Priesthood: April 2009 Archives

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Saint Catherine of Siena holds a place of singular honour among the heavenly friends and models of the Spiritual Mothers of Priests. In this passage from The Dialogue, after describing in rather vivid detail the three pillars of vice found among priests -- impurity, bloated pride, and greed -- the Eternal Father calls Saint Catherine and, with her, other souls to offer Him sorrowful and loving desires for their purification and sanctification.

I Would Conquer Them by the Strength of My Mercy
O sweetest daughter! What keeps the ground from swallowing up such ministers? What keeps My power from turning them into solid immobile statues before all the people to confound them? My mercy. I restrain Myself, that is I restrain My divine justice with mercy in an effort to conquer them by the strength of mercy. But they, obstinate demons that they are, neither see nor recognize My mercy. . . .
Serve Christ By Praying for His Priests
I have told you all this to give you more reason for bitter weeping over their blindness, over seeing them damned, and to give you a deeper knowledge of My mercy. In this mercy you can find trust and great security, offering to Me these ministers of holy Church and the whole world, and begging Me to be merciful to them. The more you offer Me sorrowful and loving desires for them, the more you will prove your love for Me. For the service neither you nor my other servants can do for Me you ought to do for them instead. Then I will let myself be constrained by the longing and tears and prayers of my servants, and will be merciful to My Bride by reforming her with good and holy shepherds.

The Bride They Hold

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The bride they hold ought to be the breviary, and the books of Holy Scripture their children. There they should take their pleasure in sharing instruction with their neighbors and in finding a holy life for themselves.
--The Eternal Father to Saint Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue

A Sunday Adoration

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I adore Thee who art present here before me.
I adore Thee with all the love of my heart.
I adore Thee humbly.
I adore Thee in faith.
I adore Thee because Thou art God ever worthy of all adoration,
and because Thou hast called me to adore Thee
in this the Sacrament of Thy Redeeming Love.

Here is Thy Blessed Passion,
here Thy immolated Flesh,
here Thy Precious Blood,
here Thy holy and glorious wounds,
here Thy pierced side,
here Thy Sacred Heart all-burning with love,
here Thy merciful priesthood exercised eternally on behalf of poor sinners,
here Thy adorable Face, so humiliated and disfigured in Thy bitter sufferings,
and now so ineffably radiant and divinely beautiful.
All of this I adore
so often as I bow low before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

I adore Thee to thank Thee, insofar as I am able,
for all the benefits that flow from this Most Holy Sacrament
and, in particular, for those graces of purity, healing, and holiness
that Thou reservest here for Thy priests.

All that Thou givest Thy priests, beloved Lord Jesus,
redounds to Thy glory, because through them, as through "other selves" of Thine,
Thou dost sanctify and speak to souls.
Through Thy priests Thou prolongest Thy saving sacrifice in the world
from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof.
Through thy priests Thou givest pardon to the sinner,
healing to the sick,
hope to the despondent,
and peace to those whose hearts are troubled.
I adore Thee, too, to make reparation
for those who do not adore Thee present in this the Sacrament of Thy Love.
I adore Thee in reparation for those priests of Thine who,
though charged with the Sacred Mysteries of Thy Body and Blood,
have lost all sense of wonder, and rarely remain, freely and willingly,
before Thy Eucharistic Face, close to Thy Eucharistic Heart.

I adore Thee, O Silent Word, in reparation for the noise and lack of reverence
that so often fills Thy sanctuaries,
and for the indifference and neglect that has befallen Thee
in so many tabernacles where Thou art present, but forsaken.

I adore Thee, O Lamb of God, in reparation for my own innumerable sins
and for the sins of my brother priests,
trusting utterly in Thy boundless mercy
and in Thy readiness to restore by Thy grace whatever we have lost by sin.

I adore Thee, Radiant Splendour of the Father, because in approaching Thee,
I approach Thy Father,
and because in adoring Thee
I glorify Thy Father Who so loved the world
that He sent Thee into it,
that by Thy Sacrifice all creation might be cleansed
and all things made new.

I adore Thee, Victim and Priest,
begging Thee to unite me to Thy own oblation.
Draw me to Thy Open Heart by the action of Thy Holy Spirit,
that through Thee, and with Thee, and in Thee,
I may pass already from before this altar
where I contemplate Thee hidden beneath the sacramental veils
into the glory of Thy Kingdom
where the praise of Thy Father in the Holy Spirit is perfect and unending. Amen.

