Fr. Jonathan Decker leads the new priest around proto-cathedral. Fr. Morgan carries the chalice containing the body and blood of Christ on his head in an ancient tradition.
Fr. Jonathan Decker leads the new priest around proto-cathedral. Fr. Morgan carries the chalice containing the body and blood of Christ on his head in an ancient tradition.
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Step by step, preceded by incense and candles — ancient symbols of prayer, purification and the light of Christ — newly ordained Father John Michael Morgan processed down the aisles of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver, Washington, Sept. 9. The monk-priest was led by Father Jonathan Decker, known as Abouna (Arabic for “Father”). Atop Father Morgan’s head he held a veil-cloaked chalice carrying the Eucharist dipped in consecrated blood.

The ritual, unfamiliar to most Roman Catholics, was part of the Maronite rite of ordination of a priest — only the second such ordination to take place in the Northwest; Father Anthony Joseph Alles was ordained in 2014.

Father Morgan, a member of the Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, now is a priest of the Maronite Eparchy, or diocese, of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles. A 2006 graduate of De La Salle North Catholic High School, he will continue to reside in a community of five monks in Beaverton as the men await the construction of their new Sacred Heart Monastery on 65 acres of land in Castle Rock, Washington. The Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a new monastic order, established in 2011.

The sacred nature of the eucharistic procession during Father Morgan’s ordination was complemented by the human expressions of devotion and interest as the tall redhead and his sponsor, Abouna, wound their way around the church. The Knights of Columbus held their feathered hats in respect and a young boy peered around his father to secure a good view. Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows, one of several religious communities in attendance, discretely snapped photos.

The human and the divine intermingled seemed fitting for a rite that Maronite Bishop Elias Zaidan said makes a man “the heart and mind, eyes and ears of the Lord.”

Bishop Zaidan, a native of Lebanon and leader of the Los Angeles eparchy, said in his homily that Deacon Morgan had given “years of preparation” in order to “dedicate himself to God.” Emphasizing the words from an opening prayer, the bishop said the candidate had been called to be a “good steward, a spiritual guardian, a wise teacher and a diligent watchman.”

He pointed out that the soon-to-be-priest would bring together the vocation of the priesthood and that of consecrated life.

“Be faithful to the Lord every step of the way,” said Bishop Zaidan, who heads one of the two eparchies of the Maronite rite in the United States. The second, St. Maron, is in Brooklyn, New York.

Maronite Christianity began in the areas that today make up Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. The Maronite rite, one of 22 Eastern Catholic rites, is named for the hermit St. Maron, who died about A.D. 410. United with the pope, Maronite Catholics profess the same apostolic faith as Latin-rite Catholics and celebrate the same sacraments. But they have their own spirituality, liturgy and code of canon law.

“I love the music, the tradition” of the Maronite rite, said Connie Murphy, a member of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass who made the trek to Washington the night before the ordination with her husband, Mike. Murphy said the highlight of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour liturgy was the chance to hear Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.

The ordination incorporated Aramaic, Arabic, Latin and Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, as well as English. Much of the ordination program was printed in Arabic.

“To have all the languages present is very sacred to me,” said Laif Waldron, a member of St. Sharbel Parish in Portland, the only Maronite parish in Oregon. “It’s like a time capsule bringing you back to that time when the Maronites began in the fourth century.”

Within the Mass, the ordination ceremony followed the eucharistic prayer and consumption of the Body and Blood by Bishop Zaidan and the concelebrants. The congregation received Communion after the ordination.

During one portion of the ordination, the bishop placed his left hand on the Eucharist and the other on Deacon Morgan.

At that moment, I become “a channel of God’s grace,” said Bishop Zaidan, who explained each significant moment of the ordination to the congregation.

As the bishop anointed the palms of the newly ordained priest with chrism, he prayed: “Clothed with the holy vestment of the exalted order of priests, may [Father Morgan] join the pure priests who have pleased you by their honorable deeds and services.”

Clergy attending the ordination included retired Portland Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner; Fathers Eric Andersen and John Boyle from St. Stephen Parish in Southeast Portland; Father W. R. Harris, pastor of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James; and Father Christopher Fabre, pastor of St. Sharbel.

Minutes after the liturgy ended, Father Morgan greeted and blessed each person in a long line winding out of the vestibule and into the afternoon sunshine.

Father Morgan is “compassionate, loving and funny,” said Monica Calko, a member of St. Sharbel, after her blessing. “The children love him,” she added, ushering her 6-year-old son, Thaddeus, down the church steps.

Beaming, the brand-new priest said he was most eager to celebrate the Eucharist and distribute mercy and grace in the confessional. But he’s also excited about “the little moments,” he said. “I’m looking forward to those in-between moments that a priest can grow in knowledge of the Father’s love and holiness — and minister that love to his children.”

katies@catholicsentinel.org