SCRANTON – Surrounded by family and friends inside the Cathedral of Saint Peter, Mark J. DeCelles was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Scranton by the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, on Saturday, June 26, 2021.
“I have so many emotions it is hard to name them all,” Father DeCelles, 39, said directly following the 10 a.m. Mass. “I feel cared for, I feel loved, I feel supported.”
More than 150 people attended the Dunmore native’s Ordination Mass. With classes, exams and the seminary experience now behind him, Father DeCelles feels ready to serve the Church of Scranton and its people.
“It feels natural. I’ve been in formation for four years now. I’ve been a deacon for over a year and I feel well prepared,” he explained.
During his homily, Bishop Bambera expressed gratitude to the many people who helped make the joyous day possible.
“I join with this local Church to give thanks – first to God – for the call to priestly service that he planted in Mark’s heart, an invitation built upon the universal call to holiness which all of us have received in Baptism,” Bishop Bambera began.
The bishop also thanked Mark DeCelles for saying ‘yes’ to the Lord’s call, and expressed gratitude for those who have helped him discern and respond to that invitation. The ordaining prelate also acknowledged Mark’s family and friends who have supported, loved and encouraged him along the way.
“I especially thank his immediate family – his brothers, Chris and Sal – and particularly his mother, Mildred, and father, Charles. I don’t know that any candidate for priestly ordination has ever received such powerful formation in the mysteries of our faith as Mark has received from you,” the bishop said. “From the selfless love and commitment to each other that you have all lived as a family on a daily basis, to the dignity with which you have treasured God’s gift of life, to your humble embrace of the crosses that have come your way, to the hope that you have placed in the power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection – you have taught Mark invaluable lessons that most of us take a lifetime to learn.”
For the Gospel reading of the Ordination Mass, Father DeCelles selected a reading from the last chapter of Saint John’s Gospel where the Risen Jesus showed himself to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Three times, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” In the end, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”
Bishop Bambera reflected on the meaning of that Gospel passage as it applied to DeCelles’ ordination.
“As Jesus did with Peter, he invites you, Mark, to follow him, in a deep and intimate way. He invites you to love him,” the bishop explained. “Love of God is rooted in an authentic relationship with the person of Jesus. Love of God emerges from our awareness of and gratitude for God’s abiding presence in our lives and the recognition of our unworthiness and our inability to save ourselves. The love of God is given flesh and substance in our feeble efforts to selflessly serve the people of God has entrusted to our care.”
As the newest priest for the Diocese of Scranton, Father DeCelles will serve as a teacher, shepherd and servant for the People of God.
“Always remember, when you teach in the name of Christ the Teacher – when you work for justice, truth and freedom – when you baptize – when you forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church – when you comfort the sick and the dying – when you serve the poor – and when you celebrate the Sacraments and particularly the Sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist – you are both a servant of the Church and a member of the People of God. As such, while you are appointed to act on behalf of the Christian faithful for those things that pertain to God, remember that you – like all of us – are in need of God’s continued presence, life and mercy,” Bishop Bambera added.
As he ended his homily, the bishop encouraged Father DeCelles to remain close to God’s people.
“They will look to you for answers to their questions. They will look to see Jesus in the fruits of your prayer, in your words of forgiveness and encouragement, in your work, in the simplicity of your life, in your love and in the Eucharist you celebrate for and with them,” Bishop Bambera noted. “In return, they will love you, they will walk with you, they will support and they will enable you to proclaim with an ever-deepening sense of certainty the words of Peter spoken to Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you.’”
The Ordination Mass featured several poignant moments.
During the Litany of Supplication, DeCelles, still a candidate for the priesthood at that point, lied prostrate on the floor of the Cathedral in a gesture of solemn petition. The choir and congregation, through the intercession of all the saints, asked God’s blessing on him.
Then came the laying on of hands, an essential part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In complete silence, Bishop Bambera laid his lands upon DeCelles’ head – followed by every priest present – signaling the true fraternity of the priesthood. The Prayer of Ordination followed that, the moment when DeCelles officially became a priest.
After that time, Monsignor Michael J. Delaney vested Father DeCelles for the first time and then the bishop anointed his hands with the Sacred Chrism oil. After receiving his chalice and paten, he received a fraternal kiss of peace, first from Bishop Bambera, then from every priest present.
At the end of Mass, Father DeCelles gave his first blessing as a priest to his mother, Mildred, followed by other family members.
Asked afterward what that moment meant to him, Father DeCelles responded, “My mother and my father, I owe them everything. I’m so conscious of how I have been blessed, how I have been blessed by them and my whole family and friends. If I can give that back to them, and the people of God in any way, that’s all I want to do.”
Father DeCelles received his first assignment as a priest shortly after the Mass ended. He will serve as Assistant Pastor at Saint Nicholas Parish and Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Wilkes-Barre.