ROME — After a tumultuous year due to the coronavirus pandemic, eight U.S. candidates for the priesthood were ordained deacons at the Vatican.

Donning masks, the seminarians, along with priests and several bishops and cardinals, solemnly processed toward the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 1 for their diaconal ordination.

U.S. Cardinal James M. Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, presided over the ordination Mass. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, patron of the Order of Malta, was among the celebrants.

Hundreds of faithful were also present at the ordination Mass, which was more subdued than past years because of travel restrictions and limited seating due to the pandemic.

In fact, 29 of the deacons’ classmates, who would have been ordained with them, instead were ordained back in the United States over the summer after a nationwide lockdown in Italy in March forced the pontifical college to send students home.

Most of the new deacons’ family members could not be present either.

“At this moment, our thoughts and prayers go out to those who would normally be here for this cherished event, were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions,” Harvey said.

In his homily, Harvey reflected on the readings chosen for the celebration, noting that each one highlighted “the three C’s” that are essential to the new deacons’ vocation: “the call, the choice and the commission.”

In the first reading, God chooses the prophet Jeremiah despite his protests that he was too young and did not know how to speak; Harvey said the prophet’s hesitance could easily be mirrored by the initial doubts of the newly ordained.

“Each one of you can identify to some extent with the protests of the young prophet Jeremiah,” he said. “No one is worthy of holy orders. God accepts his ministers as worthy only because he makes his ministers worthy. God’s call cleanses.”

The vocational calling is “gratuitous, an unmerited gift” that is received once a person responds to that call saying, “Here I am; send me,” the cardinal said.

No one, he said, “seeks the order of deacon on his own. Why? Because it is Christ who chooses his ministers, he calls you through his body, the church, founded on Peter, (who is) buried below the main altar of this basilica,” he said.

Christ, he added, “chooses you, he singles you out to give witness to his word, he dispenses grace.”

Before proceeding with the Rite of Ordination, Harvey reminded the young men that their ordination is “not by some sheer coincidence, nor accident of history, nor mere happenstance that you have come to this moment in your life.”

The words that God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” are the same words spoken to the new deacons, he said.

“In the beautiful, rich terms of the Bible, this means, God loves you,” Harvey said. “The gifts and the call from God are irrevocable. The call from God is not something that he gives and then takes away.”