Discover an ancient rite and the rituals behind a bishop’s ordination

By Jean Gonzalez

The Catholic faithful participate in many rites steeped in tradition and symbolism distinct to the church. 

And on July 22, Catholics of North Florida will celebrate one such tradition — the ordination and installation of Bishop-elect Erik Pohlmeier as 11th bishop of St. Augustine. 

In celebration of the event, Father Tom Willis, director of liturgy and pastor of St. Mark Mission in St. Johns, offered a video explanation of those symbols and traditions. While the entire flock of the Diocese of St. Augustine will not be able to attend the Liturgy to be held at St. Joseph Parish in Jacksonville, they may still witness the event via livestream starting at 2 p.m. at the following channels:

Although ordained a priest, the bishop-elect will celebrate another degree of the sacrament of holy orders of the Catholic Church, bishops ordained to what is called “the fullness of the priesthood.” He will continue the ministry of charity while adding the responsibility for oversight or governance.

“(Bishops) are ordained to manifest Christ to the People of God — Christ (who is the way, the truth and the life) by – teaching about him, calling us to the holiness of life in Christ, and governing us in the ways of Christ,” Father Willis said. “Because the Eucharist is the foremost sacrament of our Church, the ordination takes place at Mass.”

So, what can the faithful expect to witness during the liturgy and rite of ordination? The first thing is the procession of brother clergy – deacons, priests and bishops – entering St. Joseph Church at the beginning of Mass. Along with clergy of St. Augustine, priests from outside the Sunshine State who have known the bishop-elect will travel for the Mass. And fellow bishops of Florida will also be present, with Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami serving as presiding celebrant. Bishop Felipe Estévez of St. Augustine and Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., will preside as co-consecrators.

During the Liturgy of the Word, the faithful will chant the ancient text Veni, Creator Spiritus — “Come Creator Spirit.” 

“In this hymn, we join the Church of ages past who has known the activity of the Spirit in her midst,” Father Willis said “The Spirit, given to the Church in fullness at Pentecost and poured forth anew in every age of the Church, is called upon to be active among us in this sacred action we are about to accomplish for the glory of God and the building up of His kingdom.”

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Holy Father’s official representative to the United States, will read the declaration from Pope Francis who has appointed Bishop-elect Pohlmeier to this assignment. This represents the formal presentation of the bishop-elect to the ordaining bishop and is followed by applause from the clergy and congregation.

During his homily, Archbishop Wenski will ask Bishop-elect Pohlmeier nine questions that pronounce his public commitment to serve as a bishop. Then the bishop-elect will lie prostrate in front of the altar — as a sign of complete surrender to the Triune God — as the faithful invokes the Litany of Saints.

“In the Ordination of a Bishop, the Litany focuses on the intercession of the apostles since bishops continue the ministry of the apostles in our time,” Father Willis said. “Then there is the central act — the foremost symbol — of the ordination rite. Archbishop Wenski imposes hands on the head of the bishop-elect and quietly calls down the Holy Spirit upon him.”

Bishops Estévez and Taylor will also lay hands upon the bishop-elect, one of the most ancient and biblically based gestures of consecration and blessing, as will all other bishops and archbishops who are present. Other traditions to follow include:

  • Recitation of the Prayer of Ordination, which dates to the 4th century, by Archbishop Wenski. It officially makes the man over whom it is being prayed a bishop. During the prayer, two deacons hold the open Book of the Gospels over the head of the new bishop, to symbolize the principal task of proclaiming and living the Gospel. 
  • The new bishop is anointed on the head with Sacred Chrism.
  • Then the new bishop receives from the archbishop, the signs and symbols of his office:
  • The Book of the Gospels 
  • A ring, signifying his union with this local Church and his lifetime commitment as a servant of the Lord. 
  • A mitre that is worn by bishops at liturgical functions and is a symbol of the wings of the Holy Spirit.
  • A crozier (pastoral staff), which looks like a shepherd’s crook to symbolize the bishop as the chief shepherd, protector and guider of Christ’s flock. 

All bishops present at the liturgy then give the new bishop a Sign of Peace — an embrace that marks the new bishop’s membership in the College of Bishops. The newly ordained and installed bishop then presides for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, his first as bishop of St. Augustine. Before the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Pohlmeier will walk through the assembly imparting his first blessing as a bishop upon those present. Again, it will impart blessings on the faithful. An ancient hymn of the Church — Te Deum Laudamus (We praise you, God) — will be sung. 

Mark your calendars to witness virtually one of the most ancient rites of the faith July 22, in the Diocese of St. Augustine.