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Father Garrigou-Lagrange, professor of Dogmatic and Mystical Theology at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, wrote this in 1952:

The modern spirit of unbridled pleasure leads inevitably to destruction, as is only too evident from the past two wars. No genuine peace has resulted, precisely because men have refused to see the meaning of divine chastisements and to return to a life which is both naturally upright and Christian. And so the Holy Ghost has implanted in many souls the seeds of genuine and fruitful reparation.
In view of this widespread sterility in human endeavour many would-be reformers are asserting that what is needed is a new approach to the priestly and religious life, in order to adapt them to the needs of the modern era. So far as the religious life is concerned, they are of the opinion that its austerity ought to be mitigated since it is now out of date: time devoted to prayer should be cut down to leave more time for external activities. They would also adapt the priestly life to the spirit of the times: to them it seems no longer suitable for priests to wear a special dress or the tonsure or any outward sign of their priesthood, or even to recite the breviary--perhaps even celibacy has become outmoded--and so on.
But what is required is a careful study of the actions and ambitions of the saints, whether they were founders of Orders or excellent secular priests; and this study must be undertaken not in any mere historical or theoretical frame of mind but from a practical point of view. Neither must we neglect the perennial teaching of the Church and the Popes about the religious life and the priestly life. . . . We will then discover the real changes that have to be made, in a spirit of faith, trust in God, and self-diffusive charity.

The Very Reverend Father R. Garrigou-Langrange, O.P.
(1877-1964)
The Priest in Union with Christ, pp. 67-69
The Newman Press, 1952

Dum pendebat Filius

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Last night He sat with us at table.
His Face illumined the Upper Room
and there, just above the bread and behind the chalice,
beat His Heart of flesh.

John inclined his head;
he closed his eyes like a child secure on his mother's breast,
and listened there to the rhythm of the Love
that, mightily and sweetly, orders the sun and stars;
to the rhythm of the Love that, with every beat,
stretches upward and spirals inward to the Father;
to the rhythm of Love that meets
the pulse of every of other beating heart.

Last night, He lifted up His eyes to heaven
and, all shining with the glory of His priesthood,
said: "Father, the hour has come;
glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee" (Jn 17:1).

And to His disciples He said:
Desiderio desideravi . . .
"With desire I have desired
to eat this pasch with you before I suffer" (Lk 22:15).
"And taking bread, He gave thanks and broke,
and gave to them, saying:
'This is my body which is given for you:
do this for a commemoration of me.'
In like manner, the chalice also, after He had supped, saying:
'This is the chalice, the New Testament in my blood
which shall be shed for you'" (Lk 22:19-20).

In that moment, the Sacrifice was already accomplished.
The wood of the supper table fused with the wood of the Cross.
The Cross became His altar,
and He became the Lamb
fulfilling Abraham's prophecy on the mountain:
"God will provide himself the lamb for a holocaust, my son" (Gen 22:8).

After that moment, there was no going back.
Before it the entire cosmos held its breath
in fearful anticipation.
After it, the angels themselves sighed,
and began to breathe again their breathless praises.

Had He not said, "I came to cast fire upon the earth;
and would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with;
and how I am constrained until it is accomplished" (Lk 12:49-50).
And they, paying attention to His Face
"as to a lamp shining in a dark place" (2 P 1:19),
remembered that He had said,
"Now is my soul troubled.
And what shall I say?
'Father, save me from this hour'?
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify thy name." (Jn 12:27).

"Then a voice came from heaven,
'I have glorified it,
and I will glorify it again.'
The crowd standing by heard it
and said that it had thundered" (Jn 12:28).

But last night in the Cenacle,
with shadows winding about them like a shroud,
there was no thunder, no voice,
but only the immensity of a silence
that He -- and those closest to His Heart --
knew to be the Father's sorrowful assent.
And the betrayer, quick to do
what could no longer be delayed,
slipped out.
"And it was night" (Jn 13:30).

In the garden,
His Face was unseen,
for the eyes of His friends had grown heavy with sleep,
and there was none to meet the gaze of the Sorrowing Son
other than the Sorrowing Father
and the Consoling Angel whom He had sent
to wipe His brow,
to caress His head
and, for a moment, to hold His hand.

This the Sorrowing Mother would have done
had she been there,
but even that was denied her.
The Mother was replaced by an Angel!
The consolation that only she could have given
was given by another,
and yet He knew the difference:
though sweet, it was an angel's, not a mother's.

Weeping like Eve outside the garden,
she consented to the bitter Chalice:
"Be it done unto me as to your Word!"
Chosen for this, she elected to remain
cloistered in the Father's Will,
hidden and veiled in grief,
to drink there of the Chalice of her Son, the Priest,
and savour it, bitter against the palate of her soul,
for nought can taste a child's suffering
like a mother's palate.

