Pope Benedict XVI: June 2010 Archives

The Priest With Jesus

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I am quite overwhelmed by the abundance and theological density of the Holy Father's homilies, discourses, and writings. It is a privilege and a grace to be united to the mens of the Holy Father and to the prayer of his heart by reading and meditating his teachings. Yesterday, in Saint Peter's Basilica, the Holy Father ordained fourteen deacons to the priesthood. The following extract, from the homily His Holiness preached, is yet another illustration of his zeal for priestly holiness in the Church.

Being in Prayer with Jesus

The Gospel that we just heard shows us a significant moment in the journey of Jesus in which he asks his disciples what people think of him and how they judge him themselves. Peter replies on behalf of the Twelve with a confession of faith, which differs substantially from the view that people have of Jesus, for he says: You are the Christ of God (cf. 9.20). Where does this act of faith come from? If we go back to the beginning of the Gospel passage, we note that Peter's confession is tied to a moment of prayer: " when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him,"(9:18). That is, the disciples are involved in Jesus' unique being and talking with the Father. And so they are allowed to see the Master in the depths of his condition as Son, they are allowed to see what others can not, by 'being with Him, "by" being with Him in prayer, comes a knowledge that goes beyond the opinions of people to reach the profound identity of Jesus, to reach the truth. Here we are given an indication for the life and mission of the priest: in prayer he is called to rediscover the new face of the Lord and always the most authentic contents of his mission. Only those who have an intimate relationship with the Lord are grasped by him, may bring him to others, can be sent out. This is the "being with him" that must always accompany the exercise of priestly ministry; it must be the central part of it, above all in difficult times when it seems that the "things to be done" should take priority.

Being on the Way of the Cross with Jesus

I wish to highlight a second element in today's Gospel. Immediately after Peter's confession, Jesus proclaims his passion and resurrection, and he follows this announcement with a lesson on the path his disciples must take, which is to follow Him, the Crucified, follow the road of the Cross. And he adds - with a paradoxical expression - that being a disciple means "losing oneself", but only in order to fully rediscover oneself (cf. Lk 9.22 to 24). What does this mean for every Christian, but especially what does it mean for a priest? Discipleship, but we can safely say: the priesthood can never be a way to achieve security in life or to gain a position in society. The man who aspires to the priesthood to enhance his personal prestige and power has misunderstood the meaning at the root of this ministry. The man who wants above all to achieve a personal ambition, achieve personal success, will always be a slave to himself and public opinion. In order to be considered, he will have to flatter; to say what people want to hear, he will have to adjust to changing fashions and opinions and thus deprive himself of the vital relationship with the truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he would praise today. A man who plans his life like this, a priest who sees his ministry in these terms, does not truly love God and others, only himself and, paradoxically, ends up losing himself. The priesthood - let us always remember - rests on the courage to say yes to another will, in the awareness, to be nurtured everyday, that our compliance with the will of God, our "immersion" in this will, does not cancel our originality, rather on the contrary, it helps us enter deeper into the truth of our being and our ministry.

Being at the Altar with Jesus

Dear ordinands, I would like propose a third thought for your consideration, closely related to the one just mentioned: the call of Jesus to "lose oneself" to take the cross, recalls the mystery we celebrate: the Eucharist. With the sacrament of Holy Orders you today are gifted to preside at the Eucharist! You are entrusted the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, you are entrusted with his Body, given his outpoured Blood. Of course, Jesus offers his sacrifice, his gift of love full and humble, to the Church his Bride, on the Cross. It was on that wood, that the Father dropped a grain of wheat on the field of the world so that in dying it would become mature fruit, the giver of life. But in God's plan, this gift of Christ is made present in the Eucharist through the sacred potestas that the Sacrament of Holy Orders bestows on you Priests. When we celebrate Holy Mass we hold in our hands the bread of Heaven, the bread of God which is Christ, the grain broken to multiply and become the true food of life for the world. It is something that can not fail to fill you with intimate wonder, vibrant joy and immense gratitude: now the love and gift of Christ crucified and glorious, pass through your hands, your voice, your heart!

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The Holy Father Teaches

The Holy Father's June 17th address to the Convention of the Diocese of Rome on the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist and the celebration of Sunday is a model of pastoral catechesis for every bishop of the Church. Catholics, the world over, are hungry for precisely this kind of clear teaching. Even if bishops and parish priests may not, themselves, be capable of offering teaching of this quality, they can certainly transmit the discourse of the Holy Father to the faithful. Pope Benedict XVI facilitates the mandate to teach that is incumbent upon every bishop and parish priest. Not only does he provides a model of effective teaching; he makes available to all the content of his own tireless transmission of the faith. My own commentary is in italics.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The Psalm says: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133:1). It really is like this: it is a profound motive of joy for me to meet again with you and share the great good that the parishes and the other ecclesial realities of Rome have realized in this pastoral year. I greet with fraternal affection the cardinal vicar and I thank him for the courteous words he addressed to me and for the diligence he dedicates daily to the governance of the diocese, in supporting priests and the parish communities. I greet the auxiliary bishops, the entire presbyterate and each one of you. I address a cordial thought to all those who are sick and in particular difficulties, assuring them of my prayer.

As Cardinal Vallini recalled, we are engaged, since last year, in the verification of ordinary pastoral care. This evening we will reflect on two points of primary importance: "Sunday Eucharist and Testimony of Charity." I am aware of the great work that the parishes, the associations and the movements have realized, through meetings of formation and encounter, to deepen and live better these two fundamental components of the life and the mission of the Church and of every individual believer. This has also fostered that pastoral responsibility that, in the diversity of ministries and charisms, must be diffused ever more if we really want the Gospel to reach the heart of every inhabitant of Rome. So much has been done, and we thank the Lord; but still much remains to be done, always with his help.

Doctrine

Faith can never be presupposed, because every generation needs to receive this gift through the proclamation of the Gospel and to know the truth that Christ has revealed to us. The Church, therefore, is always engaged in proposing to all the deposit of the faith; contained in it also is the doctrine on the Eucharist -- central mystery in which "is enclosed all the spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself, our Pasch" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, No. 5) -- doctrine that today, unfortunately, is not sufficiently understood in its profound value and in its relevance for the existence of believers. Because of this, it is important that a more profound knowledge of the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord be seen as an exigency of the different communities of our diocese of Rome. At the same time, in the missionary spirit that we wish to nourish, it is necessary to spread the commitment to proclaim such Eucharistic faith, so that every man will encounter Jesus Christ who has revealed the "close" God, friend of humanity, and to witness it with an eloquent life of charity.

