CONGREGATIO PRO CLERICUS
My dearest friends and brothers in the priesthood,
On the occasion of the coming solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, 7 June 2013, on which we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, I cordially greet each and every one of you, and thank the Lord for the wonderful gift of the priesthood and for your fidelity to the love of Christ.
The invitation of the Lord to “remain in his love” (cf. Jn. 15:9) is valid for all the baptized, but on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it resounds with a new power in us, his priests. As the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reminded us at the opening of the Year for Priests, quoting the Holy Curé of Ars, “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus” (cf. Homily at the celebration of Vespers of the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, 19 June 2009). We must never forget that from this heart sprang the gift of the priestly ministry.
We know from experience that “to remain in his love” pushes us forcefully towards holiness. This holiness, as we know well, is not based in doing extraordinary actions, but in allowing Christ to act in us and in making his attitudes, his thoughts and his behaviour our own. The extent of holiness derives from the extent of Christ’s presence in us, insofar as we model the whole of our life on him, by the strength of the Holy Spirit.
We priests have been consecrated and sent to make present the salvific mission of the incarnate Divine Son. Our function is indispensable for the Church and for the world and demands from us complete fidelity to Christ and constant union with Him. Thus, by humble service, we are guides who lead to holiness the faithful entrusted to our ministry. In this way, we reflect in our life the desire expressed by Jesus himself in his priestly prayer after the institution of the Eucharist: “I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours… I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one… sanctify them in the truth… for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn. 17:9,15,17,19).
In the Year of Faith
Such considerations assume a special importance in relation to the celebration of the Year of Faith – announced by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in the Motu Proprio Porta Fidei (11 October 2011) – which began on 11 October 2012, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and which will end on the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on 24 November next. The Church with her pastors, must be on a journey, to lead people out of the “desert” towards communion with the Son of God, who is the Life of the world (cf. Jn. 6:33).
In this perspective, the Congregation for the Clergy addresses this letter to all the priests of the world, to help each one to renew his commitment to live this event of grace to which we are called, and in a particular way to be leaders and animators eager for a rediscovery of the faith in its entirety and with all its attraction, and therefore motivated to believe that the new evangelization is directed towards the genuine transmission of the Christian faith.
In the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, the Pope interprets the sentiments of priests in many countries: “In the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” (no. 2).
The celebration of the Year of Faith presents itself as an opportunity for the new evangelization, to overcome the temptation to discouragement, and to let our own efforts be directed more and more under the influence and the guidance of the present Successor of Peter. To have faith means principally to be certain that Christ, conquering death in his flesh, has also made it possible for those who believe in Him to share this destiny of glory, and to satisfy the yearning for a perfect and eternal life and joy, which is in the heart of everyone. For this, “the Resurrection of Christ is our greatest certainty; he is our most precious treasure! How can we not share this treasure, this certainty with others? It is not only for us, it is to be passed on, to be shared with others. Our testimony is precisely this” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 3 April 2013).
As priests we must prepare ourselves the lead the other members of the faithful to a maturity of faith. We know that we are the first ones who have to open our hearts more fully. We remember the words of the Master of the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem “Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said: Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’. Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn. 7:37-39). Also from the priest as alter Christus, rivers of living water can flow, inasmuch as he drinks with faith from the words of Christ, opening himself to the action of the Holy Spirit. Not only the sanctification of the people entrusted to him, but also the satisfaction of his own identity, depends ultimately on the movement from the priest “opening” himself, to being a sign and instrument of divine grace: “The priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say ‘not at all’ because, thank God, the people take the oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, ‘has already received his reward’, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad, sad priests, in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with ‘the odour of the sheep’. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the ‘odour of the sheep’, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men” (Idem, Homily for the Chrism Mass, 28 March 2013).
Transmitting the Faith
Christ has entrusted to his apostles and to the Church the mission of preaching the Good News to all people. St. Paul heard the Gospel as “the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rm. 1:16). Jesus Christ himself is the Gospel, the “Good News” (cf. 1Cor. 1:24). Our task is to be bearers of the power of the boundless Love of God manifested in Christ. The response to the generous divine Revelation is faith, the fruit of grace in our souls, which demands the opening of the human heart. “Only through believing, then, does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one’s life apart from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God” (Porta Fidei, no. 7). After years of priestly ministry, with its fruits and its difficulties, the presbyterate can say with St. Paul: “I have fully preached the gospel of Christ!” (Rm. 15:19; 1Cor. 15:1-11; etc.).