Then the Angel too was gone
and the Father hid behind the veil of blood and of tears,
leaving the Son alone with His sorrow
and with His fear,
to proceed with the Sacrifice:
the priest stopping on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.

"My heart expected reproach and misery;
and I looked for one that would grieve together with me,
and there was none!
I sought for one to comfort me, and I found none" (Ps 68:21-22).

There began the disfiguration of His Face,
the humiliation of Beauty,
the descent deep into abjection.
Blood oozing from His pores
mingled with tears streaming from His eyes,
and blood and tears alike
precious in the Father's eyes,
soaked the earth beneath Him
filling the underworld and all the just there waiting
with a strange anticipation.

There followed the kiss of betrayal;
the grieving over one loved even in his sin;
the denial by Peter, His chosen rock, here soft as lead;
and that desolate liturgy crafted by iniquity:
a round of rude processions
first to Annas, and then from Annas to Caiaphas,
and then from Caiaphas to Pilate.

Pilate, unwittingly, summons the world
to gaze upon His Face:
"So Jesus came forth bearing the crown of thorns,
and the purple garment.
And he said to them, 'Behold the man'" (Jn 19:5).

The Seraphim above, hearing this utterance from far below,
turn their eyes of fire to behold the Man.
For a moment
-- if moments there be in eternity --
the ceaseless beating of their ruby wings is stilled
and all of heaven's eyes
meet the gaze of the Son of Man
and rest riveted to His Holy Face.

Hidden in the crowd is the Mother.
Now from her grief-stricken heart there rises over Pilate's words
that prayer of the psalmist
entrusted to Israel, and to her, the Daughter of Sion,
for this day, and for this hour:
"Behold, O God, our protector;
look upon the Face of your Christ!" (Ps 83:9).

Charged with the terrible timber of that chosen tree,
all the weight of the sin of the ages
presses into His flesh that He, the Lamb, might bear it away:
the crushing cruelty of my sins and yours:
pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

Upon Him lies the burden of every betrayal, every refusal,
every indifference, every defilement,
every blasphemy, every hardness of heart.
This is the heaviness that pushes Him three times to the ground,
grinding His Face into the dust,
that dust out of which, in the beginning, He fashioned man,
His masterpiece, His image, His joy.

Having arrived at the place of a skull
"which is called in Hebrew Golgotha" (Jn 19:17),
He stretches out His hands
to receive the nails
that will hold Him on the wood
in the position of one waiting to embrace and to be embraced,
in the gesture of the priest standing before the altar
for the Great Thanksgiving.
His feet are nailed
fixing Him to this one place at the centre of the earth,
that all who approach the Cross
might find Him there,
the One who, immobilized,
can say only, "Come to me."
"Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden,
and I will refresh you" (Mt 11:27).

Here the Bridegroom finds His marriage bed,
here Priest and Victim find the altar,
here the King of Glory finds His throne.
Here the Oblation is lifted high;
here the covenant is ratified,
here the Spirit is outpoured
in the Breath of His mouth.

Those who approach His pierced feet,
He raises, by a word, to His pierced side,
repeating from the Cross
what He said last night at table:
"Drink of it, all of you;
for this is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28).
The Mother assisting at this,
the solemn once-and-for-all Mass of her Son, her Priest,
follows the bloody liturgy
with the absolute adhesion of her heart
to every gesture, every word.

The Mother sees,
the Mother understands
that the Cross is the new language of new liturgy
for a new temple.
Every alphabet devised by men
is subsumed into the Verbum Crucis,
the language of the Cross, the one language devised by God
to say all that He would say to man
through Christ, His mediating Priest;
the one language
by which man, speaking through the same Eternal Priest,
can say all that he would ever need to say to God.

For this is the Woman given to John,
to every priest of Jesus
to every disciple of Jesus:
that at the school of the Mother of Sorrows,
all might learn the language of the Cross,
the pure liturgy of sacrificial love.

"'Woman, behold thy son!'
After that He said to the disciple:
'Behold thy mother!'
And from that hour the disciple took her to his own" (jn 19: 26-27).

The language of the Cross,
transcending the Hebrew, the Latin, and the Greek
of the inscription affixed to the tree
will be the mother tongue of the Church,
the language of the saints of every age,
the language of the one Holy Sacrifice
offered in every place
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Mal 1:11).

If you would hear the Word of the Cross (1 Cor 1:18),
remain silent before it and adore.
Approach it not with many words,
but with tears,
and with one burning kiss of reparation and of love.
Plant your kiss upon His feet,
press your mouth against that wound
and wait,
wait in the stillness of the Great Sabbath,
to drink in the brightness of Pascha
from the river of life
that even now gushes from His open Heart.