Yes, faith can never be presupposed. The embers of faith that glow beneath the ashes of a burned out secular culture need to be fanned into a great flame capable of filling the Church with fire and with light. The Holy Father speaks clearly of doctrine, a word that is rarely heard in today's pastoral discourses and in homilies. In particular, the Church's unchanged, unchanging, and unchangeable doctrine concerning the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord must be taught again, at every level, with clarity and with the authority of Christ Himself.

The crucified Christ
revealed the face of God.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

In all his public life, through the preaching of the Gospel and miraculous signs, Jesus proclaimed the goodness and mercy of the Father towards man. This mission reached its culmination on Golgotha, where the crucified Christ revealed the face of God, so that man, contemplating the Cross, be able to recognize the fullness of love (cf. Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, No. 12). The sacrifice of Calvary is mysteriously anticipated in the Last Supper, when Jesus, sharing with the Twelve the bread and wine, transforms them into his body and his blood, which shortly after he would offer as immolated Lamb. The Eucharist is the memorial of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, of his love to the end for each one of us, memorial that He willed to entrust to the Church so that it would be celebrated throughout the centuries. According to the meaning of the Hebrew word "zakar," the "memorial" is not simply the memory of something that happened in the past, but a celebration which actualizes that event, so as to reproduce its salvific force and efficacy. Thus, "the sacrifice that Christ offered to the Father, once and for all, on the Cross in favor of humanity, is rendered present and actual" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 280). Dear brothers and sisters, in our time the word sacrifice is not liked, rather it seems to belong to other times and to another way of understanding life. However, properly understood, it is and remains fundamental, because it reveals to us with what love God loves us in Christ.

To recapitulate the Holy Father's teaching: The face of the Father, upon which we can "read" the secrets of His Heart is revealed on the suffering Face of the Crucified in the hour of His sacrifice. That same sacrifice, offered on Calvary in a bloody manner, was anticipated in a sacramental manner at the Last Supper, and is actualized in the same sacramental and unbloody manner so often as as Holy Mass is offered. Sacrifice is not a popular word, even in today's "theological culture." It is, however, integral, to a Catholic understanding of the Mass. It must become, once again, part of every Catholic's working theological vocabulary. For this to happen, the doctrine of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass must become a key theme in catechesis and in preaching.

Catechesis and preaching, however, are insufficient by themselves. The entire "ars celebrandi" must be corrected and reformed so as to more clearly manifest the sacrificial character of the Mass. This means, before anything else, the restoration of the eastward position ("versus Deum") of priest and people together for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Nothing has done more to erode the understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice by both priests and lay faithful than the nearly universal trend of the Liturgy of the Eucharist "versus populum." Who will have the courage to catechize the faithfully clearly and patiently in preparation for this necessary step in the re-Catholicization of the "ars celebrandi"? Why are priests so invested in preserving a trend that, for the last forty years, has resulted in a weakening of the faith, in the loss of reverence, and in a downward spiral from "latria" into performance?

Recognize in the bread
that same body that hung on the cross,
and in the chalice
that same blood that gushed from his side.
(Saint Augustine)

Transubstantiation

In the offering that Jesus makes of himself we find all the novelty of Christian worship. In ancient times men offered in sacrifice to the divinity the animals or first fruits of the earth. Jesus, instead, offers himself, his body and his whole existence: He himself in person becomes the sacrifice that the liturgy offers in the Holy Mass. In fact, with the consecration of the bread and wine they become his true body and blood. Saint Augustine invited his faithful not to pause on what appeared to their sight, but to go beyond: "Recognize in the bread -- he said -- that same body that hung on the cross, and in the chalice that same blood that gushed from his side" (Disc. 228 B, 2). To explain this transformation, theology has coined the word "transubstantiation," word that resounded for the first time in this Basilica during the IV Lateran Council, of which in five years will be the 8th centenary. On that occasion the following expressions were inserted in the profession of faith: "his body and his blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the species of bread and wine, because the bread is transubstantiated into the body, and the wine into the blood by divine power" (DS, 802). Therefore, it is essential to stress, in the itineraries of education of children in the faith, of adolescents and of young people, as well as in "centers of listening" to the Word of God, that in the sacrament of the Eucharist Christ is truly, really and substantially present.

The key word in this section of the Holy Father's teaching is transubstantiation: another word that has been effectively erased from catechetical discourse and preaching. The meaning and truth of transubstantiation must, once again, be taught regularly, clearly and with authority. Pope Paul VI's valiant attempt at shoring up a crumbling faith in the Most Holy Eucharist by the promulgation of his now almost forgotten "Credo of the People of God" was, in rather bleak way, prophetic:

Sacrifice of Calvary
24. We believe that the Mass, celebrated by the priest representing the person of Christ by virtue of the power received through the Sacrament of Orders, and offered by him in the name of Christ and the members of His Mystical Body, is the sacrifice of Calvary rendered sacramentally present on our altars. We believe that as the bread and wine consecrated by the Lord at the Last Supper were changed into His body and His blood which were to be offered for us on the cross, likewise the bread and wine consecrated by the priest are changed into the body and blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven, and we believe that the mysterious presence of the Lord, under what continues to appear to our senses as before, is a true, real and substantial presence.
Transubstantiation
25. Christ cannot be thus present in this sacrament except by the change into His body of the reality itself of the bread and the change into His blood of the reality itself of the wine, leaving unchanged only the properties of the bread and wine which our senses perceive. This mysterious change is very appropriately called by the Church transubstantiation. Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery must, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, maintain that in the reality itself, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the Consecration, so that it is the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus that from then on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine, as the Lord willed it, in order to give Himself to us as food and to associate us with the unity of His Mystical Body.
26. The unique and indivisible existence of the Lord glorious in heaven is not multiplied, but is rendered present by the sacrament in the many places on earth where Mass is celebrated. And this existence remains present, after the sacrifice, in the Blessed Sacrament which is, in the tabernacle, the living heart of each of our churches. And it is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us.