To collaborate with Christ in the transmission of the faith is the task of every Christian, in the characteristic organic cooperation between the ordained faithful and the lay faithful in the Holy Church. This joyful obligation implies two profoundly united aspects. The first, the bond with Christ, which means meeting Him personally, following Him, having a friendship with Him, believing in Him. In today’s cultural context, the testimony of our lives is particularly important – a condition of authenticity and of credibility – which makes it evident how the power of the love of God makes his Word effective. We must not forget that the faithful are looking for the priest to be a man of God and of his Word, his mercy and the Bread of Life.
A second element of the missionary character of the transmission of the faith is found in the joyful welcome of the words of Christ, the truths that he teaches us, the content of Revelation. In that sense, a fundamental instrument will be the ordered and organic exposition of Catholic doctrine, anchored in the Word of God and in the eternal and living Tradition of the Church.
In particular, we must commit ourselves to live the Year of Faith and to make it a providential occasion to understand that the texts of the Second Vatican Council, which are the heritage of the Council Fathers, according to the words of blessed John Paul II, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition… I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as, the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning” ” (John Paul II, Ap. Let. Novo millennio ineunte, 6 January 2001, 57: AAS 93 , 308, no. 5).
The Content of the Faith
The Catechism of the Catholic Church – called for by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 as an instrument of service to catechesis and brought about through the collaboration of the whole Episcopate – illustrates to the faithful the strength and the beauty of the faith.
The Catechism is an authentic fruit of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which makes the pastoral ministry easier: attractive, incisive, deep, solid homilies; catechetical courses and courses of theological formation for adults; the preparation of catechists, the formation of different vocations in the Church, particularly in the Seminaries.
The Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith (6 January 2012), offers a full list of initiatives for living this privileged time of grace in full unity with the Holy Father and the Episcopal College: pilgrimages for the faithful to the See of Peter, to the Holy Land, to Marian shrines, the next World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro this coming July; symposia, conferences and gatherings, also on an international level, and in particular those dedicated to the rediscovery of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council; the organisation of groups of the faithful for reading and the communal in-depth study of the Catechism with a renewed commitment to spreading its teaching.
In the current relativist climate it seems appropriate to stress how important is the knowledge of the content of authentic Catholic doctrine, inseparable as it is from the encounter with appealing testimonies of faith. The Acts of the Apostles recounts that the first disciples in Jerusalem “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
In this sense the Year of Faith is a particularly favourable occasion for a more attentive reception of the homilies, the catechesis, the allocutions and the other statements of the Holy Father. For many of the faithful, to have available the homilies and discourses from the audiences will be a great help for passing on the faith to others.
This concerns the truth by which we live, as St. Augustine said when, in a homily on the redditio symboli, he describes the handing over of the Creed: “You therefore have received and returned it, but in your minds and in your hearts you must keep it ever present, you must repeat it in your beds, think of it again in the squares and not forget it during meals: and also when your body sleeps, your hearts must be watchful” (Augustine of Hippo, Discourse 215, on the Redditio Symboli).
In Porta Fidei there is a path to help understand more deeply the content of the faith and the act by which we freely entrust ourselves to God: the act with which we believe and the content to which we give our assent are signposted in a deeply united way (cf. n. 10).
To grow in Faith
The Year of Faith represents therefore, an invitation to conversion to Jesus, the only Saviour of the World, to grow in the faith as a theological virtue. In the prologue to the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI wrote on the negative consequences of presenting Jesus as a figure from the past about whom little is certain: “Such a situation is difficult for the faith, because it makes its authentic point of reference uncertain: the intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, threatens to fumble in the emptiness” (p. 8).
It is worth meditating more on these words “the intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends”. It concerns the personal encounter with Christ, an encounter of each one of us, and of each one of our brothers and sisters in the faith, whom we serve in our ministry.
To encounter Jesus, like the first disciples – Andrew, Peter, John – like the Samaritan woman or like Nicodemus; to welcome him into our own house like Martha and Mary; to listen to him reading the Gospel again and again; by the grace of the Holy Spirit, this is the sure path to growth in the faith. As the Servant of God Paul VI wrote: “The faith is the way by which eternal truth enters into the soul” (Insegnamenti, IV, p. 919).
Jesus invites us to feel that we are children and friends of God: “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (Jn. 15:15-16).
