Advent Liturgy: December 2009 Archives

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster

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We are reading in refectory this week from Blessed Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster's magnificent work, The Sacramentary. Here is an excerpt from his presentation of the Advent Ember Days.

Prayer and Fasting for Priests and Deacons

An ancient tradition reserved the ordinations of priests and deacons to the month of December, and the faithful -- following a custom introduced by the Apostles themselves -- felt constrained to unite with the bishop in prayer and fasting, in order to call down from God an abundance of priestly gifts upon the heads of those newly chosen to serve at the altar.

The Holiness of the Clergy

In truth the highest interests of Christian people are bound up, to a great extent, with the holiness of the clergy; and since Holy Scripture teaches us that the most terrible chastisement which almighty God inflicts upon perverse nations is to give them pastors and leaders of their own kind, it is evident that the ordination of the sacred ministers is not a matter which concerns merely the bishop and his seminary, but one which is of supreme importance to the whole Catholic body.

For this reason the Acts of the Apostles record the solemn fasts and public prayers which preceded the ordination of the first seven deacons and the mission of Paul and Barnabas as Apostles to the Gentiles.

Mary, Aflame With Jesus

During this season of immediate preparation for Christmas the Church invites us to attach ourselves with special love for Mary, for it is from her that our Advent has its beginning during those nine months in which she bore Our Lord within her. What must have been the feelings of faith, of love, and of zeal which then animated the Virgin so closely united with that God who in the Scriptures is called a consuming fire? Prefigured by the burning bush of Moses, Mary, aflame with Jesus, is the model of all who love him truly.

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The Holy Face of Jesus

[On the Friday in Ember Week] the verse ad offerendum is [also] from Psalm lxxxiv: "Thou, O Lord, who hadst turned away Thy Face from us on account of our sins, mayst Thou be appeased and turn again and look upon us, and the light of Thine eyes shall restore us once more to life." Show us Thy mercy, O Lord, and reveal to us now the Saviour whom Thou hast promised and in whom the patriarchs of old fell asleep full of trust and hope.

The Face of Jesus in heaven is the cause of joy to the angels, but on earth it is the token of God's pity for sinners. We say to the Father, Respice in faciem Christi tui, but let us, too, fix our own gaze on that Face, lest we lose sight of it. As the Eternal Father, when He beholds the Face of Jesus, is touched with compassion for the wretched children of Adam, so let us also show a holy reverence for that Sacred Face and for those pure eyes that look on us so tenderly; let us take care that all our actions are worthy of the ineffable sanctity of that Divine Regard.

Ember Friday in Advent

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Restore the Ember Days

For the second time this week, we celebrated a special pre-dawn Advent Mass in candlelight. Having anticipated Matins last evening, we were able to begin Holy Mass at 5:15 a.m. We are mindful that the Ember Days are devoted to prayer and fasting for the sanctification of the clergy, in preparation for the ordinations that used to take place on Ember Saturday in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

The observance of the Ember Days occurs four times yearly, once in each season. I would be happy to see the full restoration of the Ember Days, with the fasting and prayer for the clergy that characterizes them in response to the crisis that continues to afflict the bishops and priests of the Church. Would that this might be a fruit of the Year of the Priesthood!

The Collect

Today, once again with a note of urgency, the Collect is addressed, not to the God the Father, but directly to Our Lord Jesus Christ. The very core of the prayer is the word, veni; the great Advent cry of the Church that we will be repeated this evening in Great O Antiphon.

Excita, quaesumus, Domine, potentiam tuam,
et veni:

Stir up, Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
and come:

ut, hi qui in tua pietate confidunt,
ab omni citius adversitate liberentur.

that they who trust in Thy lovingkindness
may be the more speedily freed from all adversity.

The Collect alludes to two divine attributes of Our Lord. The first is His potentia, His power; the second is His pietas, His tender devotedness to those entrusted to Him by His Father. So rich a word is pietas in the liturgical vocabulary of the Church, that one can never really do justice to all the nuances of its meaning. Pietas is the dutiful and tender devotedness of a son to his father, and of a father to his son. When we speak of the pietas of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we refer to His entire devotedness to us or, if you will, to all that is symbolized by His Sacred Heart.

"I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26)

After asking Our Lord to stir up His potentia and come, we ask that those who confide in His pietas (or in His Heart) might be delivered more speedily from all adversity, that is, from the things that fly against us as we make our way forward to greet Him at His blessed Advent. Trust in the tender devotedness of Our Lord for us is, in fact, the speediest way of being delivered from the things that come against us in daily life.