The Rightness of the Rubrics

The Holy Mass, celebrated in the respect of the liturgical norms and with a fitting appreciation of the richness of the signs and gestures, fosters and promotes the growth of Eucharistic faith. In the Eucharistic celebration we do not invent something, but we enter into a reality that precedes us, more than that, which embraces heaven and earth and, hence, also the past, the future and the present. This universal openness, this encounter with all the sons and daughters of God is the grandeur of the Eucharist: we go to meet the reality of God present in the body and blood of the Risen One among us. Hence, the liturgical prescriptions dictated by the Church are not external things, but express concretely this reality of the revelation of the body and blood of Christ and thus the prayer reveals the faith according to the ancient principle "lex orandi - lex credendi." And because of this we can say "the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well celebrated" (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 64).

It is time to pursue a renewed appreciation for the intrinsically theological value of liturgical rubrics. As I often say in lecturing, "Squeeze a rubric, and theology spurts out of it!" The multiplication of options in the New Order of the Mass has created a situation in which celebrants, faced with options A, B, C, and D, readily (and not altogether unreasonably) assume that they can invent options E, F, and G. Thus do we find ourselves grappling with liturgical formulae and actions that are subjective, personal, and without any roots in sacred tradition. This personal manipulation of the lex orandi leads willy-nilly to the corruption of the lex credendi, and to a lex vivendi characterized by relativism.

It is necessary that in the liturgy the transcendent dimension emerge with clarity, that of the mystery, of the encounter with the Divine, which also illumines and elevates the "horizontal," that is the bond of communion and of solidarity that exists between all those who belong to the Church. In fact, when the latter prevails, the beauty, profundity and importance of the mystery celebrated is fully understood. Dear brothers in the priesthood, to you the bishop has entrusted, on the day of your priestly Ordination, the task to preside over the Eucharist. Always have at heart the exercise of this mission: celebrate the divine mysteries with intense interior participation, so that the men and women of our City can be sanctified, put into contact with God, absolute truth and eternal love.

It is precisely this clear and luminously transcendent dimension of the liturgy that is absent from the greater number of Sunday (and weekday) celebrations of Holy Mass in parishes across the United States and around the world. The multiple options of the New Order of the Mass, codified with the best intentions in the GIRM, have fomented a state of confusion (not clarity) and have fostered a shrinking of the mystery into the small "here and now" of any given celebrant and group of the faithful. One has only to reflect on the complete ineffectiveness of the directives concerning the Proper Chants of the Mass, to see how a minimalistic interpretation of liturgical law has come to prevail in practice, thus doing violence to elements constitutive of the architecture of the Mass itself.

Sunday

And let us also keep present that the Eucharist, joined to the cross and resurrection of the Lord, has dictated a new structure to our time. The Risen One was manifested the day after Saturday, the first day of the week, day of the sun and of creation. From the beginning Christians have celebrated their encounter with the Risen One, the Eucharist, on this first day, on this new day of the true sun of history, the Risen Christ. And thus time always begins again with the encounter with the Risen One and this encounter gives content and strength to everyday life. Because of this, it is very important for us Christians, to follow this new rhythm of time, to meet with the Risen One on Sunday and thus "to take" with us his presence, which transforms us and transforms our time.

A number of factors have contributed to a loss of the uniqueness of Sunday in Catholic life. Who, among our bishops, will have the courage to reexamine critically the now universally accepted Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening? Is this not, in most parishes, the preferred Mass of those who want to have their Sunday free for other pursuits? How has this affected the time available for confessions? Was not the original intention of the Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday evening to provide those engaged in public service and obliged to work on Sunday with an opportunity to fulfill the Sunday obligation, to be nourished by the Word of God, and by the adorable mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood? Is it not time to reiterate this original intention and to emphasize the traditional encounter with the Risen Christ on Sunday morning?

Eucharistic Adoration

Moreover, I invite all to rediscover the fecundity of Eucharistic adoration: before the Most Holy Sacrament we experience in an altogether particular way that "abiding" of Jesus, which He himself, in the Gospel of John, posits as necessary condition to bear much fruit (cf. John 15:5) and to avoid our apostolic action being reduced to sterile activism, but that instead it be testimony of the love of God.

The fecundity of Eucharistic adoration: what a marvelous expression! Eucharistic adoration is a privileged of way of abiding in the love of Jesus Christ, in the radiance of His Face, and close to His Open Heart. It is the perennial antidote to the sterile activism that exhausts so many workers in the vineyard of the Lord.

The Eucharist Makes the Church

Communion with Christ is always communion also with his body, which is the Church, as the Apostle Paul reminds, saying: "The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians:16-17). It is, in fact, the Eucharist that transforms a simple group of persons into ecclesial community: the Eucharist makes the Church. Therefore, it is fundamental that the celebration of the Holy Mass be effectively the culmination, the "bearing structure" of the life of every parish community.

Better Care of the Preparation and Celebration of the Eucharist

I exhort all to take better care, also through apposite liturgical groups, of the preparation and celebration of the Eucharist, so that all who participate can encounter the Lord. It is the Risen Christ, who renders himself present in our today and gathers us around himself. Feeding on Him we are freed from the bonds of individualism and, through communion with Him, we ourselves become, together, one thing, his mystical Body. Thus the differences are surmounted due to profession, to class, to nationality so that we discover ourselves members of one great family, that of the children of God, in which to each is given a particular grace for common usefulness. The world and men do not have need of a another social aggregation, but have need of the Church, which is in Christ as a sacrament, "which is sign and instrument of the profound union with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (Lumen Gentium, No. 1), called to make the light of the Risen Lord shine on all people.

Communion of Blood with Jesus

Jesus came to reveal to us the love of the Father, because "man cannot live without love" (John Paul II, Redemptoris Hominis, No. 10). Love is, in fact, the fundamental experience of every human being, what has given meaning to daily living. Nourished by the Eucharist we also, following the example of Christ, live for Him, to be witnesses of love. Receiving the Sacrament, we enter into communion of blood with Jesus Christ. In the Hebrew conception, blood indicates life; thus we can say that being nourished by the Body of Christ we receive the life of God and learn to look at reality with his eyes, abandoning the logic of the world to follow the divine logic of gift and gratuitousness.

Reception of the Most Holy Sacrament establishes us in a communion of blood -- a supernatural kinship of blood -- with Jesus. Thus do we become sons in the Son. The life of the Father is communicated to us through the Body and Blood of the Son, made present by the words of consecration and by the action of the Holy Spirit. Every Holy Communion is transforming. Every Holy Communion marks another step in conversion of life, another surrender to what the Holy Father calls "the divine logic of gift and gratuitousness."

