster, expecting something wonderful.
The church was filled with different people, most of them Cirio’s relatives, friends, classmates in grade school and high school from Laguna, and co-employees in the DBP.
All were in spiritual togetherness, standing as witness to Cirio’s becoming a priest of God. And just like in a marriage ceremony, anyone in the audience could raise an objection if he had valid reasons on the unworthiness of the ordinand.
There were priests in white cassocks, bishops resplendent in liturgical vestments symbolizing their holy offices. They all came to pray and assist in dedicating Cirio’s life to the service of God. It was an elegant and prayerful congregation.
Cirio approached the officiating bishop, Msgr. Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, who in his resonant voice read the sacred duties of priesthood in both material and spiritual forms, citing biblical origins and traditions of presbyters and helpers of prophets, such as Moses, all the way to the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ.
After the bishop’s admonishments and prayers, Cirio went in front of the altar and prostrated himself, his face and body outstretched and flat on the floor symbolizing total obedience, compunction for weakness, and supplication for grace of strength and holiness.
The choir, with the congregation, chanted the rhythmic litany of the saints. The Gregorian chant calling all the saints in its haunting refrain Ora Pro Nobis (pray for us) moved me deeply. Many of the saints, whose intercession we invoked, were early Christians who died as martyrs for their faith. The litany of saints is our veritable cry for help. I came close to tears for Cirio and all the priests and people who prayed with all humility.
I cried when I remembered our beloved relatives who passed away. I remembered Cirio’s father, my uncle and close friend Kuya Dading (Gerardo Kabamalan) and Cirio’s very kind mother (Ate Myrna Sabio); grandparents Lola Poten (Potenciano Gozo) and Lolo Tomas (Tomas Kabamalan).
They were industrious, simple, prayerful and loving persons who lived honorable lives in the rustic town of Kalayaan by the Laguna Bay, where I spent many happy moments when I was a young boy on vacation from school.
After the litany, Cirio rose to his feet and knelt before Bishop Tagle, who laid his hands on Cirio’s head signifying the conferring of the power of the priesthood, the same power transmitted by bishops to priests in a long line of succession traceable to Jesus Christ’s apostles.
“Many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
Cirio could have been the object of God’s pursuit, symbolized by images in the poem by Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven”:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrynthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears…
…But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy
They beat and a voice beat
More instant than the feet…
“…Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest
I am He whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
The ordination preface was full of grateful salutations to God.
The yoke of the Lord
Then the investiture for a new priest was enacted. Cirio knelt before the bishop, who invested him with his priestly garments—the stole, “The yoke of the Lord, for his yoke is sweet and his burden light”; the chasuble, the vestment of priesthood which signifies that “Charity for God is able to advance in charity and perfection.”
The hymn, Veni Creator (Come Oh Holy Spirit), was sung in all its splendor.
Next came the changes in Cirio’s physical faculties, invisible changes yet with power enough to create miracles. The bishop anointed Cirio’s hands with the oil of the catechumens. He anointed Cirio’s hands inside, the index fingers and the entire palms, with this sacred invocation: “Whatever thy bless may be blessed and whatever thy consecrate may be consecrated in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The presentation of the host and chalice followed as the bishop intoned, “Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God and celebrate Mass for the living and the dead.”
The concelebrated Mass was held and after the communion rites, the Credo was said.
As soon as the creed was said, Cirio knelt once more before the bishop and was conferred with the power to absolve sins; “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Wow!
To conclude, Cirio pledged his priestly vow of obedience and reverence to his superior.
There was so much happiness among all the guests at the lunch reception. Everyone wanted to hug and greet Cirio like a rock star. When my turn came up, I hugged him tight. I felt the warmth that can only come from a sacred person.