Year of the Priest 2009–2010: June 2010 Archives

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Here is the Angelus Message given by the Holy Father today, Sunday, 13 June, 2010:

Dear brothers and sisters!

Conclusion of the Year for Priests

The Year for Priests concluded a few days ago. Here in Rome we experienced some unforgettable days with the presence of more than 15,000 priests from every part of the world. So, today I would like to give thanks to God for all the good things that have come to the universal Church this year. No one could ever measure them but certainly they see them and still more they will see their fruits.

The Priest, A Gift from the Heart of Christ

The Year for Priests concluded on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is traditionally the "day of priestly sanctification"; this time it was so in a very special way. In fact, dear friends, the priest is a gift from the Heart of Christ: a gift for the Church and for the world. From the Heart of the Son of God, overflowing with charity, there stream all the goods of the Church and in a special way it is the origin of the vocations of those men who, conquered by the Lord Jesus, leave everything to dedicate themselves entirely to the service of the people, following the example of the Good Shepherd. The priest is formed by Christ's charity itself, that love that moved him to give his life for his friends and also to pardon his enemies. Because of this priests are the first builders of the civilization of love. And here I think of many priests, known and unknown, some elevated to the honors of the altar, others whose memory remains indelibly in the faithful, perhaps in a small parish community -- as happened in Ars, that village of France where St. John Marie Vianney undertook his ministry. There is no need to add words to what has been said of him in recent months. But his intercession must accompany us from now on. May his prayer, his "Act of Love," that we have recited so many times during the Year for Priests, continue to nourish your colloquy with God.

Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko

There is another figure whom I would like to recall: Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, priest and martyr, who was proclaimed "Blessed" just last Sunday in Warsaw. He exercised his generous and courageous ministry alongside those who worked for freedom, for the defense of life and its dignity. His work in the service of goodness and truth was a sign of contradiction for the regime that governed Poland at that time. The love of the Heart of Christ led him to give his life, and his witness was the seed of a new springtime in the Church and society. If we look at history we can observe that so many pages of authentic spiritual and social renewal have been written by the contribution of Catholic priests, animated only by the passion for the Gospel and for man, for his true religious and civil liberty. How many initiatives of integral human promotion have begun in the intuition of a priestly heart!

Mary's Immaculate Heart

Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust all the priests of the world to Mary's Immaculate Heart -- whose liturgical memorial we celebrated yesterday -- so that by the power of the Gospel they may continue to build in every place the civilization of love.

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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 Fatherhood of the Priest

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The Healing Power of the Father's Love

For many priests, faith in the Fatherhood of God is a path to interior healing. This is especially true for those who, for one reason or another, did not grow into manhood in liberty of heart and in joy under the affirming gaze of a father. The Eternal Father desires to banish fear from the hearts of his priest-sons. God's will is that His priest-sons should "serve him without fear, in holiness and justice before Him" (Lk 1:74-75) all the days of their life.

As Jesus Was Father in the Midst of the Apostles

God would have every priest know that he is loved and surrounded by His paternal presence as Father, a presence that sustains the priest, that allows him to become in every way the man that God has always wanted him to be. Faith in the paternal presence of God allows the priest, in turn, to become a father, a father in the image of The Father, a father even as Jesus was fully father in the midst of His disciples. The disciples discovered the fatherhood of God on the face of Jesus Christ. They felt the Divine Fatherhood when they drew near to His Sacred Heart. They saw the Fatherhood of God at work in the signs of mercy and power that Jesus worked in His Father's Name.

Abandonment to the Father

It must be the same for us, priests. We are called to be living images of the Divine Paternity. The Father Himself implants in the heart of His priests the charism of a paternal love. By virtue of this grace of paternal love, the priest can bring healing to a multitude of souls held back in their spiritual development for want of the indispensable experience of a father's love. Out of that experience souls can grow in the theological virtue of hope, in confidence, trust and, ultimately, in the practice of abandonment to the Eternal Father's love and unfailing providence. There is, by the way, a little known classic on this very subject, L'abandon filial by a humble, hidden religious named Soeur Jean-Baptiste. As far as I know it is available only in French, but it merits being translated into English.

The Spiritually Fatherless

It seems to me that the Eternal Father desires, at this precise moment in the history of the Church, to renew the grace of fatherhood among His priests. It is when a priest is father that he corresponds most fully to God's designs of love upon his life. The Church, beloved Spouse of Jesus Christ, suffers because so many priests fail to live the singular grace of their supernatural paternity. Souls seek fathers and, all too often, they are sent away disappointed and abandoned to live among the vast numbers of the spiritually fatherless who mark contemporary society with a particular sadness.

Divine Fatherhood in the Souls of Priests

The Eternal Father would have each of us priests receive the graces and the supernatural energies of the Divine Fatherhood in our own souls. The more a priest lives out his paternal mission, the more will he resemble the Only-Begotten Son who said, "He that seeth me, seeth the Father also" (Jn 14:9).

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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