The Social Impact of Supernatural Charity

St. Augustine recalls that during a vision he thought he heard the voice of the Lord who said to him: "I am the nourishment of adults. Grow up, and you will eat me, without, because of this, my being transformed into you, as the nutriment of your flesh; but you are transformed into me" (cf. Confessions VII, 10, 16). When we receive Christ, the love of God expands in our innermost self, modifies our heart radically and makes us capable of gestures that, by the expansive force of good, can transform the life of those that are next to us. Charity is able to generate an authentic and permanent change of society, acting in the hearts and minds of men, and when it is lived in truth "it is the principal propelling force for the true development of every person and of the whole of humanity" (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 1). For the disciples of Jesus, the testimony of charity is not a passing sentiment, but on the contrary it is what molds life in every circumstance. I encourage all, in particular the Caritas and Deacons, to be committed in the delicate and essential field of education to charity, as permanent dimension of personal and community life.

Catholics have always believed in the "expansive force of good." One who lives from the Most Holy Eucharist, that is from a sacramental infusion of charity, becomes an agent of charity and a servant of the merciful designs of God for individuals and for the world.

Rome: This City of Ours

This City of ours asks of Christ's disciples, with a renewed proclamation of the Gospel, a clearer and more limpid testimony of charity. It is with the language of love, desirous of the integral good of man, that the Church speaks to the inhabitants of Rome. In these years of my ministry as your Bishop, I have been able to visit several places where charity is lived intensely. I am grateful to all those who are engaged in the different charitable structures, for the dedication and generosity with which they serve the poor and the marginalized. The needs and poverty of so many men and women interpellate us profoundly: it is Christ himself who every day, in the poor, asks us to assuage his hunger and thirst, to visit him in hospitals and prisons, to accept and dress him. A celebrated Eucharist imposes on us and at the same time renders us capable of becoming, in our turn, bread broken for brothers, coming to meet their needs and giving ourselves. Because of this, a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead to meet men where they live, work and suffer, to take to them the love of God, does not manifest the love it encloses.

Sacrificial Oblation

To be faithful to the mystery that is celebrated on the altars we must, as the Apostle Paul exhorts us, offer our bodies, ourselves, in spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God (cf. Romans 12:1) in those circumstances that require dying to our I and constitute our daily "altar." Gestures of sharing create communion, renew the fabric of interpersonal relations, marking them with gratuitousness and gift, and allowing for the construction of the civilization of love. In a time such as the present of economic and social crisis, let us be in solidarity with those who live in indigence to offer all the hope of a better tomorrow worthy of man. If we really live as disciples of the God-Charity, we will help the inhabitants of Rome to discover themselves brothers and children of the one Father.

Here, the Holy Father speaks of the essence of "actual participation" in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: union with Christ the Victim, and the abandonment of ourselves into the hands of Christ the Priest. The altar becomes the place of our own oblation with Christ to the Father, and the starting point of a newness of life marked by self-giving love.

Vocations to Rebuild the Church

The very nature of love requires definitive and irrevocable choices of life. I turn to you in particular, dearly beloved young people: do not be afraid to choose love as the supreme rule of life. Do not be afraid to love Christ in the priesthood and, if you perceive in your heart the call of the Lord, follow him in this extraordinary adventure of love, abandon yourselves with trust to him! Do not be afraid to form Christian families that live faithful, indissoluble love open to life! Give witness that love, as Christ lived it and as the magisterium of the Church teaches, does not take anything away from our happiness, but on the contrary it gives that profound joy that Christ promised to his disciples.

The call of the Lord to the priesthood and to the formation of Christian families is, in effect, a call to rebuild the Church. I am mindful of Our Lord's words to Saint Francis of Assisi in the ruined church of San Damiano, "Francis, rebuild thou My Church, which, as thou seest, is falling into ruin." The rebuilding of the Church in every age is marked by joy.

The Virgin Mary and the Holy Sacrifice

May the Virgin Mary accompany the path of our Church of Rome with her maternal intercession. Mary, who in an altogether singular way lived communion with God and the sacrifice of her own Son on Calvary, enable us to live ever more intensely, piously and consciously the mystery of the Eucharist, to proclaim with the word and life the love that God has for every man. Dear friends, I assure you of my prayer and impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to you all. Thank you.

Increasingly, it seems to me, the Holy Father refers to Our Lady's unique and incomparable role in the mystery of redemption. She who offered her Divine Son with a virginal, maternal, and sacerdotal heart at the foot of the Cross, is the model of "participatio actuosa" in the Holy Sacrifice.

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HOMILY OF THE MASS OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
CELEBRATED BY HIS HOLINESS, POPE BENEDICT XVI
AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE YEAR FOR PRIESTS,
11 JUNE 2010


Grandeur and Beauty of the Priestly Ministry

Dear brothers in the priestly ministry, dear brothers and sisters, the Year for Priests which we have celebrated on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the holy Curè of Ars, the model of priestly ministry in our world, is now coming to an end. We have let the Curé of Ars guide us to a renewed appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of the priestly ministry. The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ's name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ's words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation - words which make Christ himself present, the Risen One, his Body and Blood - words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unite it to him.

God Entrusts Himself to Our Infirmities

The priesthood, then, is not simply "office" but sacrament: God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings - who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead - this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word "priesthood". That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them: this is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year. We wanted to reawaken our joy at how close God is to us, and our gratitude for the fact that he entrusts himself to our infirmities; that he guides and sustains us daily. In this way we also wanted to demonstrate once again to young people that this vocation, this fellowship of service for God and with God, does exist - and that God is indeed waiting for us to say "yes". Together with the whole Church we wanted to make clear once again that we have to ask God for this vocation. We have to beg for workers for God's harvest, and this petition to God is, at the same time, his own way of knocking on the hearts of young people who consider themselves able to do what God considers them able to do.

Not Pleasing to the Enemy

It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the "enemy"; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light - particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God's concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life's dangers.

A Gift Concealed in Earthen Vessels

Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God's gift, a gift concealed in "earthen vessels" which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God's courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of today's liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be a priest: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29).

Peering Into the Heart of Jesus

We are celebrating the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in the liturgy we peer, as it were, into the heart of Jesus opened in death by the spear of the Roman soldier. Jesus' heart was indeed opened for us and before us - and thus God's own heart was opened. The liturgy interprets for us the language of Jesus' heart, which tells us above all that God is the shepherd of mankind, and so it reveals to us Jesus' priesthood, which is rooted deep within his heart; so too it shows us the perennial foundation and the effective criterion of all priestly ministry, which must always be anchored in the heart of Jesus and lived out from that starting-point. Today I would like to meditate especially on those texts with which the Church in prayer responds to the word of God presented in the readings. In those chants, word (Wort) and response (Antwort) interpenetrate. On the one hand, the chants are themselves drawn from the word of God, yet on the other, they are already our human response to that word, a response in which the word itself is communicated and enters into our lives.