Hoc Est Hodie

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Pope Benedict XVI is a master of mystagogical catechesis. This homily for the Mass of the Lord's Supper probes the words of institution and consecration of the Roman Canon, and introduces us into the richness of their mystical content. The Holy Father teaches that these words of the Sacred Liturgy shape and reshape the Church, beginning with the priest who, at the altar, utters them. Again, thank you, Most Holy Father.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today

"Qui, pridie quam pro nostra omniumque salute pateretur, hoc est hodie, accepit panem": these words we shall pray today in the Canon of the Mass. "Hoc est hodie" -- the Liturgy of Holy Thursday places the word "today" into the text of the prayer, thereby emphasizing the particular dignity of this day. It was "today" that He did this: he gave himself to us for ever in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. This "today" is first and foremost the memorial of that first Paschal event. Yet it is something more. With the Canon, we enter into this "today". Our today comes into contact with his today. He does this now. With the word "today", the Church's Liturgy wants us to give great inner attention to the mystery of this day, to the words in which it is expressed. We therefore seek to listen in a new way to the institution narrative, in the form in which the Church has formulated it, on the basis of Scripture and in contemplation of the Lord himself.

The first thing to strike us is that the institution narrative is not an independent phrase, but it starts with a relative pronoun: qui pridie. This "qui" connects the entire narrative to the preceding section of the prayer, "let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord." In this way, the institution narrative is linked to the preceding prayer, to the entire Canon, and it too becomes a prayer. By no means is it merely an interpolated narrative, nor is it a case of an authoritative self-standing text that actually interrupts the prayer. It is a prayer. And only in the course of the prayer is the priestly act of consecration accomplished, which becomes transformation, transubstantiation of our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Eucharistia

As she prays at this central moment, the Church is fully in tune with the event that took place in the Upper Room, when Jesus' action is described in the words: "gratias agens benedixit -- he gave you thanks and praise". In this expression, the Roman liturgy has made two words out of the one Hebrew word berakha, which is rendered in Greek with the two terms eucharistía and eulogía. The Lord gives thanks. When we thank, we acknowledge that a certain thing is a gift that has come from another. The Lord gives thanks, and in so doing gives back to God the bread, "fruit of the earth and work of human hands", so as to receive it anew from him. Thanksgiving becomes blessing. The offering that we have placed in God's hands returns from him blessed and transformed. The Roman liturgy rightly interprets our praying at this sacred moment by means of the words: "through him, we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice". All this lies hidden within the word "eucharistia".

The Hands and Eyes of the Lord and of His Priests

There is another aspect of the institution narrative cited in the Roman Canon on which we should reflect this evening. The praying Church gazes upon the hands and eyes of the Lord. It is as if she wants to observe him, to perceive the form of his praying and acting in that remarkable hour, she wants to encounter the figure of Jesus even, as it were, through the senses. "He took bread in his sacred hands " Let us look at those hands with which he healed men and women; the hands with which he blessed babies; the hands that he laid upon men; the hands that were nailed to the Cross and that forever bear the stigmata as signs of his readiness to die for love. Now we are commissioned to do what he did: to take bread in our hands so that through the Eucharistic Prayer it will be transformed. At our priestly ordination, our hands were anointed, so that they could become hands of blessing. Let us pray to the Lord that our hands will serve more and more to bring salvation, to bring blessing, to make his goodness present!

With Eyes and Hearts Raised Towards God

From the introduction to the Priestly Prayer of Jesus (cf. Jn 17:1), the Canon takes these words: "Looking up to heaven, to you his almighty Father " The Lord teaches us to raise our eyes, and especially our hearts. He teaches us to fix our gaze upwards, detaching it from the things of this world, to direct ourselves in prayer towards God and thus to raise ourselves. In a hymn from the Liturgy of the Hours, we ask the Lord to guard our eyes, so that they do not take in or cause to enter within us "vanitates" -- vanities, nothings, that which is merely appearance. Let us pray that no evil will enter through our eyes, falsifying and tainting our very being. But we want to pray above all for eyes that see whatever is true, radiant and good; so that they become capable of seeing God's presence in the world. Let us pray that we will look upon the world with eyes of love, with the eyes of Jesus, recognizing our brothers and sisters who need our help, who are awaiting our word and our action.

The Lord Distributes Himself

Having given thanks and praise, the Lord then breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples. Breaking the bread is the act of the father of the family who looks after his children and gives them what they need for life. But it is also the act of hospitality with which the stranger, the guest, is received within the family and is given a share in its life. Dividing (dividere), sharing (condividere) brings about unity. Through sharing, communion is created. In the broken bread, the Lord distributes himself. The gesture of breaking also alludes mysteriously to his death, to the love that extends even to death. He distributes himself, the true "bread for the life of the world" (cf. Jn 6:51). The nourishment that man needs in his deepest self is communion with God himself. Giving thanks and praise, Jesus transforms the bread, he no longer gives earthly bread, but communion with himself. This transformation, though, seeks to be the start of the transformation of the world -- into a world of resurrection, a world of God. Yes, it is about transformation -- of the new man and the new world that find their origin in the bread that is consecrated, transformed, transubstantiated.

