St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary students take part in centuries-old tradition

Published 12:33 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

Last Thursday, Feb. 2, was a milestone in the school year for the seminary students of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Dillwyn. Twenty-six young men in their second year of studies received the long black robe, called the cassock, from the hands of the bishop in residence, Bernard Fellay. 

They put aside the styles and dress of the world in order to wear a garment that symbolizes the gift of themselves to the service of God. The color black signifies the death of the “old man of sin” according to the words of St. Paul, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him (Jesus)… to the end that we may serve sin no longer” (Rom. 6;6), but that we may arise “in the likeness of His resurrection” (v. 5).

The seminary is a place of formation for Catholic priests and comprises a seven-year program of philosophical and theological studies which culminates in the ordination to the priesthood. For Catholics, the ordained priest is more than just a preacher of the Word. 

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Seminary students

It involves receiving a very special commission from Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, seminary officials say, through the Church, which gives the priest spiritual powers (e.g., to forgive sins) that set him apart from the rest of men. Hence it is fitting that the priest should wear the uniform of a man of God, just like a policeman or emergency responder, so people immediately know where to turn when they need help.

The advancement to the priesthood is a long journey and it is such a heavy responsibility that the ordination is not given to just anyone, nor all at once. There are seven distinct steps towards the priesthood in the form of the clerical tonsure and minor ordinations. 

Sixteen young men in their third year of studies received the clerical tonsure on the same day. This is the ceremony in which the seminarian is, to use an analogy from the army, promoted from the enlisted status to be a “commissioned officer” of the Church.

This year the priestly ordinations are on Friday, June 16, at 9 a.m. The public is invited to attend the ceremony at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, which is held in a huge outdoor tent rented for the joyous occasion.