Anglicans, like their Catholic counterparts, tend to celebrate most of their ordinations on or about the feast of Ss Peter and Paul (or “Petertide”, as they are wont to call it). I’ve recently become aware of a spat among some of my Church of England friends – mostly conducted on Twitter – regarding the practice of having a jokey or light-hearted photograph of the bishop and the newly ordained ministers after the ceremony.
The Church Times often features several such photographs, but there is growing unease as to whether or not it’s a bit infra dig: beneath the dignity of the occasion and the ministry itself. I have to say that I do find the manic glee of these photos a little jarring. Do we really want to see a star-jumping bishop in full episcopal rig? Is it absolutely necessary to witness freshly minted deacons or priests “dabbing” (last year’s playground craze – no doubt to be replaced by this year’s, the hip-gyrating “floss”)?
Thankfully, such things are rarer in the Catholic world. This may be due, in part at least, to our common practice of ordaining one priest at a time. Levity, spontaneous or choreographed, is easier to pull off in groups. To be honest, I can’t even imagine a newly ordained Catholic giving a thumbs-up.
While that may be a virtue, it can also mask a vice. One of the arguments adduced in favour of a zany moment amid the solemnity is precisely the need to counterbalance the formality with an expression of simple joy. This has been a day long-dreamed of and its realisation comes after a lot of hard work: is it not right to leap like John the Baptist in the womb or like the deer in Isaiah (35:6)?
And then there is a more troubling phenomenon: the maintenance and expression of joy in the priesthood itself, as a way of life. I was struck by something a lay friend of mine said to me the other day. “In my experience,” he observed, “there are very few priests who are happy.”
Given the toxic effects, on a personal as well as a parish level, of priestly unhappiness, the Church should perhaps consider adding a “promise of joy” to those it already requires of its ordinands: “Do you promise to carry the joy of the Gospel in your heart and give it expression in your demeanour, words and actions?”
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