Psalm 22, The Lord Is My Shepherd

The most important of those texts in today's liturgy is Psalm 23 (22) - "The Lord is my shepherd" - in which Israel at prayer received God's self-revelation as shepherd, and made this the guide of its own life.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want": this first verse expresses joy and gratitude for the fact that God is present to and concerned for humanity. The reading from the Book of Ezechiel begins with the same theme: "I myself will look after and tend my sheep" (Ez 34:11). God personally looks after me, after us, after all mankind. I am not abandoned, adrift in the universe and in a society which leaves me ever more lost and bewildered. God looks after me. He is not a distant God, for whom my life is worthless. The world's religions, as far as we can see, have always known that in the end there is only one God. But this God was distant. Evidently he had abandoned the world to other powers and forces, to other divinities. It was with these that one had to deal. The one God was good, yet aloof. He was not dangerous, nor was he very helpful. Consequently one didn't need to worry about him. He did not lord it over us. Oddly, this kind of thinking re-emerged during the Enlightenment. There was still a recognition that the world presupposes a Creator. Yet this God, after making the world, had evidently withdrawn from it. The world itself had a certain set of laws by which it ran, and God did not, could not, intervene in them. God was only a remote cause. Many perhaps did not even want God to look after them. They did not want God to get in the way. But wherever God's loving concern is perceived as getting in the way, human beings go awry. It is fine and consoling to know that there is someone who loves me and looks after me. But it is far more important that there is a God who knows me, loves me and is concerned about me.

I Know My Sheep and Mine Know Me

"I know my own and my own know me" (Jn 10:14), the Church says before the Gospel with the Lord's words. God knows me, he is concerned about me. This thought should make us truly joyful. Let us allow it to penetrate the depths of our being. Then let us also realize what it means: God wants us, as priests, in one tiny moment of history, to share his concern about people. As priests, we want to be persons who share his concern for men and women, who take care of them and provide them with a concrete experience of God's concern. Whatever the field of activity entrusted to him, the priest, with the Lord, ought to be able to say: "I know my sheep and mine know me". "To know", in the idiom of sacred Scripture, never refers to merely exterior knowledge, like the knowledge of someone's telephone number. "Knowing" means being inwardly close to another person. It means loving him or her. We should strive to "know" men and women as God does and for God's sake; we should strive to walk with them along the path of friendship with God.

We Are Not Fumbling in the Dark

Let us return to our Psalm. There we read: "He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me" (23 [22]:3ff.). The shepherd points out the right path to those entrusted to him. He goes before them and leads them. Let us put it differently: the Lord shows us the right way to be human. He teaches us the art of being a person. What must I do in order not to fall, not to squander my life in meaninglessness? This is precisely the question which every man and woman must ask and one which remains valid at every moment of one's life. How much darkness surrounds this question in our own day! We are constantly reminded of the words of Jesus, who felt compassion for the crowds because they were like a flock without a shepherd. Lord, have mercy on us too! Show us the way! From the Gospel we know this much: he is himself the way. Living with Christ, following him - this means finding the right way, so that our lives can be meaningful and so that one day we might say: "Yes, it was good to have lived". The people of Israel continue to be grateful to God because in the Commandments he pointed out the way of life. The great Psalm 119 (118) is a unique expression of joy for this fact: we are not fumbling in the dark. God has shown us the way and how to walk aright. The message of the Commandments was synthesized in the life of Jesus and became a living model. Thus we understand that these rules from God are not chains, but the way which he is pointing out to us. We can be glad for them and rejoice that in Christ they stand before us as a lived reality. He himself has made us glad. By walking with Christ, we experience the joy of Revelation, and as priests we need to communicate to others our own joy at the fact that we have been shown the right way.

If I Sink to the Nether World, You Are There

Then there is the phrase about the "darkest valley" through which the Lord leads us. Our path as individuals will one day lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where no one can accompany us. Yet he will be there. Christ himself descended into the dark night of death. Even there he will not abandon us. Even there he will lead us. "If I sink to the nether world, you are present there", says Psalm 139 (138). Truly you are there, even in the throes of death, and hence our Responsorial Psalm can say: even there, in the darkest valley, I fear no evil. When speaking of the darkest valley, we can also think of the dark valleys of temptation, discouragement and trial through which everyone has to pass. Even in these dark valleys of life he is there. Lord, in the darkness of temptation, at the hour of dusk when all light seems to have died away, show me that you are there. Help us priests, so that we can remain beside the persons entrusted to us in these dark nights. So that we can show them your own light.

Use of the Rod

"Your rod and your staff - they comfort me": the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church's ministry, of the priest's ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd's rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love. Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented. As if it were no longer God's gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd's staff - a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord.

The Divine Hospitality

At the end of the Psalm we read of the table which is set, the oil which anoints the head, the cup which overflows, and dwelling in the house of the Lord. In the Psalm this is an expression first and foremost of the prospect of the festal joy of being in God's presence in the temple, of being his guest, whom he himself serves, of dwelling with him. For us, who pray this Psalm with Christ and his Body which is the Church, this prospect of hope takes on even greater breadth and depth. We see in these words a kind of prophetic foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist, in which God himself makes us his guests and offers himself to us as food -as that bread and fine wine which alone can definitively sate man's hunger and thirst. How can we not rejoice that one day we will be guests at the very table of God and live in his dwelling-place? How can we not rejoice at the fact that he has commanded us: "Do this in memory of me"? How can we not rejoice that he has enabled us to set God's table for men and women, to give them his Body and his Blood, to offer them the precious gift of his very presence. Truly we can pray together, with all our heart, the words of the Psalm: "Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Ps 23 [22]:6).

