A Quick Guide to Ordination
By Rev. Caroline Osborne
The roots of our ordination service are found in the New Testament. Throughout the book of Acts, the people of God gather together, and the elders lay their hands on someone to commission them for a special ministry. For example, in Acts 6, the Disciples, who by that point were the clear leaders of the young Church, lay their hands on the first deacons and commission them for their special role of service.
Our modern-day service includes a great deal more than just the laying on of hands, though. So what else is going on? First, after the Procession and the Collect for Purity, there is the Presentation. In this part of the service, the people of the Church attest to the ordaining bishop that it is the discerned will of the people of the Church that the ordinand (person being ordained) be ordained and that the ordinand lives a life suitable for ministry. This is important because, as Episcopalians, we believe that ordination is not something each individual decides for him or herself. Instead, we believe that it is something discerned by the whole Church.
After the Presentation comes the Litany for Ordinations, an extended version of the Prayers of the People with a special focus on the ordinand and the ministry of the Church. The Litany is followed by the readings, sermon, and Nicene Creed, much like a typical Eucharistic service. Then comes the Examination.
In the Examination, the bishop addresses the ordinand directly, discussing the call of a priest (or deacon, depending on who is being ordained), asking them about their beliefs, and asking them to make certain promises. The questions reflect whether or not they adhere to the teachings of the Church, including the sufficiency of the Bible, while the promises reflect a life of ministry marked by prayer, learning, and faithful service.
Only after the Examination does the actual moment of ordination take place, formally called the Consecration of the Priest (or Deacon). This is when the laying on of hands takes place. First, the bishop and people invite the Holy Spirit to be present and at work, and then, in the ordination of a priest, the bishop invites all the priests present to come forward and lay their hands on the ordinand, while the bishop lays his hand on his or her head. Then the bishop prays over the ordinand asking God himself to make them a priest (or deacon) in Christ’s Church. It is a powerful moment and many clergy can clearly remember a sense of the Holy Spirit working in them in that moment.
After that, the ordinand is no longer an ordinand but a priest (or deacon). The service finishes with a normal Eucharistic celebration, in which the new priest pronounces the blessing.