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31-37)

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One of the most effective ways of growing in trust in the pietas of Our Lord is the frequent repetition of the "little invocation" that He gave Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit in 1922. Since then, the "little invocation" has transformed the lives of people all over the world: O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy loving mercy. It is another way of saying, "O Jesus, I trust in Thy divine pietas, in the tender devotedness of Thy Heart for me." My experience is that such a prayer repeated with perseverance, and from the heart, leads to spiritual liberation and healing.

The Lesson

The prophet Isaiah presents the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the flower of the Root of Jesse upon whom rests the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Our Lord is anointed with these gifts in superabundance. He is the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, and from Him the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are communicated to each of His members, to perfect in them the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity infused at Holy Baptism.

The Holy Ghost is wonderfully present in the liturgy of these final days of Advent. In fact, what Isaiah announces, is illustrated and fulfilled through Mary in today's Gospel.

The Holy Gospel

This is the second great Marian Gospel of Ember Week in Advent. Energized by the Spirit of God, and bearing the Son of God hidden in her womb, Our Lady is, to use the expression of Pope John Paul II, "the first tabernacle of history." The arrival of Mary in any situation signifies and obtains for us a fresh inbreaking of the Holy Ghost. Mary's visible entrance into the house of Zachary is the "sacrament" of the Holy Spirit's invisible entrance. No sooner does the Mother of God greet her cousin Elizabeth, than she is filled with the Holy Ghost. The little Forerunner, Saint John, concealed in the womb that many thought barren, attests to the sanctifying operation of the Holy Ghost with a little leap of joy.

Spend these last days before the Nativity of the Lord in the presence of His Virgin Mother. Where Mary is, there too is the Holy Ghost with His seven gifts: gifts in no way restricted to Pentecost, gifts wonderfully suited to a happy Christmas.

Te, Christe, solum quaerimus

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For my friend, Monsignor A.B.C.

Sometime in the early 1970s the Benedictine nuns of the Abbey Pax Cordis Iesu at Ryde, in the Isle of Wight, made an outstanding contribution to the prayer of English-speaking Catholics by translating the entire corpus of hymns found in the Liturgia Horarum. There is a pressing need to make the hymns of the Liturgia Horarum available to those who pray the Hours in English. Here are the hymns for Vespers and Lauds from December 17-24 in the Ryde Abbey translation.

At Vespers

The Word, Salvation for us all,
Proceeding from the Father's mouth,
Receive, O Mary Virgin blest
Within your chaste and spotless womb.

The Holy Spirit's fruitful cloud
Has overshadowed you with love,
that you may bring forth Christ our Lord
The Father's Ever-Equal Son.

She is the holy Temple's gate
Forever closed and chastely sealed
Whose sacred portal is reserved
To open for the King alone.

To prophets promised long ago,
And borne before the birth of light,
Whom Gabriel announced with joy,
The Lord Himself comes down to earth.

Let all the angels gladly sing,
All peoples of the earth exult;
In lowly guise the Most High comes
To save the world which sin had lost.

O Christ our King and tender Lord
All glory ever be to You,
Who with the Holy Spirit reign
With God the Father might supreme. Amen.

At Lauds

Of old the prophets cried aloud,
Foretelling Christ would surely come,
Theirs was the special grace to know
That man's redemption was at hand.

Hence radiates our joy at dawn,
Our happy hearts rejoice and sing,
Proclaiming now our earnest faith
In glory long since promised us.

This humble coming known to few,
Was not to judge a sinful world
But all our wounds to tend and heal,
By saving what had gone astray.

His second coming will declare
That Christ is at our very doors,
To crown all those who love Him well
And welcome them to lasting bliss.

Eternal light is promised us,
The star of our salvation shines,
Already its bright gleaming rays
Call us to keep the law of love.

Lord Jesus Christ, we seek but You,
To see You, God yet truly Man,
So that this vision blest may be
Our never-ending hymn of praise. Amen.

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Stretching Godward

My own experience is that the Invitatory, with the repetition of its pressing call to adoration, establishes the soul in the realm of "spirit and truth" that is the ground of all prayer. Before entering the quiet vastness of the psalmody, there is the hymn. The rhythm of its poetry, and sometimes its melody, is a kind of "stretching exercise" before settling down for the First Nocturn.