Agape in Daily Life

We said that breaking the bread is an act of communion, an act of uniting through sharing. Thus, in the act itself, the intimate nature of the Eucharist is already indicated: it is agape, it is love made corporeal. In the word "agape", the meanings of Eucharist and love intertwine. In Jesus' act of breaking the bread, the love that is shared has attained its most radical form: Jesus allows himself to be broken as living bread. In the bread that is distributed, we recognize the mystery of the grain of wheat that dies, and so bears fruit. We recognize the new multiplication of the loaves, which derives from the dying of the grain of wheat and will continue until the end of the world. At the same time, we see that the Eucharist can never be just a liturgical action. It is complete only if the liturgical agape then becomes love in daily life. In Christian worship, the two things become one -- experiencing the Lord's love in the act of worship and fostering love for one's neighbour. At this hour, we ask the Lord for the grace to learn to live the mystery of the Eucharist ever more deeply, in such a way that the transformation of the world can begin to take place.

The Chalice and the Mystery of Nuptial Love

After the bread, Jesus takes the chalice of wine. The Roman Canon describes the chalice which the Lord gives to his disciples as "praeclarus calix" (the glorious cup), thereby alluding to Psalm 23 [22], the Psalm which speaks of God as the Good Shepherd, the strong Shepherd. There we read these words: "You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes My cup is overflowing" -- calix praeclarus. The Roman Canon interprets this passage from the Psalm as a prophecy that is fulfilled in the Eucharist: yes, the Lord does indeed prepare a banquet for us in the midst of the threats of this world, and he gives us the glorious chalice -- the chalice of great joy, of the true feast, for which we all long -- the chalice filled with the wine of his love. The chalice signifies the wedding-feast: now the "hour" has come to which the wedding-feast of Cana had mysteriously alluded. Yes indeed, the Eucharist is more than a meal, it is a wedding-feast. And this wedding is rooted in God's gift of himself even to death. In the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and in the Church's Canon, the solemn mystery of the wedding is concealed under the expression "novum Testamentum". This chalice is the new Testament -- "the new Covenant in my blood", as Saint Paul presents the words of Jesus over the chalice in today's second reading (1 Cor 11:25). The Roman Canon adds: "of the new and everlasting covenant", in order to express the indissolubility of God's nuptial bond with humanity. The reason why older translations of the Bible do not say Covenant, but Testament, lies in the fact that this is no mere contract between two parties on the same level, but it brings into play the infinite distance between God and man. What we call the new and the ancient Covenant is not an agreement between two equal parties, but simply the gift of God who bequeaths to us his love -- himself. Certainly, through this gift of his love, he transcends all distance and makes us truly his "partners" -- the nuptial mystery of love is accomplished.

Consanguinity With Jesus

In order to understand profoundly what is taking place here, we must pay even greater attention to the words of the Bible and their original meaning. Scholars tell us that in those ancient times of which the histories of Israel's forefathers speak, to "ratify a Covenant" means "to enter with others into a bond based on blood or to welcome the other into one's own covenant fellowship and thus to enter into a communion of mutual rights and obligations". In this way, a real, if non-material form of consanguinity is established. The partners become in some way "brothers of the same flesh and the same bones". The covenant brings about a fellowship that means peace (cf. ThWNT II, 105-137). Can we now form at least an idea of what happened at the hour of the Last Supper, and what has been renewed ever since, whenever we celebrate the Eucharist? God, the living God, establishes a communion of peace with us, or to put it more strongly, he creates "consanguinity" between himself and us. Through the incarnation of Jesus, through the outpouring of his blood, we have been drawn into an utterly real consanguinity with Jesus and thus with God himself. The blood of Jesus is his love, in which divine life and human life have become one. Let us pray to the Lord, that we may come to understand ever more deeply the greatness of this mystery. Let us pray that in our innermost selves its transforming power will increase, so that we truly acquire consanguinity with Jesus, so that we are filled with his peace and grow in communion with one another.