Means to grow in faith – The Eucharist
Jesus invites us to ask with full confidence, to pray with the words “Our Father”. He proposes to everyone, in the Sermon on the Mount, a goal which to human eyes seems like madness: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). In order to exercise a good pedagogy of holiness, capable of adapting itself to the circumstances and the pace of the individual person, we must be friends of God, and men of prayer.
In prayer we learn to carry the Cross, that Cross open to the whole world for its salvation which, as the Lord revealed to Ananias, would accompany the mission of the newly converted Saul: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16). Also to the faithful of Galatia, St. Paul presents this synthesis of his life “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:19-20).
In the Eucharist the mystery of the sacrifice of the Cross is made present. The liturgical celebration of the Holy Mass is an encounter with Jesus, who offers himself as a victim for us and transforms us in Him. “By its nature, the liturgy can be pedagogically effective in helping the faithful to enter more deeply into the mystery being celebrated. That is why, in the Church’s most ancient tradition, the process of Christian formation always had an experiential character. While not neglecting a systematic understanding of the content of the faith, it centred on a vital and convincing encounter with Christ, as proclaimed by authentic witnesses. It is first and foremost the witness who introduces others to the mysteries” (Benedict XVI, Ap. Exhort. Sacramentum Caritatis, 22-II-2007, no. 64). It should not be surprising therefore, that in the Note with pastoral recommendations for the Year of Faith, it is suggested that the celebration of the faith in the liturgy be intensified, and in particular in the Eucharist, where the faith of the Church is proclaimed, celebrated and reinforced (cf. no. IV, 2). If the Eucharistic liturgy is celebrated with great faith and devotion, the fruits are certain.
The Sacrament of Mercy that brings forgiveness
If the Eucharist is the Sacrament that builds up the image of the Son of God in us, Reconciliation is that which makes us experience the power of the divine mercy, which liberates the soul from sin, and enables it to sense the beauty of the return to God, the true Father loved by every one of his children. For this the sacred minister is the first person who must be convinced that “only by behaving as children of God, without despairing at our shortcomings, at our sins, only by feeling loved by him will our life be new, enlivened by serenity and joy. God is our strength! God is our hope!” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 10 April 2013).
The priest must himself be a sacrament of this merciful presence in the world: “Jesus has no house, because his house is the people, it is we who are his dwelling place, his mission is to open God’s doors to all, to be the presence of God’s love” (Idem, General Audience, 27 March 2013). We cannot therefore bury this marvellous supernatural gift, nor distribute it without having the same sentiments as He who loved sinners, all the way to the Cross. In this sacrament, the Father gives us a unique opportunity to be, not only spiritually, but also in ourselves and with our own humanity, that welcoming hand which, like the Good Samaritan, pours oil which gives relief to the wounds of the soul (Lk. 10:34). We hear, as our own, these words of the Pontiff; “A Christian who withdraws into himself, who hides everything that the Lord has given him, is a Christian who... is not a Christian! He is a Christian who does not thank God for everything God has given him! This tells us that the expectation of the Lord’s return is the time of action — we are in the time of action — the time in which we should bring God’s gifts to fruition, not for ourselves but for him, for the Church, for others. The time to seek to increase goodness in the world always… Dear brothers and sisters, may looking at the Last Judgement never frighten us: rather, may it impel us to live the present better. God offers us this time with mercy and patience so that we may learn every day to recognise him in the poor and in the lowly. Let us strive for goodness and be watchful in prayer and in love. May the Lord, at the end of our life and at the end of history, be able to recognise us as good and faithful servants” (Idem, General Audience, 24 April 2013).
The sacrament of Reconciliation is therefore also the sacrament of joy: “While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry” (Lk. 15:11-24). Every time we go to Confession, we find the joy of being with God, because we have experienced his mercy perhaps many times, when we manifest to the Lord our shortcomings due to tepidity and mediocrity. Thus our faith is strengthened as sinners who love Jesus, and we know we are loved by him: “When someone is summoned by the judge or is involved in legal proceedings, the first thing he does is to seek a lawyer to defend him. We have One who always defends us, who defends us from the snares of devil, who defends us from ourselves and from our sins! Dear brothers and sisters, we have this Advocate; let us not be afraid to turn to him to ask forgiveness, to ask for a blessing, to ask for mercy! He always pardons us, he is our Advocate: he always defends us! Don’t forget this!” (Idem, General Audience, 17 April 2013).
In Eucharistic adoration, we can say to Christ, present in the Sacred Host, with St. Thomas Aquinas:
Plagas sicut Thomas non intúeor
Deum tamen meum Te confiteor
Fac me tibi semper magis crédere
In Te spem habére, Te dilígere.
