The Life of Vincent de Paul (Abelly): Book II, Chapter II, Section III

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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SECTION THREE: A Summary of What is Done During the Ordination Retreats, and the Regulations that Govern Them

Those who wish to receive ordination come to the house of the priests of the Mission ten days before the Saturday on which they are to be ordained. Upon arrival their names are recorded, their ecclesiastical rank, degrees, etc. Some priests of the house are present to receive their guests, to take their cloaks, to show them to their rooms or around the house, to wait on them, to encourage them, and to explain the order of the retreat. They also recommend recollection, silence, and modesty and the exact observance of all the usages of the exercises so they would gain the maximum profit from them, and prepare themselves to receive orders worthily. A director of the ordination retreats is charged with the general responsibility of the program. The candidates are answerable to him. His chief care is to see that all who serve the candidates and those who make the exercises are animated with the same spirit.

Each day two conferences are given, the first in the morning on the principles of moral theology and on practical matters a clergyman should know. The other conference is given in the evening on the virtues, qualities and functions proper to those in holy orders.

There are ten different topics for these talks. The order of the topics for the mornings on moral theology is:

On the first day, the general censures of the Church.

On the second, particular censures, such as excommunication, suspension, interdict, and irregularities.

On the third, the sacrament of penance; its institution, its form, effects, and the conditions necessary for the confessor to administer the sacrament well.

On the fourth, dispositions for receiving the sacrament of penance well, i.e., contrition, confession, satisfaction; and indulgences.

On the fifth, divine and human laws. Sins in general; their kinds, circumstances, causes, effects, degrees, and remedies.

On the sixth, the first three of the ten commandments, which include the duties of man toward God. The three theological virtues, the virtue and acts of religion.

On the seventh, the other seven commandments, which refer to the neighbor.

On the eighth, the sacraments in general; confirmation, and the eucharist as sacrament.

On the ninth, the eucharist as sacrifice; extreme unction; marriage.

On the tenth, the Apostles’ Creed, emphasizing what a priest should know about each article, and the way to teach the creed to others.

The order for the evening conference:

On the first day, mental prayer is spoken of, with reasons why clerics should practice it. Then an explanation of mental prayer, the method to be used, and how to pray well. This is chosen as the first evening topic because during the retreat some time each day is reserved for this kind of prayer. On the second, the vocation to the ecclesiastical state. The necessity of being called by God to this state before accepting orders. What this vocation consists in, how a person may recognize the call, and how he may correspond well to this grace.

On the third, the true ecclesiastical spirit is discussed. The obligation of acquiring this spirit; its signs, the means of acquiring it, and how to perfect oneself in this spirit.

On the fourth, orders in general; their institution, necessity, matter, form, effects, differences among them, dispositions required to receive them profitably.

On the fifth, the clerical tonsure; the doctrine behind this ceremony; obligations imposed, qualities it should have, dispositions to bring to its reception, response to objections and several difficulties about the tonsure.

On the sixth, the minor orders: definition, matter, form, function, and virtues required to exercise these functions with profit.

On the seventh, the subdiaconate; the virtues proper to this order, especially chastity.

On the eighth, the diaconate, and the virtues proper to this order, particularly charity towards the neighbor.

On the ninth, the priesthood; the knowledge proper to priests, to acquit themselves worthily of this order.

Lastly, on the tenth day, a conference is given on the life of an ecclesiastic, in which it is explained that the life of a cleric ought to be much more holy than that of laymen. Various ways are suggested to help them lead such a life.

Each day following the conferences, the candidates are divided into groups, each composed of from twelve to fifteen persons. The groups are formed of those having similar backgrounds, presided over by a priest of the Mission, to discuss among themselves what had been said. This helps fix the matter and their own reflections more surely in their memories.

Each day about a half-hour is given for mental prayer, and afterward the discussion groups met to help those unacquainted with this form of prayer. It is explained how to make the considerations, arouse the affections, and arrive at practical resolutions.

Each day they have the opportunity to practice the particular rite of the order they are to receive, and the rites of both private and solemn masses.

They recite the divine office together, with close attention paid to the pauses and periods of reflection.

Special attention is given to encouraging everyone to make a general confession of their entire life, if they had never made one before, or at least of the time since their last general confession, if they had done so previously. It was for this reason that the subject of general confession had been discussed in the conference on the things a cleric should be aware of in his calling. The day following their confession, a Thursday, all receive communion at the high mass.

Seven and a half hours are given to sleep, and two hours a day to holy and upright conversation after meals, at which there are readings from holy scripture and the book on the dignity and sanctity of priests, by Molina the Carthusian.1

In a word, the candidates are introduced to a well-ordered life, not too free and not too austere, but well suited to their calling as ecclesiastics, which they might continue to live after leaving Saint Lazare.

The Sunday after ordination they return home after high mass, at which all receive communion in thanksgiving for the grace of ordination.

This, then, is a summary of the ordination retreats begun and since continued by Monsieur Vincent, and carried on by his Congregation for the welfare of the whole Church.

He strongly recommended that those who gave the conferences follow carefully the notes drawn up for each talk. These had been well prepared, covering just those points most necessary and most important for the candidates, and in a sequence most suited for attaining the goal of the exercises.

When a bishop himself would give these conferences, Monsieur Vincent strongly commended their contributions, as father to his children, solid in their spiritual doctrine, and showing the active role of the Spirit of God in their life and teaching.

Monsieur Vincent said to his priests, “Simplicity impresses the candidates. They are very happy with it, and they are not looking for anything else here. Presented in this garment, truth will be well received, and will be most effective in an unadorned modesty.” One day, when someone gave a conference in a fashion other than in the spirit of the Mission, he fell on his knees before him, and begged him earnestly to be simpler and more devout.

  1. Antonio de Molina, 1550-1612(?), Instrucción de sacerdotes. A Latin version existed in Saint Vincent’s day, but a French version did not appear until 1676.

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