Q. As this Year for Priests continues, I am reminded of several questions to which I cant find answers. First, when, actually, does a man become a priest? At what moment in the ordination ceremony?
A. One solid way of responding to this often-asked question is by using the theological analysis of St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), which helps explain any authentic sacramental event. This analysis rests on the philosophical approach to reality, which dates from the best of ancient great thinkers, especially Aristotle (d. 322 B.C.).
Aristotle, in an effort to understand reality, viewed substance (i.e., a thing, something; or some action, someone), as separate, independent, existing in itself and not in something else. For Aristotle (and Aquinas) substance is a composite of two elements (ingredients or moments): matter and form. One usual example given in Metaphysics 101 is that wood is to matter as the shape of a table is to form. Matter cannot exist by itself; neither can form. The two join to describe "substance."
The foregoing explanation really belongs to a course in philosophy (especially metaphysics), but provides theologians with a sound and helpful way of explaining doctrinal matters. Theology, after all, is "faith in quest of understanding" St. Anselms famous definition. (1109 A.D.)
The Aristotelian/Thomistic mode of viewing reality (things as well as events) is widely used by the Church to explain sacramental happenings. For instance, in Baptism, water (the pouring of water) is viewed as the matter of the Sacrament. The form that which determines the meaning of pouring water in this case, specifically is the formula given by the Lord himself: "I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
In priestly ordination to return directly to the question above the matter is understood by the Church as the imposition of the bishops hands, in silence, upon the candidates head. This ancient gesture of ordination dates from the beginning of Christianity, and is found so clearly in the Bible that it is acknowledged as such in several ongoing ecumenical conversations. The form, on the other hand, consists of the consecratory prayer following the imposition of hands by the bishop, especially one defining sentence.
When these two elements, the laying on of hands in silence, followed by a critical sentence within the lengthy prayer, are joined, the candidate becomes a priest forever.
The precise words vary according to the Holy Order given. For priesthood, the heart of the form appears as the fourth paragraph from the close of the consecratory prayer. It reads:
"Grant, we pray, Almighty Father,/ to this, your servant, the dignity of the priesthood;/ renew deep within him/ the Spirit of holiness;/ may he henceforth possess this office/ which comes from you, O God,/ and is next in rank to the office of Bishop;/ and by the example of his manner of life,/ may he instill right conduct."
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Q. What is the meaning of the word "incardination," with reference to priests?
A. Incardination is regarded as one of the ancient canonical concepts pertaining to priesthood. Although quite complex in canon law, it can simply be described as disallowing a "free-lance priest." The word, "incardination," reflects the Latin in plus cardo (Latin for "hinge" or "connected"). "Excardination" means removal of a connection. Canon 265 of the Code of Canon Law states that "every cleric must be incardinated in a particular Church, or a personal Prelature, or in an institution of consecrated life or a society which has this faculty."
Incardination occurs with the reception of diaconal orders.
Hence, a priest will be incardinated, for example, into the diocese for which he was called, or for a religious community, or for a personal Prelature for whose service he was ordained.
If a priest must change dioceses, for instance, he must be excardinated from his original diocese and incardinated into his new diocese.
"For what diocese (or other canonical area) were you ordained?" is a question often put to priests. The inquiry seeks to discover the diocese or community in which the priest is incardinated.