Also with the apostle Thomas, we can repeat with our priestly heart, when Jesus is in our hands: Dominus meus et Deus meus!
“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Lk. 1:45). With these words Elizabeth greeted Mary. We appeal to Her, who is Mother of priests and who has preceded us in the journey of faith, that each one of us may grow in faith in her divine Son, and thereby bring to the world the Life and the Light, the warmth of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza
Celso Morga Iruzubieta
Titular Archbishop of Alba marittima
Some suggestions are proposed below for a time of prayer for the Bishop and the presbyterate, to organize as a Vigil of preparation for the Day or during the Day itself.
Liturgical greeting by the Bishop. The prayer below follows.
Let us pray.
Father, holy and merciful, you made the apostles holy in the confession of your name, comfort us with the grace of your Spirit, and grant to us your servants to remain firm in integrity of faith, and to shine out with wisdom and holiness of life in the steadfast service of your Church. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Gospel (a choice may be made from the following passages): Mk. 16:15-20; Lk. 5:1-11; Lk. 10:1-9, Jn. 10:11-16; Jn. 15:9-17; Jn. 21:1-14
Renewal of priestly promises as at the Chrism Mass
At this point the Blessed Sacrament is exposed (Adoro te devote)
Silent adoration. During the personal prayer there could be meditations on some passages, such as the following:
Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree “Presbyterorum Ordinis” on the life of priests, no. 3
The priests within the people of God
Priests, who are taken from among men and ordained for men in the things that belong to God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, nevertheless live on earth with other men as brothers. The Lord Jesus, the Son of God, a Man sent by the Father to men, dwelt among us and willed to become like his brethren in all things except sin. The holy apostles imitated him. Blessed Paul, the doctor of the Gentiles, “set apart for the Gospel of God” (Rm. 1:1) declares that he became all things to all men that he might save all. Priests of the New Testament, by their vocation and ordination, are in a certain sense set apart in the bosom of the People of God. However, they are not to be separated from the People of God or from any person; but they are to be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has chosen them. They cannot be ministers of Christ unless they be witnesses and dispensers of a life other than earthly life. But they cannot be of service to men if they remain strangers to the life and conditions of men. Their ministry itself, by a special title, forbids that they be conformed to this world; yet at the same time it requires that they live in this world among men. They are to live as good shepherds that know their sheep, and they are to seek to lead those who are not of this sheepfold that they, too, may hear the voice of Christ, so that there might be one fold and one shepherd. To achieve this aim, certain virtues, which in human affairs are deservedly esteemed, contribute a great deal: such as goodness of heart, sincerity, strength and constancy of mind, zealous pursuit of justice, affability, and others. The Apostle Paul commends them saying: “Whatever things are true, whatever honourable, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever loving, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything is worthy of praise, think upon these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Pope Francis, Homily of the Chrism Mass (28 March 2013)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.
The readings and the Psalm of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm 133: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (v. 2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.
The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex. 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es. 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs who are numerous in these times.
From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn now to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. My dear brothers, the ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.
A good priest can be recognised by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me Father”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into a prayer of supplication, the supplication of the People of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk. 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.
We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live our priestly life going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.
The priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, the people take the oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests - in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odour of the sheep”. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.
Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.
Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.
Benedict XVI, Homily at the conclusion of the Year for Priests (11 June 2010)
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. 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. 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. 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 the liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be priests: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29).
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. 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 us. 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 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 realise 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 God's friendship.
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” (Ps. 23:3ff.). 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 synthesised 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 of life.
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.
“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.
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. 23:6).
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.
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 rites of reposition of the Blessed Sacrament may be preceded by General Intercessions
C: Dear brothers, united in prayer like the Apostles in the upper room, let us ask God the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, to hear our petitions for ourselves, for the holy Church and for the whole world. Therefore, let us say in faith: Father make us true and zealous witnesses of your love.
1. For our Holy Father Francis, our Bishop N. and all pastors of the Church: that they may be true and wise guides and, being strong in faith, may give an heroic and faithful testimony to the Word of salvation entrusted to them by the Apostles. Let us pray to the Lord.
2. For all priests: that they may not be discouraged by the difficulties of their ministry, but rather spurred on by them to look constantly to Him who made the Cross the instrument of love and divine mercy, which transforms the heart of every person. Let us pray to the Lord.