Death and Resurrection

Now, however, a further question arises. In the Upper Room, Christ gives his Body and Blood to the disciples, that is, he gives himself in the totality of his person. But can he do so? He is still physically present in their midst, he is standing in front of them! The answer is: at that hour, Jesus fulfils what he had previously proclaimed in the Good Shepherd discourse: "No one takes my life from me: I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again " (Jn 10:18). No one can take his life from him: he lays it down by his own free decision. At that hour, he anticipates the crucifixion and resurrection. What is later to be fulfilled, as it were, physically in him, he already accomplishes in anticipation, in the freedom of his love. He gives his life and he takes it again in the resurrection, so as to be able to share it for ever.

Make Us Live in Your Today

Lord, today you give us your life, you give us yourself. Enter deeply within us with your love. Make us live in your "today". Make us instruments of your peace! Amen.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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I am in awe of the Holy Father's homilies at the Chrism Mass and at the Mass of the Lord's Supper. These are inspired words. Already he speaks to the heart of every priest. The grace of the Year of the Priest has begun to flow out of his heart. Thank you, Holy Father, thank you.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Sanctify Them in the Truth

In the Upper Room, on the eve of his Passion, the Lord prayed for his disciples gathered about him. At the same time he looked ahead to the community of disciples of all centuries, "those who believe in me through their word" (Jn 17:20). In his prayer for the disciples of all time, he saw us too, and he prayed for us. Let us listen to what he asks for the Twelve and for us gathered here: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth" (17:17ff.).

I Consecrate Myself

The Lord asks for our sanctification, sanctification in truth. And he sends us forth to carry on his own mission. But in this prayer there is one word which draws our attention, and appears difficult to understand. Jesus says: "For their sake I consecrate myself". What does this mean? Is Jesus not himself "the Holy One of God", as Peter acknowledged at that decisive moment in Capharnaum (cf. Jn 6:69)? How can he now consecrate -- sanctify -- himself?

Taken From the World and Given to God

To understand this, we need first to clarify what the Bible means by the words "holy" and "consecrate -- sanctify". "Holy" -- this word describes above all God's own nature, his completely unique, divine, way of being, one which is his alone. He alone is the true and authentic Holy One, in the original sense of the word. All other holiness derives from him, is a participation in his way of being. He is purest Light, Truth and untainted Good. To consecrate something or someone means, therefore, to give that thing or person to God as his property, to take it out of the context of what is ours and to insert it in his milieu, so that it no longer belongs to our affairs, but is totally of God. Consecration is thus a taking away from the world and a giving over to the living God. The thing or person no longer belongs to us, or even to itself, but is immersed in God. Such a giving up of something in order to give it over to God, we also call a sacrifice: this thing will no longer be my property, but his property.

I Sacrifice Myself: Priest and Victim

In the Old Testament, the giving over of a person to God, his "sanctification", is identified with priestly ordination, and this also defines the essence of the priesthood: it is a transfer of ownership, a being taken out of the world and given to God. We can now see the two directions which belong to the process of sanctification-consecration. It is a departure from the milieux of worldly life -- a "being set apart" for God. But for this very reason it is not a segregation. Rather, being given over to God means being charged to represent others. The priest is removed from worldly bonds and given over to God, and precisely in this way, starting with God, he is available for others, for everyone. When Jesus says: "I consecrate myself", he makes himself both priest and victim. Bultmann was right to translate the phrase: "I consecrate myself" by "I sacrifice myself". Do we now see what happens when Jesus says: "I consecrate myself for them"? This is the priestly act by which Jesus -- the Man Jesus, who is one with the Son of God -- gives himself over to the Father for us. It is the expression of the fact that he is both priest and victim. I consecrate myself -- I sacrifice myself: this unfathomable word, which gives us a glimpse deep into the heart of Jesus Christ, should be the object of constantly renewed reflection. It contains the whole mystery of our redemption. It also contains the origins of the priesthood in the Church.

Into the Holiness of God

Only now can we fully understand the prayer which the Lord offered the Father for his disciples -- for us. "Sanctify them in the truth": this is the inclusion of the Apostles in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the institution of his new priesthood for the community of the faithful of all times. "Sanctify them in truth": this is the true prayer of consecration for the Apostles. The Lord prays that God himself draw them towards him, into his holiness. He prays that God take them away from themselves to make them his own property, so that, starting from him, they can carry out the priestly ministry for the world. This prayer of Jesus appears twice in slightly different forms. Both times we need to listen very carefully, in order to understand, even dimly the sublime reality that is about to be accomplished. "Sanctify them in the truth". Jesus adds: "Your word is truth". The disciples are thus drawn deep within God by being immersed in the word of God. The word of God is, so to speak, the bath which purifies them, the creative power which transforms them into God's own being.

