By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — One by one, Bishop Martin Amos and 60-some priests laid hands on the head of Deacon Ross Epping as he knelt inside Sacred Heart Cathedral on a sun-kissed Saturday morning. The choir and congregation tenderly sang “Veni Sancte Spiritu” (Come Holy Spirit) as the bishop and priests prayed for the Holy Spirit to bestow on Deacon Epping the sacred character that sets him apart for the priesthood.
The priests, most dressed in simple white albs, and the concelebrants, dressed in butter-colored chasubles, joined Bishop Amos at the altar for the Prayer of Ordination. Father Chuck Adam, chaplain of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, vested Father Epping with stole and chasuble as the congregation sang “You are a priest for ever in the line of Melchizedek.” Both men — mentor and mentee — smiled broadly and hugged afterwards.
Many of the priests at the altar were perhaps reflecting on memories of their own ordination to the priesthood, as recently as one year ago or as many as 67 years ago. At the front of the congregation were two men whom Bishop Amos had just ordained to the transitional diaconate: Deacon Daniel Dorau and Deacon Christopher Weber. They, too, may have been anticipating their roles as deacons and contemplating the future when they, God willing, are ordained to the priesthood a year from now.
Fr. Epping climbed the steps to the foot of the altar and knelt down before Bishop Amos, seated in a chair, for the anointing of the hands with the sacred chrism and handing over of the bread and wine. “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross,” the bishop prayed.
One by one, the bishop and priests shared the sign of peace with Fr. Epping and the deacons one by one shared the sign of peace with Deacon Dorau and Deacon Weber. This ritual signified that the newly ordained are part of one Order in the church.
Earlier, in his homily, Bishop Amos shared thoughts that all clergy may have been thinking about their ordination. “How long I waited for that day — nine years in the seminary,” remembered the bishop, ordained 49 years ago to the diaconate and 48 years ago to the priesthood. “It reminds me also of my ordination as a bishop (15 years ago) and the privilege to pass on that ministerial priesthood and the diaconate to the next generation.”
He addressed the new deacons and priest separately in his homily. To the deacons, he said: “While you will be a ‘transitional deacon’ and not a ‘permanent deacon,’ your ordination as deacon is not replaced with priesthood ordination but continues on even into priesthood. While you will have a ministry of ‘word’ and ‘altar,’ the trademark of the diaconate is ‘service,’” Bishop Amos said.
The bishop told Fr. Epping: “You will leave this cathedral today the same but also ontologically different. You will share in the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ, the high priest, so that you can serve the priesthood of the baptized.” Quoting from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Amos noted that the transition to priestly ministry could be compared to “leaving home, graduating from school, beginning a career, getting married and starting a family — but all at once.” In a humorous aside, he said he checked earlier in the morning on Fr. Epping’s retirement year — 2059. “That will be 100 years after I graduated from high school!” The congregation responded in laughter.
Bishop Amos also addressed the entire gathering in his homily. The newly ordained, “Your sons, your brothers, your friends will be the same, but they will be different. They will still have their strengths and weaknesses, their talents and their personalities with all of its quirks. … “Continue to love them, to support them, to challenge them, encourage them, comfort them, and pray for them that God who has begun the good work in them will bring it to fulfillment.”
Thoughts from the newly ordained
Father Ross Epping: “This is it. This is exactly where I am meant to be, exactly what I am supposed to do.” Among the many highlights for him: “Probably
when I hugged (Fr.) Chuck after he vested me. Chuck has been with me from the very beginning,” said Fr. Epping, a graduate of St. Ambrose University. Fr. Chuck “rekindled that flame of the priesthood. He’s been with me ever since.” But perhaps the most touching moment occurred after the Liturgy of Ordination. “When I gave my mom (Peggy) her blessing, I broke down. I couldn’t even get the words out of my mouth. She’s seen me through everything, my greatest source of support. She is the first one I wanted to give a blessing to.”
Deacon Chris Weber said the Litany of Supplication, when the congregation asks the saints to intercede for the elect (the soon to be ordained) and for everyone’s needs, was particularly moving for him. “I’ll never forget that as long as I live — knowing that the whole church is praying for you, the saints in heaven and everyone in the church.”
For Deacon Dan Dorau, offering the precious blood of Christ to his parents, Tony and Elaine, and the Litany of Supplication, were deeply touching. “When I was lying prostrate on the floor I could picture all these saints and angels in the room.”
Thoughts from family and friends
Peggy Epping, mother of Fr. Epping: “All his life he’s said he wanted to be a priest. It’s great he finally made it. Now he starts a new chapter.” A highlight for her: “When he gave me Communion.”
Ed Epping, father of Fr. Epping, noted that Will, the youngest of the new priest’s four brothers, asked what he could call his big brother. He said, “You can call me Ross.”
Will Epping, brother of Fr. Epping: “I couldn’t stop smiling.”
Father Chuck Adam, Fr. Epping’s mentor: “It’s a joy to see how far he’s come. It’s a great honor to be a part of this celebration,” the priest said, noting that he would be celebrating a nuptial Mass later in the day. “It’s a privilege to be a part of people’s journeys in life.”
Isaac Dorau, son of Deacon Dorau: “I think he’s right where he belongs. I think he’ll be an excellent servant for the people, the parishioners. My dad can touch on real life experiences.”
Tony Dorau, father of Deacon Dorau: “He’s in the place where God wanted him to be. … He finally found the place where God wanted him to be,” Tony Dorau said, choking up with emotion.
Deacon Dennis McDonald said it was a wonderful experience to vest Deacon Weber. They’ve known each other for years because Deacon Weber adopted Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine when he served there as a youth minister. The new deacon has a big heart, Deacon McDonald said. “He’s going to be a good deacon and he will make a good priest.”
Johnny Blauw, seminarian. He volunteered to serve at the Mass as cross bearer and book holder for the bishop: Participating in the ordination Mass “keeps me thinking about how to be in the (discernment) process.”