3. For all those who are called by Jesus to follow him to continue his work of salvation in the world: that, being strong against the seductions of the evil one, they may respond with generosity to the call of the divine Master learning, like the Apostles on Mount Tabor, to experience the beauty of being with him. Let us pray to the Lord.
4. For Rectors of Seminaries and for those who are called to form candidates for the sacred ministry: that they may always carry out their task with paternal love, encouraging and helping every young person to grow in wisdom, stature and grace, bringing to fruit the talents that God has placed in their hearts for the good of all. Let us pray to the Lord.
5. For all the Christian faithful: that, in a spirit of communion and collaboration with all the ministers, they may be able to see in them the mysterious presence of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who continually calls his flock to himself, and that they may sustain them constantly by their prayers, so that they may be each day an example and sure guide to living authentically the faith in the Son of God. Let us pray to the Lord.
6. The sacred sacramental anointing makes one a priest for ever: that all deceased priests may continue, together with Christ seated at the right of the Father and in union with his sacred Sacrifice, to offer themselves in love, and thus prepare a place by Him in glory for all who listen to his voice. Let us pray to the Lord.
C: Father, your work of salvation, carried out by your Son, through the Holy Spirit, reflects the mystery of the Trinity, which is a mystery of love. Hear our prayers and help us to remain always faithful to you. We ask you this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The Tantum ergo follows, after which, before the usual acclamations, the schema of the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim (taken from the book Gift and Mystery of Blessed John Paul II) may be used.
Kyrie, eleison Kyrie, eleison Christe, eleison Christe, eleison Kyrie, eleison Kyrie, eleison Christe, audi nos Christe, audi nos Christe, exaudi nos Christe, exaudi nos Pater de cælis, Deus,
miserere nobis Fili, Redemptor mundi, Deus, miserere nobis Spiritus Sancte, Deus, miserere nobis Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus, miserere nobis Iesu, Sacerdos et Victima, miserere nobis Iesu, Sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech, miserere nobis Iesu, Sacerdos quem misit Deus evangelizare pauperibus, miserere nobis Iesu, Sacerdos qui in novissima cena formam sacrificii perennis instituisti, miserere nobis Iesu, Sacerdos semper vivens ad interpellandum pro nobis, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex quem Pater unxit Spiritu Sancto et virtute, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex ex hominibus assumpte, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex pro hominibus constitute, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex confessionis nostræ, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex amplioris præ Moysi gloriæ, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex tabernaculi veri, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex futurorum bonorum, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex sancte, innocens et impollute miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex fidelis et misericors, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex Dei et animarum zelo succense, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex in æternum perfecte, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex qui per proprium sanguinem cælos penetrasti, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex qui per proprium sanguinem cælos penetrasti, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex qui nobis viam novam initiasti, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex qui nobis viam novam initiasti, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex qui nobis viam novam initiasti, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex qui dilexisti nos et lavisti nos a peccatis in sanguine tuo, miserere nobis Iesu, Pontifex qui tradidisti temetipsum Deo oblationem et hostiam, miserere nobis Iesu, Hostia Dei et hominum, miserere nobis Iesu, Hostia sancta et immaculata, miserere nobis Iesu, Hostia placabilis, miserere nobis Iesu, Hostia pacifica, miserere nobis Iesu, Hostia propitiationis et laudis, miserere nobis Iesu, Hostia reconciliationis et pacis, miserere nobis Iesu, Hostia in qua habemus fiduciam et accessum ad Deum, miserere nobis Iesu, Hostia vivens in sæcula sæculorum, miserere nobis Propitius esto! parce nobis, Iesu Propitius esto! exaudi nos, Iesu A temerario in clerum ingressu, libera nos, Iesu A temerario in clerum ingressu, libera nos, Iesu A peccato sacrilegii, libera nos, Iesu A spiritu incontinentiæ, libera nos, Iesu A turpi quæstu, libera nos, Iesu Ab omni simoniæ labe, libera nos, Iesu Ab indigna opum ecclesiasticarum dispensatione, libera nos, Iesu Ab amore mundi eiusque vanitatum, libera nos, Iesu Ab indigna Mysteriorum tuorum celebratione, libera nos, Iesu Per æternum sacerdotium tuum, libera nos, Iesu Per sanctam unctionem, qua a Deo Patre in sacerdotem constitutus es, libera nos, Iesu Per sacerdotalem spiritum tuum, libera