Wednesday, January 13, 2010

St. Hilary of Poitiers - Bishop Vincent Nguyen's Ordination

A 14th century manuscript representation of the ordination of St. Hilary

Today's liturgy offers the possibility of an optional memorial of St. Hilary of Poitiers, bishop and doctor of the Church.

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300- c.368) was one of the great champions of the Catholic belief in the divinity of Christ. By his preaching, his treatise on the Trinity, his part in the Councils, his daring opposition to the Emperor Constantius, he showed himself a courageous apostle of the truth. He could not tolerate that the specious plea of safeguarding peace and unity should be allowed to dim the light of Gospel teaching.

He was sometimes referred to as the "Hammer of the Arians" (Latin: Malleus Arianorum) and the "Athanasius of the West." His name comes from the Greek word for happy or cheerful.

Earlier, since January 13 was the fixed date to celebrate the Lord's Baptism, his feast was on January 14, still the beginning of "Hilary Term" in some colleges and universities (the fall "Michaelmas Term" is associated with the feast of St. Michael on September 29).

In 1851, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church.

* * * * * *

As yesterday in St. Peter's Cathedral, London, Most Reverend William McGrattan was ordained a bishop for service as an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Toronto, today it will be the turn of His Excellency Vincent Nguyen in St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto. The ordinations are being live-screened by Salt and Light Television; here are some of the highlights of the ceremony:

After the candidate for episcopal office is presented to Archbishop Collins and the bulla of his appointment is read, Bishop-elect Nguyen will be questioned on his willingness to accept the office.

Then as the litany of the saints is chanted over him, he will lie prostrate on the ground a gesture that reminds us that everything comes from God, that we are mere creatures before him and that we trust in his grace.

Just as the Apostles did to their first successors, the principal consecrator and the two co-consecrators will impose my hands upon the head of Vincent Nguyen. So also will the other bishops present, saying the essential words of the rite:

"So now pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to the holy apostles, who founded the Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name" (Ordination Prayer).

This close to two thousand-year-old rite is enriched by a series of symbols that underline the Bishop's mission. The Gospel will be placed on his head to show that we must all derive from it inspiration for our personal and our apostolic life.

The consecrator will place a ring on the finger of the new Bishop to remind him of his duty to be faithful to the Church, the Spouse of Christ and will place on his head the mitre, so that all may know his Episcopal dignity.

Then the presiding bishop will place in his hands the pastoral staff, inviting him to lead with fatherly love God's holy people.

These are eloquent signs by which the liturgy brings us to understand, respect and love him who has been chosen by the Lord to be a successor of the Apostles for building up the Holy Church of God.


  1. I think in the context of English educational and legal institutions, Saint Hilary's festival lies at the start of the Hilary Term which begins in January.