Pervaded by the Word of God

So then, how do things stand in our own lives? Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking? Or is it rather the case that our thinking is constantly being shaped by all the things that others say and do? Aren't prevailing opinions the criterion by which we all too often measure ourselves? Do we not perhaps remain, when all is said and done, mired in the superficiality in which people today are generally caught up? Do we allow ourselves truly to be deeply purified by the word of God? Friedrich Nietzsche scoffed at humility and obedience as the virtues of slaves, a source of repression. He replaced them with pride and man's absolute freedom. Of course there exist caricatures of a misguided humility and a mistaken submissiveness, which we do not want to imitate. But there also exists a destructive pride and a presumption which tear every community apart and result in violence. Can we learn from Christ the correct humility which corresponds to the truth of our being, and the obedience which submits to truth, to the will of God? "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth": this word of inclusion in the priesthood lights up our lives and calls us to become ever anew disciples of that truth which is revealed in the word of God.

One With Christ the Priest

I believe that we can advance another step in the interpretation of these words. Did not Christ say of himself: "I am the truth" (cf. Jn 14:6)? Is he not himself the living Word of God, to which every other word refers? Sanctify them in the truth -- this means, then, in the deepest sense: make them one with me, Christ. Bind them to me. Draw them into me. Indeed, when all is said and done, there is only one priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ himself. Consequently, the priesthood of the disciples can only be a participation in the priesthood of Jesus.

The Seal Imprinted Upon Our Being

Our being priests is simply a new way of being united to Christ. In its substance, it has been bestowed on us for ever in the sacrament. But this new seal imprinted upon our being can become for us a condemnation, if our lives do not develop by entering into the truth of the Sacrament. The promises we renew today state in this regard that our will must be directed along this path: "Domino Iesu arctius coniungi et conformari, vobismetipsis abrenuntiantes". Being united to Christ calls for renunciation. It means not wanting to impose our own way and our own will, not desiring to become someone else, but abandoning ourselves to him, however and wherever he wants to use us. As Saint Paul said: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20).

In the words "I do", spoken at our priestly ordination, we made this fundamental renunciation of our desire to be independent, "self-made". But day by day this great "yes" has to be lived out in the many little "yeses" and small sacrifices. This "yes" made up of tiny steps which together make up the great "yes", can be lived out without bitterness and self-pity only if Christ is truly the center of our lives. If we enter into true closeness to him. Then indeed we experience, amid sacrifices which can at first be painful, the growing joy of friendship with him, and all the small and sometimes great signs of his love, which he is constantly showing us. "The one who loses himself, finds himself". When we dare to lose ourselves for the Lord, we come to experience the truth of these words.

Enter Into the Words Set Before Us by the Church

To be immersed in the Truth, in Christ -- part of this process is prayer, in which we exercise our friendship with him and we come to know him: his way of being, of thinking, of acting. Praying is a journey in personal communion with Christ, setting before him our daily life, our successes and failures, our struggles and our joys -- in a word, it is to stand in front of him. But if this is not to become a form of self-contemplation, it is important that we constantly learn to pray by praying with the Church. Celebrating the Eucharist means praying. We celebrate the Eucharist rightly if with our thoughts and our being we enter into the words which the Church sets before us. There we find the prayer of all generations, which accompany us along the way towards the Lord. As priests, in the Eucharistic celebration we are those who by their prayer blaze a trail for the prayer of today's Christians. If we are inwardly united to the words of prayer, if we let ourselves be guided and transformed by them, then the faithful will also enter into those words. And then all of us will become truly "one body, one spirit" in Christ.

True Love Is Costly

To be immersed in God's truth and thus in his holiness -- for us this also means to acknowledge that the truth makes demands, to stand up, in matters great and small, to the lie which in so many different ways is present in the world; accepting the struggles associated with the truth, because its inmost joy is present within us. Nor, when we talk about being sanctified in the truth, should we forget that in Jesus Christ truth and love are one. Being immersed in him means being immersed in his goodness, in true love. True love does not come cheap, it can also prove quite costly. It resists evil in order to bring men true good. If we become one with Christ, we learn to recognize him precisely in the suffering, in the poor, in the little ones of this world; then we become people who serve, who recognize our brothers and sisters in him, and in them, we encounter him.

Property of the God of Holiness

"Sanctify them in truth" -- this is the first part of what Jesus says. But then he adds: "I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth" -- that is, truly consecrated (Jn 17:19). I think that this second part has a special meaning of its own. In the world's religions there are many different ritual means of "sanctification", of the consecration of a human person. Yet all these rites can remain something merely formal. Christ asks for his disciples the true sanctification which transforms their being, their very selves; he asks that it not remain a ritual formality, but that it make them truly the "property" of the God of holiness. We could even say that Christ prayed on behalf of us for that sacrament which touches us in the depths of our being. But he also prayed that this interior transformation might be translated day by day in our lives; that in our everyday routine and our concrete daily lives we might be truly pervaded by the light of God.