The Pierced Heart Become A Fountain

Finally, let us take a brief look at the two communion antiphons which the Church offers us in her liturgy today. First there are the words with which Saint John concludes the account of Jesus' crucifixion: "One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out" (Jn 19:34). The heart of Jesus is pierced by the spear. Once opened, it becomes a fountain: the water and the blood which stream forth recall the two fundamental sacraments by which the Church lives: Baptism and the Eucharist. From the Lord's pierced side, from his open heart, there springs the living fountain which continues to well up over the centuries and which makes the Church. The open heart is the source of a new stream of life; here John was certainly also thinking of the prophecy of Ezechiel who saw flowing forth from the new temple a torrent bestowing fruitfulness and life (Ez 47): Jesus himself is the new temple, and his open heart is the source of a stream of new life which is communicated to us in Baptism and the Eucharist.

Life-Giving Water for a Parched and Thirsty World

The liturgy of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus also permits another phrase, similar to this, to be used as the communion antiphon. It is taken from the Gospel of John: Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me. And let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said: "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water" (cf. Jn 7:37ff.) In faith we drink, so to speak, of the living water of God's Word. In this way the believer himself becomes a wellspring which gives living water to the parched earth of history. We see this in the saints. We see this in Mary, that great woman of faith and love who has become in every generation a wellspring of faith, love and life. Every Christian and every priest should become, starting from Christ, a wellspring which gives life to others. We ought to be offering life-giving water to a parched and thirst world. Lord, we thank you because for our sake you opened your heart; because in your death and in your resurrection you became the source of life. Give us life, make us live from you as our source, and grant that we too may be sources, wellsprings capable of bestowing the water of life in our time. We thank you for the grace of the priestly ministry. Lord bless us, and bless all those who in our time are thirsty and continue to seek. Amen.

The Father's Will

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This is the fourth in a series of commentaries on Pope Benedict XVI's Consecration of Priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary. I am writing it from Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, where I am preaching a retreat to members of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (F.S.S.P.).

Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of thy Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and His priests,
consecrate ourselves to thy maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Not My Will, But Thine Be Done

Pope Benedict XVI presents consecration to the maternal Heart of Mary as a means to carrying out faithfully the Father's will. In doing this he echoes the teaching of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, for whom consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary was a simple, straight, and secure way of following Jesus in His obedience to the Father and in the wisdom of the Cross. One who frequents the school of Mary, in the company of a vast company of saints, enters into Virgin's total adhesion to the Will of the Father by repeating after her, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy word" (Lk 1:38). It is by repeating these words of the Mother, that one is prepared to repeat those of the Son: "Father . . . not my will, but thine be done" (Lk 22:42). It is by entering into dispositions of the maternal Heart of Mary that one becomes capable of expressing in one's own life, and at the hour of one's death, the dispositions of the filial and priestly Heart of Jesus, saying with Him: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).

The Psalms

The life of Our Lord was characterized by a single burning passion: the Father's Will, the Father's plan, the Father's designs, the Father's glory. The priest who desires to participate in this one burning passion of the Heart of Jesus does well to open the psalter as he would the tabernacle, confident of finding therein the bread of a spiritual communion with Our Lord in His obedience to the Father, in His prayer to the Father, in His filial surrender to the Father.

Draw Me After You

I am thinking, in particular of Psalm 118, that long litany in praise of the Law that, in the mouth of Jesus, becomes a litany of obedience to His Father's Will.
One does well, at least from time to time, possibly during a retreat, to pray the entire psalm Beati immaculati in via. One hears the voice of Jesus praying to His Father; one senses the pulsation of His Sacred Heart and the rhythm of His breath. One is compelled to say to him in the words of the Canticle: "Draw me: we will run after you to the odour of your ointments" (Ct 1:4). What ointments are these? The ointments of His Divine Anointing as Son, as Priest, and as King, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost poured out in abundance upon the Head for the sake of all His members and, first of all, for His priests.

The Gospel of Saint John

Again, one might open the Gospel of Saint John to discover from the first page to the last the irrepressible impetus of Our Lord ad Patrem. When He speaks, He speaks to His Father or of His Father. He has no desires apart from those of His Father, no words and no deeds that are not sign and revelation of the Father. "Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing: for what things soever He doth, these the Son also doth in like manner" (Jn 5:19). His very being is an epiphany of the Father. "He that seeth me seeth the Father also" (Jn 14:9). "Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, He doth the works" (Jn 14:10). Freely, the Son enters into His Passion, saying, "But that the world may know, that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I: Arise, let us go hence" (Jn 14:31).

To My Father and to Your Father

After His Resurrection, Our Lord continues to speak of His Father. "Go to my brethren," He says to Mary Magdalene, "and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God, and to your God" (Jn 20:17). And in the final verses of the Fourth Gospel, when Jesus speaks to Peter, after eliciting from him a threefold confession of love and attachment, He says to him, "Follow me" (Jn 21:10). I have always understood this, "Follow me," as Our Lord's way of calling Peter after Him, through the Cross, into the glory of the Father. Would this not be the word to which Peter remains attached and to which he would have us attend, "as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (2 P 1:19)?

United to the Father, With the Son, in the Holy Ghost

In a word the will of the Father is that we should come to Him through the Son, and with the Son be united to Him in the bond of the Holy Ghost. To carry out the Father's will, then, is to do those things -- shown us by the teachings of Our Lord, by the light of the Holy Ghost, and by the example of the Saints -- by which the Father's love for the Son may be in us, and the Father Himself in us, even as He is in the Son, and the Son in Him.

The Chalice Which My Father Hath Given Me

The priest consecrated to the will of the Father has but one response to those who question him on the meaning of his life: "The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink of it" (Jn 18:11).

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Pope Benedict XVI
Apostolic Journey to Cyprus
5 June 2010

In this Year for Priests, let me address a special word to the priests present today, and to those who are preparing for ordination. Reflect on the words spoken to a newly ordained priest as the Bishop presents him with the chalice and paten: "Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's Cross". As we proclaim the Cross of Christ, let us always strive to imitate the selfless love of the one who offered himself for us on the altar of the Cross, the one who is both priest and victim, the one in whose person we speak and act when we exercise the ministry that we have received. As we reflect on our shortcomings, individually and collectively, let us humbly acknowledge that we have merited the punishment that he, the innocent Lamb, suffered on our behalf. And if, in accordance with what we have deserved, we should have some share in Christ's sufferings, let us rejoice because we will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

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In this segment of my commentary on the Holy Father's Consecration of Priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, I propose a reflection on the significance of his choice of the term, "maternal Heart."

Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

The Maternal Heart of Mary

I was surprised and moved to discover that, in referring to the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Benedict XVI chose, from among any number of expressions possible, that of the Maternal Heart. It was a remarkable English woman, the Venerable Mother Mary Potter (1847-1913), who, with energy and perseverance, devoted herself to promoting the title of the "Maternal Heart."