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Beginning on December 17th, the hymn at Matins is Veni, Redemptor Gentium, attributed to Saint Ambrose.

Redeemer of the nations, come!
Appear, Thou Son of Virgin womb!
Astonished be the realms of earth,
for Godlike is His wondrous birth.

The first strophe is a plea for the redemption of all nations and for the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaias: "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (Is 7:14).

He, of no mortal man conceived,
By mystic influence received,
The Word of God, our flesh is made,
O'er woman's fruit is honour shed.

Saint Ambrose says that the Incarnation of the Word took place "mystico spiramine," that is, by means of a secret inbreathing.

The Virgin's breast an offspring hides,
Unharmed yet modesty abides;
There Virtue's banners shine abroad,
Within His Temple walks our God!

In the Latin text Saint Ambrose realistically evokes the swelling of the Virgin's belly: "Alvus tumescit Virginis." Then he uses the charming expression, "Claustrum pudoris permanet" -- but remains the cloister of purity. He goes on to describe what is happening within the Virgin's womb: the banners of virtue shine forth and God is rocked (versatur) in His Temple. The womb of the Virgin is the Temple of God, and His Temple has become a cradle!

Proceeding from His chamber He,
That royal court of chastity,
Of two-fold substance, Giant Son,
Prepares His mighty course to run.

Forth from the Father He proceeds,
Again unto the Father speeds:
His goings e'en to Hell extend,
And at God's Throne returning end.

The imagery in these two strophes is drawn from Psalm 18:6-7. This psalm will be sung at Vigils of Christmas; it also occurs at Vigils in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He hath set his tabernacle in the sun: and he, as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber, Hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way: His going out is from the end of heaven, And his circuit even to the end thereof: and there is no one that can hide himself from his heat.

Here one sings the whole economy of salvation: the exitus a Deo and the reditus ad Deum, the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery of death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension.

To Thy Great Father, Equal Son,
O gird Thy carnal vesture on!
The frailties of mortal flesh
With thy unfailing strength refresh.

Carnis tropaeo accingere: The verb accingere links this strophe to another psalm that will be sung at Vigils of Christmas and at Vigils in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Psalm 44. Whereas the psalm has the Bridegroom-Warrior-King girding his sword upon his thigh, the hymn has Christ, the true Bridegroom-Warrior-King girding on the flesh of our humanity to reinvigorate it by the virtus -- might -- of His Divinity.

Thy manger, lo! effulgent beams,
Night with unwonted lustre teems,
Which never more shall darkness know,
But shine with Faith's immortal glow.

One hears behind this strophe the language of Psalm 138:12, also woven into the Exultet of the Paschal Vigil: "But darkness shall not be dark to thee, and night shall be light as day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to thee." The night of Christ's birth, like that of His resurrection, glows with a divine and heavenly light. This imagery is, of course, related to the parallelism evoked by the "virgin tomb" and "virgin womb."

Glory to God, the Father, be!
And Only Son, alike to Thee,
And to the Spirit Paraclete,
Now and for ever as is meet. Amen.

The doxology of the hymn already indicates that it is time to settle down for the psalmody of the First Nocturn. In comparison to the lyrical quality and melody of the hymn, the psalmody is almost murmured. This is the contemplative heart of the Divine Office. Dom Odo Casel, O.S.B. says:

When the hymn is over, the mind is sufficiently awake and prepared. Now we come to the real purpose of night worship, contemplation. Vast, mysterious, difficult psalms pass before the soul's eye; the mysteries of God make themselves known in hard phrases. The soul wrestles with God for salvation, for knowledge of Him. (The Mystery of Christian Worship).

Am I not here who am your Mother?

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At Clear Creek

Brother Juan Diego and I have been at Clear Creek Monastery for the past few days. I have been preaching a retreat to the Benedictine Oblate Sisters of Clear Creek; Brother Juan Diego was welcomed into the choir novitiate. The Sisters' convent, named for Mary, Queen of Angels, is directly across the road from the gateway to the monastery.

Clear Creek celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe as a minor solemnity with First Vespers, a procession after Tierce, and Solemn High Mass. At the Hours there are proper antiphons, magnificently suited to today's feast.