nos, Iesu Per ministerium illud, quo Patrem tuum super terram clarificasti, libera nos, Iesu Per cruentam tui ipsius immolationem semel in cruce factam, libera nos, Iesu Per illud idem sacrificium in altari quotidie renovatum, libera nos, Iesu Per divinam illam potestatem, quam in sacerdotibus tuis invisibiliter exerces, libera nos, Iesu Ut universum ordinem sacerdotalem in sancta religione conservare digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos Ut pastores secundum cor tuum populo tuo providere digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos Ut illos spiritus sacerdotii tui implere digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos Ut labia sacerdotum scientiam custodiant, Te rogamus, audi nos Ut in messem tuam operarios fideles mittere digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos Ut fideles mysteriorum tuorum dispensatores multiplicare digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos Ut eis perseverantem in tua voluntate famulatum tribuere digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos Ut eis in ministerio mansuetudinem, in actione sollertiam et in oratione constantiam
Te rogamus, audi nos Ut per eos sanctissimi Sacramenti cultum ubique promovere digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos Ut qui tibi bene ministraverunt, in gaudium tuum suscipere digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, parce nobis, Domine Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, exaudi nos, Domine Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, Domine Iesu, Sacerdos, audi nos Iesu, Sacerdos, exaudi nos
Ecclesiæ tuæ, Deus, sanctificator et custos, suscita in ea per Spiritum tuum idoneos et fideles sanctorum mysteriorum dispensatores, ut eorum ministerio et exemplo christiana plebs in viam salutis te protegente dirigatur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Deus, qui ministrantibus et ieiunantibus discipulis segregari iussisti Saulum et Barnabam in opus ad quod assumpseras eos, adesto nunc Ecclesiæ tuæ oranti, et tu, qui omnium corda nosti, ostende quos elegeris in ministerium. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Benediction, the acclamations and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Chant: Laudate Dominum.
At the end of the celebration, the Act of Entrustment and Consecration of Priests to the Most Blessed Virgin,
following the formula used by Benedict XVI at the conclusion of the Year for Priests, may be used:
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.
We are mindful that, without Jesus,
we can do nothing good (cf. Jn. 15:5)
and that only through him, with him and in him,
will we be instruments of salvation
for the world.
Bride of the Holy Spirit,
obtain for us the inestimable gift
of transformation in Christ.
Through the same power of the Spirit that
making you the Mother of the Saviour,
help us to bring Christ your Son
to birth in ourselves too.
May the Church
be thus renewed by priests who are holy,
priests transfigured by the grace of him
who makes all things new.
Mother of Mercy,
it was your Son Jesus who called us
to become like him:
light of the world and salt of the earth (cf. Mt. 5:13-14).
through your powerful intercession,
never to fall short of this sublime vocation,
nor to give way to our selfishness,
to the allurements of the world
and to the wiles of the Evil One.
Preserve us with your purity,
guard us with your humility
and enfold us with your maternal love
that is reflected in so many souls
consecrated to you,
who have become for us
true spiritual mothers.
Mother of the Church,
we priests want to be pastors
who do not feed themselves
but rather give themselves to God for their brethren,
finding their happiness in this.
Not only with words, but with our lives,
we want to repeat humbly,
day after day,
Our “here I am”.
Guided by you,
we want to be Apostles
of Divine Mercy,
glad to celebrate every day
the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar
and to offer to those who request it
the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Advocate and Mediatrix of grace,
you who are fully immersed
in the one universal mediation of Christ,
invoke upon us, from God,
a heart completely renewed
that loves God with all its strength
and serves mankind as you did.
Repeat to the Lord
your efficacious word:
“They have no wine” (Jn. 2:3),
so that the Father and the Son will send upon us
a new outpouring of
the Holy Spirit.
Full of wonder and gratitude
at your continuing presence in our midst,
in the name of all priests
I too want to cry out:
“Why is this granted me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:43).
Our Mother for all time,
do not tire of “visiting us”,
consoling us, sustaining us.
Come to our aid
and deliver us from every danger
that threatens us.
With this act of entrustment and consecration,
we wish to welcome you
more deeply, more radically,
for ever and totally
into our human and priestly lives.
Let your presence cause new blooms to burst forth
in the desert of our loneliness,
let it cause the sun to shine on our darkness,
let it restore calm after the tempest,
so that all mankind shall see the salvation
of the Lord,
who has the name and the face of Jesus,
who is reflected in our hearts,
for ever united to yours!
Final Chant: Salve Regina