Mother Potter's Marian Mission

At the end of 1874, Mother Potter received the inner certitude that she and the religious Congregation she was to institute (The Little Company of Mary) were called to foster devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. "We are chosen," wrote Mother Potter,

. . . to promulgate in God's Church an increase of devotion to the Maternal Heart of Mary. We must increase our love for Our Lady and her sweet Maternal Heart, which makes us desire to propagate that devotion and to lead as many of God's vast family as we can to love and honour that Heart.

For Mother Potter, the Maternal Heart of Mary was a way of life:

Love that Heart, consecrate yourself to it, and make it your constant endeavour to be actuated by all the holy desires, wishes, and prayers that emanated from it. Let your sufferings, your actions, your words, your whole being renew again, on this earth, the life of Mary. To do this you must study Mary; to study her you must enter her Heart and observe its workings.

Desirous of giving an iconographic expression to the Maternal Heart, Mother Potter directed that an existing statue of the Mother of God should be artistically adapted to this end by adding to it the image of a heart surmounted by the lily of Our Lady's immaculate purity, and pierced by the sword of her sorrowful compassion on Mount Calvary.

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A Title Contested and Vindicated

The suitability of the title was the subject of some controversy, the principal objection being that it was novel, and that the Church had not recognized the Maternal Heart by authorizing its cultus in the liturgy. Opening her first house in Rome on 20 May 1884, Mother Potter succeeded in obtaining the blessing of Pope Leo XIII on its designation as the "Convent of the Maternal Heart of Mary." In 1908, after building the heart-shaped chapel of Calvary Hospital (near the Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo) in Rome, Mother Potter was told by the Papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr Carlo Respighi that it could not be dedicated under the title of the "Maternal Heart of Mary," because no such title was in liturgical use. Mother Potter held her ground, and Msgr Respighi was obliged to seek the counsel of the Cardinal Vicar. Shortly thereafter, word reached Mother Potter that Pope Pius X had not only approved of the title "Maternal Heart," but had further directed that a commemoration of the Maternal Heart should be made at every Mass during the octave of the new chapel's dedication.

Consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary

In July 1876, in obedience to Father Edward Selley, a convert from the Church of England, Mother Potter sought in fervent prayer an answer to her desire for a confirmation of her total consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary. After making the Way of the Cross, and asking at each station for an answer to her prayer, Mother Potter received what, to my mind, must be taken as an inner locution on the part of Our Lady:

My child, God, Almighty though He be, after the possession of Himself, cannot give me anything more desirable, more precious, or dearer than souls. This Jesus knew; and at His death, wishing to leave me a measure of His Love, confided the Church in the person of Saint John to my Maternal protection.
Come, then, to me! I am your Mother! An earthly mother can forget her child and lack in pity for it, but your Heavenly Mother will protect you in your day of sorrow. Come, then, to me, and bring to me the Church, which I have borne in my womb from the very time that I bore its Author, Jesus. May the holy vicar of My Son proclaim from his cross that I am the Mother of this Church. May he unite himself with his Master in saying to the nations of the earth, 'Behold your Mother,' and consecrate the Church confided to him, to my Maternal Heart, and I will show myself a Mother.

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Archbishop Kirby Enlisted in the Cause

A letter of Mother Potter, dated 17 September 1891 relates that she entrusted her spiritual director, Archbishop Tobias Kirby (1804-1895), Rector of the Irish College, with a letter to Pope Leo XIII in which she asked the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Five days later -- was it by coincidence? -- Pope Leo XIII addressed the following words to the universal Church in his Encyclical Letter Octobri Mense:

Mary is this glorious intermediary; she is the mighty Mother of the Almighty; but-what is still sweeter - she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness. As such God gave her to us. Having chosen her for the Mother of His only begotten Son, He implanted in her a maternal heart that breathes nothing but pardon and love. Such Christ desired she should be, for He consented to be subject to Mary and to obey her as a son a mother. Such He proclaimed her from the cross when he entrusted to her care and love the whole of the race of man in the person of His disciple John. Such, finally, she proves herself by her courage in gathering in the heritage of the enormous labours of her Son, and in accepting the charge of her maternal duties towards us all.
The design of this most dear mercy, realised by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ, was comprehended at the beginning, and accepted with the utmost joy by the Holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was the counsel and teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. All the nations of the Christian age received it with one mind; and even when literature and tradition are silent there is a voice that breaks from every Christian breast and speaks with all eloquence. No other reason is needed that that of a Divine faith which, by a powerful and most pleasant impulse, persuades us towards Mary.

Audience With Leo XIII

On 5 July 1896, shortly before leaving Rome to visit her houses in England, Mother Potter was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII. The Pope spoke to her of the Church's troubles, asking for Mother Potter's prayers and those of her daughters. Then, addressing Mother Potter, the Holy Father asked her if she thought the Church would rise triumphant over her persecutors and emerge from the problems which beset her. Mother Potter answered at once: "Yes, if the Church were consecrated to the Maternal Heart of Mary, she would show herself a Mother." The Holy Father was silent. The Sister translating into Italian for Mother Potter led the Holy Father to believe that she was asking for a liturgical feast in honour of the Maternal Heart. Pope Leo XIII then directed her to make a written petition to this effect and to address it to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. This, of course, was not Mother Potter's primary desire. Her intention was to ask the Holy Father to consecrate the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Nonethless, she was obedient to the Holy Father's directive, and wrote her request to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. She never received a reply. In fact, she later learned, that the matter was never even discussed!

A Determined Woman

Towards the end of her life, Mother Potter intensified her campaign to obtain the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary. Among her supporters were Cardinal Merry del Val and the Abbots of Saint Paul's Outside-the-Walls and of Grottaferrata. Mother Potter went so far as to commission a painting of Pope Pius X offering the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary.

Pope Benedict XVI

The Venerable Mother Mary Potter died in 1913, firm in her conviction that God willed the consecration of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary by the Supreme Pontiff. Has her desire been fulfilled? One might pass in review the consecrations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary made by Pope Pius XII, the proclamation of the Virgin Mary as Mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI at the close of the Second Vatican Council, and the many Marian consecrations made by Pope John Paul II. All of this not withstanding, it seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI's consecration at Fatima of all the priests of the Church to the Maternal Heart of Mary, very happily fulfills and crowns Mother Potter's mission and desire. In consecrating all priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary, Pope Benedict XVI has, in effect, consecrated the entire Church to her Maternal Heart, for wherever and whenever a priest belongs to Mary by virtue of an act of consecration, multitudes of souls around him are drawn to her Maternal Heart.