Our Mother of Guadalupe

I have always found immense comfort in Our Lady's words to Juan Diego:

"Do not let anything afflict you, and do not be afraid of any illness, or accident, or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else?" (Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego)

She Will Never Disappoint You

These words of Our Blessed Mother to Saint Juan Diego are echoed in the words attributed to Our Lord in the journal of a priest: "My Mother watches over you. She is your advocate and your perpetual help. Go to her confidently with whatever troubles you. Go to her with your doubts, your worries, and your fears. Trust in her maternal heart is never misplaced, and she will never disappoint you." To the same priest Our Lady once said, "Be prudent, but without fear, because I am your Mother. . . . Trust in my protection. Yes, I am your Mother of Perpetual Help, ever ready to come to your rescue, ever ready to provide for your needs, to deliver you from danger, and to console you in sorrow. Approach me with childlike confidence and you will never be disappointed."

The Holy Spirit and Our Lady

And again, Our Lord said, "Your union with Me will take place through My Immaculate Mother and by the gentle but continuous operations of the Holy Spirit in your soul. Together, the Holy Spirit and My Immaculate Mother put themselves at the service of souls who seek union with Me. Is not this a wonderful thing? God the Holy Spirit, the Source of Holiness in creatures and the Substantial Love by which My Father and I are eternally one, puts Himself at the service of a finite and sinful creature to bring about a union with Me that is the perfect expression in a human soul of the union of My human Soul and of My Divinity with My Father."

When I first read this, it rather astonished me. Then I recalled Our Lord's words in John 14:20-23: "In that day you shall know, that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. . . . And he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. . . . If anyone love Me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make our abode with him." And again in John 17:21: "That they may all be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they may also be one in Us." Our union with Christ is patterned after His union with the Father and is, at the same time, the means of union with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

A Springtime of Holiness in the Church

Continuing in the same journal, I read: "And in this work of uniting a soul to Me, no one can take the place of My most pure and loving Mother. She is the Mediatrix of all graces, and just as no one can come to the Father except through Me, so too can no one come to Me except through her in whose virginal womb I took flesh. If only my Mother's role and the greatness of her work, even now, from her place in heaven, were better known! Then there would be a great springtime of holiness in My Church and, first of all, among my priests, for I have entrusted each one of them to her as to the most attentive and compassionate of mothers. All the resources of her Immaculate Heart, full of grace, are a the service of her motherhood of the souls of My priests. Priests have the right and privilege of calling upon My Mother in every need, trial, failure, and sin, confident of receiving from her help and solace, mercy and healing, comfort and peace."

The Secret of Priestly Holiness

"Too few of my priests have entered into the relationship of filial love and of spousal intimacy with My Most Holy Mother, that I desire for them, and from which their holiness will flow as from a spring. In a word, this relationship with My Most Pure Mother is the secret of priestly holiness. My priests have only to seek Mary, My Mother, and all the rest will be given them in abundance. The greatest saints knew this, but today many priestly hearts have grown dark and cold, and their relationship with My Mother, which is to be a reproduction of my own relationship with her, is almost non-existent."

For the Joy of the Church and the Glory of the Father

"The renewal of holiness in my priests will come about as I have promised, only when they become little and childlike, and consecrate themselves entirely to My Mother's Immaculate Heart. Their hearts need her Heart. That is my message today. That is what I so desire my priests to learn and to put into practice. Those who do this will quickly advance in holiness and their virtues will shine for the joy of the Church and for the glory of My Father in heaven."

Letter to a Soon-to-be Novice

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Second Sunday of Advent

My dear son,

Listening to the Liturgy

You have often heard me say that the sacred liturgy is, first of all, God's word addressed to us. Through the liturgy, Our Lord Jesus Christ addresses His Bride and Body, the Church, and, through the liturgy He speaks to each of us individually. If we incline the ear of our hearts to Him, we will hear His voice and His words will become for us seeds of holiness sown in our souls, promising a harvest of good fruits.

Putting on Christ

Tomorrow evening, after First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will be clothed in the monastic habit that symbolizes your firm resolve to put on Christ and to walk in newness of life. You will be enrolled officially in the school of the Lord's service to learn the Rule of our blessed father Saint Benedict, and to put it into practice day by day.

Introit

It almost seems as if today's Mass was prepared just for you, in view of this next step in your monastic journey. You belong to the "people of Sion" addressed in the Introit. The Introit contains a wonderful promise, a promise that you must claim for yourself today: "The Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart." Is this not why our father Saint Benedict begins his Holy Rule by saying, "Hearken, my son, to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of thy heart" (RB Pro)?

