In all our visits to the churches and basilicas in Rome and Turin we saw wonderful relics of our dear Lord’s life and death and were transported back in time from the arrival of St. Peter in Rome to Saints who were canonized during the 20th century. All this was awe-inspiring and made me feel humbly grateful that, by the grace of God, I was part of this great Catholic heritage which has left its mark so indelibly on Italy.
And then we went to Ecône and I felt the same awe and gratitude. Here the Faith, for which St. Peter and his apostles and martyrs had died, was being presented in all its purity, unchanged and unchangeable. There was a great sense of vibrant, living Catholicism closely linked to the Faith through all the ages, and the strongest feeling that the whale court of Heaven was looking down with approval at what was taking place in this beautiful Swiss valley between towering mountains.
Ecône is clearly visible in this valley, called the Valais, as it is set slightly on the slope of the mountains. As most of your readers will know, the ordinations take place in a large field in front of the seminary buildings. A huge, three-sided marquee is erected in this field, in which a beautiful altar and all the necessary accoutrements for the ordinations are set in place. The seminarians, resident and visiting priests and also the relatives of the ordinands were seated under this marquee, whilst the faithful who have came from over Europe, and in this special year from South Africa as well (!!), were seated on chairs in neat rows facing the altar. The organisation was impeccable, the sound system excellent, and there was a great sense of order and dignity, despite the large numbers present, estimated to be about 3,000.
The ordination Mass commenced promptly at 9 a.m. and the four bishops of the Society of St. Pius X proceeded from the beautiful new church of the Seminary down a long, sloping roadway and then through the people into the marquee. It was a most impressive procession; the bishops in their purple copes, altar servers in red and white, some 50 (?) priests and 120 seminarians in their black cassocks and white surplices. Because of the excellent amplification every word of the Mass and Ordination ceremony was clearly audible and demonstrated once more the perfect wisdom of our Holy Mother the Church in preserving Latin as the language for all her ceremonies; one felt as much “at home” in this great field between the lovely Swiss mountains as in our own chapels in Durban and Roodepoort.
I had wondered how the distribution of Holy Communion would proceed, and here again the same sense of order and dignity prevailed. Communion rails-no doubt specially made for theses ordination ceremonies-had been placed between about every ten rows of chairs so there was not milling around or confusion, and it was all done reverently and quickly by a number of the priests who were present.
The whole ceremony lasted about four hours, and as we had had a very early breakfast in Sion so we would arrive at Ecône in time to secure a good position, we were more than ready for the cheese and ham rolls (and particularly the cold drinks!!) which we had brought with us. At about 3:30 p.m. we made our way back to Sion in our lovely, comfortable coach, with the thought of the joy which awaited us the next day-being present at the first solemn high Mass of one of the newly-ordained priests.
The solemn high Mass was another sublime experience. It was sung by the new priest, deacons and the many priests and seminarians present in the beautiful new church of the Seminary and was for me, and I am sure all the other members of the pilgrimage, like a foretaste of Heaven on earth-the reverence with which the Mass was celebrated, the beautiful vestments, the heavenly singing.
Another lasting impression I have of the serene, happy faces of the newly ordained priests. This had been the greatest day of their lives and we must pray very much for them.
Their lives had been so carefully nurtured in the peace and tranquillity of Ecône, and here they were
about to be sent out into the world, a world hostile to them, to minister to small, groups of people not always as fervent and committed as they would wish, and whose knowledge of the true Faith has perhaps become subordinated to the worldliness around them.
We must pray very much for these new priests ordained in the year 2000 and for all the priests and religious of the Society of St. Pius X. May Our Dear Lord and His Holy Mother be always their joy and consolation and bless their labours with abundant fruit.
I would like to end this story of Ecône and the priestly ordinations with the words of a delightful woman from Marseilles who sat in front of us. She had spent some years in Australia and had some command of English, and when it was all over she said to us, “we will probably never met again but we will know that we are all united in our Faith”.