The ordination of Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais

Patrick H. Daly, parish priest of Caversham, Archdiocese of Birmingham, traces the ordination story of one of the most controversial priests in Restoration France.

The two most celebrated and controversial secular priests of nineteenth-century France were ordained within nine months of one another. One was eventually canonised and proposed to the universal Church as patron saint of the parochial clergy; the other was hurriedly buried at dawn in a pauper’s grave without so much as a prayer, with a security guard outside lest there should be a riot. The former, Jean-Marie Vianney, ordained on 13 August 1815, left no written account of either his feelings nor his vision of his future on the day of his ordination, even if later as curé of Ars he was to write extensively about the priesthood. With regard to the latter, the abbé Félicité Lamennais, who was ordained on 9 March 1816, through his own correspondence and the letters of his contemporaries, we know a great deal of the personal unhappiness his reception of Holy Orders caused him and a life-long ambivalence concerning his priesthood.

The short priestly life of Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais [Lamennais]1 raises interesting questions about the perception of the priest’s role in a society locked in a struggle between its loyalty to the state and its profound religious identity, about how the clergy were formed for the ministry both Church and society expected of them, and of how a day so long eagerly anticipated with such joy by most could be one of such inner torment for an intelligent, sensitive, mature man – still young but with more life experience that most ordinands – who ‘let himself be ordained [a priest]’.

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