Postures at an Ordination

Date: May 28, 2023
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Question: At ordinations, is it right for the bishop to stand during Litany of the Saints to bless the candidates? If yes, why? Also, at the ordination of priests and consecration of bishops, is it right for those who lay hands on the head of the candidates to keep their right hands raised as they return to their seats and maintain this posture till the prayer of consecration is said? -- S.M., Benue state, Nigeria


Answer: With respect to the Litany of Saints, the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 508, and the Ritual of Ordination says:


“508. After the litany, the bishop alone stands and, with hands out stretched, says the prayer Lord God, hear our petitions. At the end of this prayer the deacon (if he had given the invitation to kneel before the litany) says, Let us stand, and all stand.” 


The prayer says:


“Hear us, we beseech you, Lord our God, and pour out on these servants of yours the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the power of priestly grace, that those whom in the sight of your mercy we offer to be consecrated, may be surrounded by your rich and unfailing gifts. Through Christ our Lord.”


The reason why the bishop alone stands is because this is the normal posture for any form of any presidential prayer. Although some devotional prayers of supplication may occasionally be said kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, this does not apply to this form of presidential prayer in which the bishop asks God’s blessing on the candidates.


With respect to the second question the Ceremonial of Bishops says:


“531. One by one, the candidates go to the bishop and kneel before the bishop. The bishop, wearing the miter, lays his hands on the head of each, in silence.”


“532. Next all the concelebrating presbyters and all other presbyters present, provided they are vested with a stole worn over an alb or over a cassock and surplice, lay their hands on each of the candidates, in silence. After the laying on of hands, the presbyters remain on either side of the bishop until the prayer of consecration is completed.”


There is now no indication whatsoever that the priests extend their hands, but only that the bishop does so. This may have been a custom in some other times and places but is no longer in conformity with liturgical laws.


All priests should stand beside the bishop but with hands joined. The extension of hands could be easily misinterpreted as a kind of participation in the ordination itself and not a sign of the unity of the presbyterate.


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