Like St. Monica, sometimes a mother sheds many tears when a son responds to his divine calling.
Recognizing this reality a pious tradition has been passed on over the years that pays respect to the role a mother has in a priest’s life.
When a priest is ordained his hands are anointed with oil by the bishop. After this occurs his hands are cleaned with a while linen towel called a maniturgium. The oil that is used on the hands of the priest is sacred, having been previously blessed by the bishop, and so the maniturgium cannot be discarded in the trash. While it could be thrown in the laundry basket to be cleaned, priests over the years decided to save these linen towels and present them to their mothers at their first Mass.
According to an age-old tradition the mother saves the towel in a safe place until she dies. Then when her body is prepared for the funeral the maniturgium is placed within the hands of the mother. The pious tradition then narrates what happens when the priest’s mother arrives at the pearly gates of heaven.
When she arrives to the gates of heaven she is escorted directly to our Lord. Our Lord says to the woman – “I have given you life, what have you given to me?'” She hands him the maniturgium and responds, “I have given you my son as a priest.” At this Jesus grants her entry into paradise.
It is a beautiful and consoling tradition that is always a touching ceremony to witness. Many more tears are shed when a young priest presents the towel to his mother, tears of joy instead of sorrow.
More recently there has developed a tradition recognizing the role of a priest’s father. It consists of the newly ordained priest handing his father a purple confessional stole after the priest hears his first confession. Sometimes the priest will actually hear the confession of his father as well, which proves to be a very humbling experience.
This tradition recognizes the fact that fathers are vital to the formation of good and holy men as sons constantly look to their fathers to know what it means to be a man.
Both of these customs are being revived by many young priests and are a great way to honor the numerous sacrifices parents make to raise holy children. Priests aren’t born out of nowhere and heavily depend on the formation they receive at home. In the end, the only sure way to increase vocations to the priesthood is to cultivate strong, holy families.