It is important to recognize that formation is an ongoing lifelong process for the man who is called to the priesthood. Indeed, the Program of Priestly Formation (PPF) asserts that “discipleship is a lifelong journey of following Jesus Christ; this is certainly the case for the priest” (PPF 32) and that this “journey of discipleship and growth in Christian faith and service continues after ordination with ongoing formation” (PPF 33). It is also true that, in many ways, ordination is the culmination of the work that is being done in the seminary.
In the Rite of Ordination, all of the work of seminary formation takes on a concrete reality in the election of the ordinandi, in the promises that are made, and in the reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is in the Rite of Ordination that the Church, in the person of the Bishop, chooses the man/men to be ordained; the Bishop states, “Relying on the help of the Lord God and of our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these our brothers for the Order of the Priesthood/Diaconate.” It is also in the Rite of Ordination that ordinandi publicly promise to embrace the celibate state (specifically, in ordination to the Diaconate), promise to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours every day, and promise respect and obedience to their Bishop/Ordinary and his successors. Finally, and most importantly, it is during the Rite of Ordination that the Bishop lays his hands on the head of the man to be ordained in conformity with the ancient Biblical and Apostolic Tradition (Num 27:15-23, Deut 34:9, Acts 6:6, Acts 13:3, 1 Tim 4:14) and prays the Prayer of Ordination which includes the words “Grant, we pray, almighty Father, to these your servants the dignity of the Priesthood.”
While ordination is, in many ways, the culmination and end of seminary formation, it is the beginning of the life of ministry as a priest for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people. During the Rite of Ordination, the hands of the newly ordained are anointed with chrism as these hands will soon be used to bless, to administer the Sacraments, and most importantly, to hold and distribute Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It is through these priestly actions that the priest continues to be formed in his vocation as alter Christus for the Church and the world.