Ordinations during a pandemic: simple but profound

Mary Dell Flattery
Bishop Thomas Zinkula pours sacred chrism into the hands of James Flattery during his ordination to the priesthood June 6 at Immaculate Conception Parish in Colfax.

By Barb Arland-Fye and  Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

The gravity of the pandemic created an indelible image — Bishop Thomas Zinkula and other clergy wearing face coverings during celebration of the ordinations of Father James Flattery and Deacon An­drew Rauenbuehler at separate Masses last weekend.

Other signs of the extraordinary atmosphere included the quiet: no one sang and, with seating limited to 10 persons, viewers could hear things they might not otherwise hear, like the placing of a book on a table. No incense rose up to the rafters but emojis, those “ideaograms and smileys” used in internet communication, floated on the screens of viewers watching the Masses on Facebook Live.

This is what ordination looked like June 6 in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century. Precautions taken to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in the Diocese of Davenport required simplicity in celebration of the sacrament. The celebrations, held at each clergyman’s home church, provided an intimate setting by reducing the number of people gathered in the same place for the safety and well-being of all.


In a Facebook post the following day, Father Flattery thanked all for their prayers during his six-year journey to the priesthood. “I never imagined being ordained in my home parish with only ten people present and celebrating my first Mass in an empty church. When this pandemic is over, I’m looking forward to having a large celebration in my home parish.”

Among the adjustments made during each ordination Mass: the gifts were brought to the altar from the credence table in the sanctuary, the sign of peace was shared by a bow rather than a hug. Some parts did not change, such as the laying on of hands and the promise of obedience, the prostration of each ordinand during the Litany of Supplication, and the anointing of the new priest’s hands with the sacred chrism.

Deacon Rauenbuehler was ordained at Ss. Mary & Mathias Church in Muscatine, the church of his youth, where he received the sacraments of baptism, first Communion and confirmation.

“It of course is unfortunate, Andrew, that you are unable to have all your family and friends with you in person this morning as you take this very significant step in your life,” Bishop Zinkula said during his homily. “But in a way, the simplicity of this ordination Mass underscores the role and ministry of a deacon. It isn’t about you. It is about Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life.”

The bishop spoke about the beginning of the diaconate, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. “As the number of disciples grew, the 12 apostles had too much on their plate, so they delegated some of the behind-the-scenes activity to seven men. This basically involved taking care of those who were poor and needy, and serving at table.”

Deacon Dennis McDo­nald of Ss. Mary & Mathias vested Deacon Rauen­buehler in the dalmatic, a vestment that Bishop Zinkula described as “basically an apron. It is a symbol of service, an appropriate vestment because deacons are consecrated to serve. They are configured to Jesus, ‘who came not to be served, but to serve.’”

“The pandemic is causing sorrow and hardship, but the Good News is like a flame that springs up ‘in the night of a world faced with huge challenges,’” the bishop said, quoting from the Easter message of Pope Francis.

“Through exercise of your diaconal ministry, Andrew — in your role of waiter and servant — may you be contagious in bringing the hope of the Gospel to those whom you serve.”

Bishop Zinkula noted, “Many of your loved ones are watching the livestream and praying with and for you from afar. And, in fact, the entire Church will be joined together, mystically, as we celebrate Eucharist around the altar table in a few minutes.”

After his ordination, Deacon Rauenbuehler said seeing the faces of family and friends outside the church made him realize how important his role is to others. His parents, Mark and Sharon Rauenbuehler, and grandparents, Carl and Mary Ann Rauenbuehler, attended the Mass in person.

Transitioning to the role of deacon as he continues the journey to ordination to the priesthood, Deacon Rauenbuehler feels excited about his ministry of helping people in their faith. “God willing I can lead people to God.”

Before returning to his studies, Deacon Rauenbuehler will assist this summer at Holy Trinity Parish-Richmond, St. Mary Parish-Riverside and St. Joseph Parish-Wellman. Although this experience will be different because Mass in-person is not being celebrated and many activities cannot happen, he looks forward to getting some hands-on experience.

Father Flattery was ordained at Immaculate Conception Church in Colfax. His parents, Ed and Mary Dell Flattery, and brother Paul Flattery attended in person. His other two brothers watched the livestream Mass online.

Bishop Zinkula shared with those gathered in the church and online the three traits that he thought fit the job description of a priest. His inspiration came from a homily that Pope Francis gave a few weeks ago, 100 years after the birth of St. John Paul II. Pope Francis viewed St. John Paul II as a model priest and highlighted three of the many traits of a good pastor that the late pope embodied.

Therese Rauenbuehler
Andrew Rauenbuehler, right, answers Bishop Thomas Zinkula during Rauenbuehler’s ordination to the diaconate June 6 at Ss. Mary & Mathis Parish in Muscatine.

The bishop reflected on each of the three traits: prayer, closeness and mercy. “Prayer is basically hanging out with God, conversing with God, talking and listening, communing,” the bishop said. “The bread and butter of a priest’s daily prayer life is personal prayer (for example, contemplation, rosary, lectio divina, devotions); the Liturgy of the Hours; Mass; all complemented by spiritual direction and an annual retreat.”

Regarding the trait of closeness, Pope Francis said St. John Paul II was a “model pastor’’ because “he was never detached from his people. He was always close to them. He traveled throughout the whole world to seek them out, to visit his people,” Bishop Zinkula said. During this time of pandemic, “there is not much physical closeness these days, but priests can still be spiritually and emotionally close to their people through prayer and communication aided by technology.”

In reflecting on mercy, the third trait of a good priest, Bishop Zinkula referred to the promises a priest makes at his ordination and the message contained within the prayer of ordination. He concluded his homily by incorporating a prayer from Pope Francis’ homily: “May the Lord give all of us (the entire Church), and especially pastors, and most especially James — the grace of prayer, the grace of closeness and the grace of justice in mercy.”

Following his ordination, Father Flattery described it as “an incredible experience” being able to consecrate the body of Christ with the bishop and fellow priests. The ordination Mass as a whole was bittersweet and exciting. Although just 10 people could be present, he said he knew the diocesan community was with him.

Father Jacob Greiner, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, vested Father Flattery. The two have known each other since 2014 when Father Greiner served at parishes in Knoxville and Melcher. “When I was a seminarian he took me under his wing,” Father Flattery said. “He helped seminarians network and he gave us support.” Father Greiner said, “We are blessed to have Father Flattery and it was an honor to be here. I kept all my brother priests in my heart as I represented them.”

Some of the things Father Flattery anticipated, such as a newly ordained priest’s first blessings, did not happen. However, he was grateful to be ordained in his home parish. He said he is praying for everyone, especially those affected by COVID-19.

On July 1, he begins his first assignment as a priest, serving as parochial vicar for parishes in Burlington-West Burlington and Dodgeville. In the meantime, he will celebrate Mass at other parishes wherever a need exists.

His mother described the ordination Mass as simple, but nice. “Sure it would have been nice to have more people attend, but he was able to be ordained in his home parish.” Even though all in attendance wore masks, she said she knew that people were smiling.

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on