In the deacon candidate's letter to his fellow parishioners, he refers to the fact that he is not going to be able to "respond to the call to orders which he had received." Many comments have been posted on Deacon Greg's blog and I'm sure elsewhere which take the candidate to task for not responding to God's call. As I tried to explain, though, this is highly technical and canonical (legal) language. Here's what I wrote:
I will not enter into the substance of this debate, other than to say that I applaud the man’s decision. This isn’t a question of ex opere operato or anything else. Consider the way the ritual flows at ordination. The candidates are first questioned, and they respond AS A GROUP. But then comes this last question, and the liturgical action changes. Each candidate steps forward individually, kneels in front of his bishop, places his hands in the bishop’s, and promises respect and obedience to the bishop and all of his successors in office. It is a profoundly PERSONAL moment between bishop and candidate. If the man cannot, after wrestling with all of the issues in the crucible of his conscience, make such a promise, he is right not to do so.
But the main reason I’m chiming in is to give a technical response to the question, “From whom does the call to orders come?”
Overall, of course, the call comes from God, AS DISCERNED BY COMPETENT CHURCH AUTHORITY. Both aspects are necessary. I can’t simply say, “God is calling me to be a , , , and that’s all I need.” But what the candidate in THIS case is saying is technically quite different.
See, shortly before ordination, the ordaining bishop will issue a formal document known as a “Call to Orders”; it is what officially informs the candidate that he’s supposed to show up at the ordination ceremony. For example, when I was ordained in 1990 by Cardinal James Hickey for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, my wife and I went through our final round of interviews with him personally THE DAY BEFORE ORDINATION WAS SCHEDULED. At the end of those final interviews, the Cardinal opened his door, called in his photographer, and presented me with the official document calling me to orders. I was in the church the next day.
When I read the candidate’s letter in this case, it seemed perfectly clear to me that he was not speaking theologically or sacramentally but canonically: he had in fact received the official “Call to Orders” from Bishop Finn, but that he was not going to accept it.
Perhaps, in the future, he will.So, what do you think? Comments? Questions?