Friday, 2 October 2009

"A Living Instrument of Christ": Clare reports on an ordination at Pluscarden and gives text of Abbot Gilbert's meditation on Priesthood

The Benedictine community of Pluscarden in Scotland has a new priest! Brother Dunstan was ordained on 20th August by Bishop Moran of Aberdeen. In the monastery's newsletter, Abbot Hugh Gilbert writes a moving meditation on the priesthood which deserves a wider readership. Here it is:

"The priesthood is more than anything a gift. As Fr Ronald Knox expressed it, '"Every ordination means the creation of a fresh unit of spiritual force", and creation is an act of God. By the laying-on of hands and the prayer of a Bishop, successor of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is given a man in a particular way. he "is consecrated to God in a new way... and made a living instrument of Christ the Eternal Priest and so enabled to continue through time that wonderful work of salvation by which the human race was made whole again by power from above" (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests 12).

But this gift, like many another, goes beyond the recipient. It's too much for him. By it, the lesser (a man) becomes a bearer of something greater than himself (the grace of Christ, the God-man). There is a disproportion. It does not make for comfort. St Paul used the image of a 'treasure', something valuable and precious, confided to a clay pot, an 'earthenware vessel', weak and all too liable to break (2 Cor 4:7). There is no shortage of contemporary experience of the break-able breaking. Here is one reason surely for the Pope's initiative of a Year for Priests. And here too we can appreciate the prayer mentioned above. It offers us a 'take' on the paradox. We pray that God himself will look after the gift in the person to whom it has been give; that he will guard it, protect it, keep it; that he will enable the recipient to carry it, perhaps by a surprising mercy sparing him the full realisation of it.

The gift is really given, like the gift of our existence, and yet it also remains God's. He does not abandon the gift "If we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim 2:13). he protects the gift, keeps it safe, makes it effective. It is all God's work. In this perspective, the priest can find comfort as well as a call to prayer. The whole Church, in fact, can find comfort; "For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29).

In this Year of the Priest, then, may I commend our new priest Fr Dunstan to the prayer of our readers, that he may make more and more progress towards God, persevere to the end, and bring the joy of the truth to many through his ministry. The gift of the priesthood, like every gift, is a gift for others and in praying for Fr Dunstan and all priests (including those we feel have failed us) we are also praying for ourselves."

Fr Hugh's prayerful insight into the nature of the priesthood will inspire spiritual mothers everywhere. His final prayer for the new priest in the community we can adapt for all the priests we pray for. Let's add a little prayer for Fr Dunstan and the Pluscarden monks as well.

Also from the newsletter comes this quotation from the Vatican II document Presbyterorum Ordinis*

"The spiritual gift which priests receive at their ordination prepares them not for a sort of limited and narrow mission but for the widest possible and universal mission of salvation, 'even to the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8), for every priestly ministry shares in the universality of the mission Christ entrusted to his apostles. The priesthood of Christ, in which all priests really share, is necessarily intended for all peoples and all times, and it knows no limits of blood, nationality or time, since it is already mysteriously prefigured in the person of Melchisedech."

Jane's comment.
Thanks very much for this valuable contribution Clare.
*The complete document mentioned in the Pluscarden newsletter is to be found here. It has 23 pages and is structured as follows: Preface; Chapter I - The Priesthood in the Ministry of the Church; Chapter II - The Ministry of Priests; Chapter III - The Life of Priests; Conclusion and Exhortation. It's printable and is on my Advent Reading list.

May I also recommend Abbot Hugh Gilbert's book "Unfolding the Mystery: Monastic Conferences on the Liturgical Year" This is available from for Europe as little as £5.75 used, and £8.36 new, International delivery available. For USA customers it costs $ 17.95 from


  1. Thank you Clare and Jane, for this post. Your blog is a treasure. Because you are using this medium many more people can meditate on spiritual motherhood and embrace this vocation.

  2. Dear Jane Teresa,

    Thanks for your much appreciated encouragement. We pray constantly that the blog will fulfil its major purposes: that through it, more and more women will get to hear about sprititual motherhood; that those who have already embraced the vocation will find that it supports them spiritually and give them a sense of global solidarity in their spiritual maternity of priests; and that it will be a source of relevant, continually updated news, information and resources.

    This is quite a big remit and I'm blessed to have Clare and Mark to help me!

    Thanks for your own blog "My Heart was Restless", which I visit everyday.