Collect

In the Collect, we ask the Father to "stir up our hearts to prepare the ways of His only-begotten Son, that through His advent, we may attain to serve the Father with purified minds." In this context, "to serve" -- servire -- means to worship, or to offer the sacrifice of praise. Today, this prayer is for you! Ask the Father to stir up your heart to prepare the ways of His Son, the Bridegroom of your soul -- your Redeemer, your Healer, and your King -- that by the grace of His advent, that is, His coming to you in Word and in Sacrament, you may be numbered among the "adorers in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23) whom the Father desires.

Epistle

The Epistle invites you to be steadfast and patient in the practice of lectio divina. "What things soever were written, were written for our learning: that through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures, we might have hope" (Rom 15:4). The novitiate will be a time of trial calling you to a humble patience, a patience that rests upo your trust in God's merciful love. At the same time, you will have the consolation of the Scriptures hour after hour, day after day, and week after week. Learn to seek and to find your consolation in the Word of God. If you do that, you will always have hope.

Saint Paul also says, "Now the God of patience and comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ; that with one mind and with one mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 15:5-6). We will be of one mind because we are learners in the same school, the "school of the Lord's service," and because the Rule of Saint Benedict will be the principal object of your study and reflection all throughout the year that lies ahead of you. A man who allows himself to be changed and shaped by the Rule of Saint Benedict becomes a human doxology, a man fully alive whose entire being expresses the praise of God's glory, through Christ Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

The Epistle ends with a wish that is, in effect, a prayer: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing: that you may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost" (Rom 15:13). If anything is to characterize your noviceship, let it be this: "hope, and the power of the Holy Ghost."

Gradual and Alleluia

The Gradual contains this promise: "Out of Sion, the loveliness of His beauty, God shall come manifestly." The loveliness of the beauty of God that comes forth from Sion is, first of all the Immaculate Virgin Mary. She is the radiant image of the loveliness of the beauty of God. Contemplating Mary, we see already what God desires for the Church, the Bride of Christ, and for each soul. The humiliating struggles of the novice, his application to study, to prayer, to obedience, and to silence are the very things that allow the loveliness of the beauty of God to emerge in his soul. There is no more effective way to cooperate with this than by fixing your gaze upon Mary, the tota pulchra, the all-lovely, and by consecrating yourself to her. With Mary, you will learn to sing at every stage of your monastic pilgrimage: "I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord" (Ps 121:1).

Gospel

In the Gospel, Our Lord calls Saint John the Baptist the "angel sent before His Face to prepare His way before Him." In a way analogous to the mission of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mission of Saint John the Baptist will continue until the end of time. Wherever Christ is about to be manifested, John is present. He is charged with readying souls for the advent of the King. He does this by interceding for us from His place in heaven, and by obtaining for us the grace to gaze upon the Lamb of God, and to follow him. Saint John the Baptist is the patron of every novitiate.

Offertory

In the Offertory Antiphon, you will ask Our Lord to show you His mercy. He does this by turning toward you His Eucharistic Face. One who gazes upon the Face of Our Lord with the eyes of faith receives His mercy and experiences His salvation. There is healing in the radiance of His Face.

Secret

The Secret Prayer will remind you (and me too) that we have no merits to plead for us. We have nothing that might allow us to bargain with God. We have only our poverty, and when we go before Him it is with empty hands. God, however, finds empty hands irresistible. You can be confident of receiving His grace so long as your remain poor and humble and empty-handed before Him.

Communion Antiphon and Postcommunion

The Communion Antiphon invites you to arise and to stand in readiness for the joy that comes to you from God. "Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and behold the joy that cometh to thee from thy God" (Bar 5:4; 4:36). This is Our Lord's promise: "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you" (Jn 16:22). So long as you keep your gaze fixed on the Face of Our Lord, you will be able "to appraise rightly the things of earth and love those of heaven" (Postcommunion). Thus joy will have the last word. I want you to be a joyful novice, and for this reason, I exhort you to look, not at yourself, but at the Face of Our Lord and at the beauty of His Immaculate Mother, the Cause of Our Joy.

He Who Comes

Today and tomorrow you will have ample opportunity to behold the joy that comes to you from God. Be anxious about nothing. Be steadfast in hope. You will not be disappointed because He who comes is faithful.

In lumine vultus Iesu,
Father Prior

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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