Sanctify Them in the Truth

On the eve of my priestly ordination, fifty-eight years ago, I opened the Sacred Scripture, because I wanted to receive once more a word from the Lord for that day and for my future journey as a priest. My gaze fell on this passage: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth". Then I realized: the Lord is speaking about me, and he is speaking to me. This very same thing will be accomplished tomorrow in me. When all is said and done, we are not consecrated by rites, even though rites are necessary. The bath in which the Lord immerses us is himself -- the Truth in person. Priestly ordination means: being immersed in him, immersed in the Truth. I belong in a new way to him and thus to others, "that his Kingdom may come". Dear friends, in this hour of the renewal of promises, we want to pray to the Lord to make us men of truth, men of love, men of God. Let us implore him to draw us ever anew into himself, so that we may become truly priests of the New Covenant. Amen.

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

s_andrea01.jpg

This 15th century painting of the miraculous Mass of Pope Saint Gregory the Great is in the Church of Sant'Andrea in Palermo, Sicily. Above, we see Our Lord Jesus Christ surrounded by depictions of the mysteries of His bitter Passion, all of which are made present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Below, we see Saint Gregory at the altar surrounded by his Cardinals. It appears to be the moment of the consecration. Notice the large host. Curiously, the Pope is wearing his tiara and the Cardinals their galeros. The Pope is facing outward, and there are two missals on stands placed on either side of the altar.

In preparation for this evening's Holy Mass of the Chrism and for the forthcoming Year of the Priest: A Sermon of Saint Ephrem, Syrian Deacon, on the Priesthood. Saint John Eudes chose this passage for Matins of the Office that he composed for the Feast of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ in 1652. Saint John Eudes' Mass and Office for the Feast of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ were adopted not only by his own Congregation of Jesus and Mary, who kept it on November 13th, and by the Priests of Saint Sulpice, who kept it on July 17th, but also by the Benedictines of the Blessed Sacrament, who kept it on the Thursday after the Octave of Corpus Christi. The feast fell into disuse in the middle of the nineteenth century. Only the Sulpicians kept it until the liturgical reforms of Pope Pius X.

O wondrous miracle!
O power unutterableI
O tremendous mystery of the Priesthood,
holy and spiritual mystery, worthy of reverence and blameless,
which Christ hath by His advent into the world
imparted even to those unworthy!

On bended knees, with tears and sighs,
I pray that we may look into this treasure of Priesthood;
a treasure, I say, to those who guard it with fitting holiness.
For it is indeed a matchless bright shield, a strong tower, a wall unbreakable,
a firm and stable foundation, reaching from earth to highest heavens!
What am I saying, brethren?
It even attaineth those supernal regions,
ascending without let or labor from the depths to the very heavens,
and there with incorporeal spirits, surrounded by angels,
holdeth free and familiar intercourse.

But why do I say surrounded by the Heavenly Powers except it be that it treateth
--familiarly with the very Lord and Creator of angels Himself, the Giver of Light,
asking forthwith whatsoever it will,
making petition as it were with certain seemly ease and right?

Nor do I desist, brethren, from giving praise and glory
to that profundity of dignity which the Holy Trinity hath liberally bestowed
upon us, the sons of Adam.
Thereby the world hath been saved and the creature enllghtened.
Thereby both the power of death hath been destroyed and the forces of hell spoiled;
both the curse of Adam destroyed and broken,
and the heavenly bridal chamber adorned and thrown open.
What shall I say and declare? what in the way of praise?

Forsooth, this gift of the lofty dignity of the Priesthood
hath outrun my mind and speech and all thought.
And this I think is what Saint Paul indicates when,
stricken with an amazement of mind, he exclaims:
O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!
Flying from earth to high heaven,
it bears most swiftly to God above our requests,
praying the Lord for His servants.

O power unutterable, which hath deigned to dwell in us
through the laying on of hands of holy priests!
What great depths lie within this awful and wonderful Priesthood!
Happy the man who purely and blamelessly ministers in this dignity!

So let us know, brethren, that great and manifold, vast and boundless
is the dignity of the Priestly Office itself.
Glory be to the Sole-Begotten,
glory also to the Only Good,
Who offers this through the new and holy covenant to His disciples,
that these in turn, by the laying on of their hands upon worthy men,
may furnish an example unto us.

Therefore let us all give honor to Priests
and all pronounce those to be happy who have been adorned
by this sublime and admirable office of Priesthood,
knowing for sure that he will be loved much more by the King,
who is a lover of the King's friend.
Wherefore, let us love the priests of God,
seeing that they His friends are good
and intercede for us and the world.


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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