Consecrated

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I continue today my commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's consecration of priests to the Maternal Heart of Mary (Fatima, 12 May 2010).

Consecration of Priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary


Immaculate Mother,
in this place of grace,
called together by the love of your Son Jesus
the Eternal High Priest, we,
sons in the Son and his priests,
consecrate ourselves to your maternal Heart,
in order to carry out faithfully the Father's Will.

Consecrate Ourselves to Your Maternal Heart

It is highly significant that the Holy Father uses the verb, "to consecrate" in this prayer addressed to Our Lady. The most complete treatment of the theology of Marian consecration is found in Msgr Arthur Burton Calkins' Totus Tuus, John Paul II's Program of Marian Entrustment and Consecration (1992), soon to appear in an enlarged and revised edition. I also recommend Msgr Calkins' chapter on the same subject in Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons (2007).

Consecrated

It is unfortunate that the verb "to consecrate" and, even more, the adjective "consecrated" has acquired in the minds of some Catholics a peculiarly legalistic or canonical connotation. Some would even argue that the term specifically designates or, at least, suggests the state of one bound by the vows of religion. Such a narrow understanding of the term obscures its rich biblical and mystical content.

Set Apart and Made Over to God

The biblical notion of "consecration" pertains to the state of one sanctified by being set apart and "made over to God" after the manner of a sacrifice upon an altar, a holocaust, or an immolation. The destruction of the victim thus made over to God symbolizes that the act of consecration is irrevocable, final, and permanent. To sacrifice means, in fact, to consecrate or to sanctify. Thus does Our Lord Himself pray in His priestly prayer in the Cenacle:

Sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth.
As you have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
And for them do I sanctify myself,
that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17-19)

Consecration From Above and From Below

First, Our Lord asks His Father to take the Apostles to Himself, to make them entirely and irrevocably His, even as He, the Eternal Son, belongs to the Father. Only by virtue of this consecration (from above) will the Apostles be made fit for their mission into the world. Then, Our Lord, acting as High Priest, consecrates Himself. This consecration (from below) expresses and seals Our Lord's ascent to the altar of the Cross where, exercising His priesthood, He will offer Himself in sacrifice to the Father as a spotless victim.

Priest-Victims

By sacrificing Himself upon the altar of the Cross, Christ, the Eternal High Priest, opens the way for His Apostles, and the generations of priests who will follow after them, to become, with Him, true victims offered (and offering themselves) from every altar whereupon the Sacrifice of the Cross will be made sacramentally present until the end of time.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice: Source and Summit of Consecration

Clearly, there are two modes of consecration: one, from above, and the other, from below. These two modes correspond, respectively, to the descending and ascending mediation of Christ the Priest described in article 7 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Consecration from above is effected when, in response to the prayer of Christ and of the Church, the Father sends the Holy Ghost upon the oblation set before Him by being placed either literally or symbolically upon the altar. The supreme paradigm of this consecration from above, prefigured in the fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-46) is, of course, the Eucharistic Sacrifice. All other consecrations, and first of all those given ritual form in the liturgical books of the Church, derive from and return to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, their source and summit.

Placed Upon the Altar

Consecration from below is effected when, in obedience to an inspiration of divine grace, a person makes the oblation of all that he is and has by placing himself (symbolically) upon the altar. (See, for example, the rites for monastic profession and oblation described in Chapters 58 and 59 of the Rule of Saint Benedict.) This may be an act of personal devotion carried out in a private or even in a para-liturgical setting, or it may be an ecclesial act recognized by the Church and upheld and protected by the appropriate structures set forth in Canon Law.

Saint Augustine

Most helpful is Saint Augustine's definition of sacrifice in Book Ten of The City of God. There, the Doctor of Grace says:

A true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed. And therefore even the mercy we show to men, if it is not shown for God's sake, is not a sacrifice. For, though made or offered by man, sacrifice is a divine thing, as those who called it sacrifice meant to indicate. Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God.

Consecration to the Maternal Heart of Mary

What then are we to make of the use of the same verb "to consecrate" in reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, in reference to her immaculate and maternal Heart?

The Heart of Mary: An Altar

In consecration from above and in consecration from below, the altar represents both the place whereupon the victim is blessed, accepted, and ratified (cf. The Roman Canon), and the place whereupon the victim offers and immolates himself with the intention of belonging henceforth to God alone in a true and indissoluble union. I would suggest, then, that the immaculate and maternal Heart of Mary is, by way of analogy, both the altar from which God blesses, accepts, and ratifies one's self-offering, and the altar upon which one offers and immolates oneself with the intention of belonging to God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in a true and indissoluble union.

Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

No single analogy is perfect, and that of the altar with the maternal and immaculate Heart of Mary is not without limitations. The most obvious of these is that the Heart of Mary is not an altar of cold inert stone, but a real heart of flesh and blood, pulsating with life, a Heart infused with and diffusing Divine Grace. The Blessed Virgin Mary actively receives and takes into her maternal care all who, by placing themselves upon the altar of her Immaculate Heart, consecrate themselves through her to the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

This excerpt from the journal of a priest is an invitation to further reflection on the Heart of Mary as the altar of our consecration:

I offered Myself to the Father
from the altar of My Mother's sorrowful and immaculate Heart.
She accepted, consented to bear the full weight of My sacrifice,
to be the very place from which My holocaust of love blazed up.

She, in turn, offered herself with Me to the Father
from the altar of My Sacred Heart.
There she immolated herself,
becoming one victim with Me
for the redemption of the world.
Her offering was set ablaze in My holocaust
by the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, from our two Hearts,
become two altars,
there rose the sweet fragrance of one single offering:
My oblation upon the altar of her Heart,
and her oblation upon the altar of Mine.

This is, in effect,
what is meant when, using another language,
you speak of My Mother as Co-Redemptrix.
Our two Hearts formed but a single holocaust of love
in the Holy Spirit.

She offered Me her Heart
that it might be My altar,
and I offered her My Heart
that it might be hers.

Any soul desiring to be united to My sacrifice
must begin by consecrating herself
on the pure altar of My Mother's immaculate Heart.
This is the secret of union with Me in My Priesthood,
in My victimhood,
and in the one oblation to the Father
of our two Hearts.


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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