Reflections on the
Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict
Eucharist and priesthood, faith and life,
celebration and mission, worship and love
by Claudio Cardinal Hummes
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
The Second Vatican Council
already emphasized the nature and importance of the spirituality
proper to diocesan priests as such. At that time, priests
seeking the path of holiness would often turn to the
spirituality of some religious Order or Congregation.
The Council, on the other hand, taught something else: "Priests
will acquire holiness in their own distinctive way by exercising
their functions sincerely and tirelessly in the Spirit of
Christ". It then immediately specified that priests may do this
in exercising the threefold munus: by being "ministers of the
Word of God", "as ministers of the sacred mysteries, especially
in the sacrifice of the Mass", and "by governing and shepherding
the People of God" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 13).
In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis
(1992), noting that many candidates to the priesthood today come
from the new movements and forms of spirituality, the late
Servant of God Pope John Paul II said: "The fact that
seminarians and diocesan priests take part in particular
spiritualities or ecclesial groupings is indeed, in itself, a
factor which helps growth and priestly fraternity. Such
participation, however, should not be an obstacle, but rather a
help to the ministry and spiritual life which are proper to the
diocesan priest" (n. 68).
The word "spirituality" derives from "spirit". Wondering about
someone's spirituality means inquiring what spirit moves and
inspires him or her in the discovery and realization of meaning
in life, in the search for goals and in understanding what his
or her crucial aspirations are. For us Christians, this spirit
is necessarily the Spirit of Christ. He must be our incentive
and our inspiration. We must aspire to him.
Consequently, the priest must also live this spirituality,
centered on Christ, but with specific features according to his
vocation, ministry and mission. He must be inspired by Christ,
the Servant and Head of the Church, in his triple munus of
Prophet, Priest and Pastor, since it is through this triple
munus of Christ that the priest truly participates in his own
right by virtue of his Ordination.
Benedict XVI also has priests constantly in mind in the Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, whose theme
is the Eucharist, source and summit of the Church's life and
mission. The Christian priesthood was founded on Christ, who
placed it essentially in connection with the Eucharist when at
the Last Supper he said to his Apostles: "Do this in remembrance
of me" (Lk 22:19; I Cor 11:25).
The Pope says that "the Eucharist is thus constitutive of the
Church's being and activity" (n. 15). In this sense, it is the
centre of the Church's life.
In his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), John
Paul II also taught that "the heart of the mystery of the
Church" was expressed in the affirmation: "The Church draws her
life from Christ in the Eucharist" (Introduction); hence, "the
Eucharist builds the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist"
The good of the
As for the Council, it affirmed: "The other sacraments, and
indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the
apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed
towards it. For in the Most Blessed Eucharist is contained the
whole spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself, our
Pasch and the living bread, which gives life to men through his
flesh — that flesh which is given life and gives life through
the Holy Spirit" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5).
If the Eucharist is the heart of the Church's life, it must also
form the spirituality of all Christians.
In Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI affirms: "The
Eucharist, as a mystery to be 'lived', meets each of us as we
are, and makes our concrete existence the place where we
experience daily the radical newness of the Christian life. The
Eucharistic sacrifice nourishes and increases within us all that
we have already received at Baptism with its call to holiness,
and this must be clearly evident from the way individual
Christians live their lives" (n. 79).
However, the Pope added, "The Eucharistic form of the Christian
life is seen in a very special way in the priesthood. Priestly
spirituality is intrinsically Eucharistic.... In order to give
an ever greater Eucharistic form to his existence, the priest...
should make his spiritual life his highest priority.
"He is called to seek God tirelessly, while remaining attuned to
the concerns of his brothers and sisters. An intense spiritual
life will enable him to enter more deeply into communion with
the Lord and to let himself be possessed by God's love, bearing
witness to that love at all times, even the darkest and most
difficult" (ibid., n. 80).
"Letting oneself be possessed by God's love" is truly
fundamental in spirituality and is profoundly Eucharistic.
Christian and priestly spiritual life, in fact, draws life from
an ever renewed personal and community encounter with Jesus
Christ. This powerful encounter consists in the concrete and
special experience of being touched by the love of Jesus Christ,
of being loved personally by him and as a result, of becoming
capable of responding to this love.
It is in feeling loved and in loving that human happiness
consists. The same is true of spirituality.
The Eucharist presents itself as the best opportunity for
experiencing this living experience of Christ, for meeting the
One who gives himself to us without reserve in his Body and in
his Blood that he gave for our salvation.
In the Eucharist, he loved us to the very end and, as he taught
his disciples at the Last Supper, he has taught us to love our
brothers and sisters as he has loved us, especially the poorest
and those suffering the most: "A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you
also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my
disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:34-35).
As we have seen, the Pope urges every priest to "make his
spiritual life his highest priority", since he is "called to
seek God tirelessly". The priest is called "to seek God", not
only in the sense of pursuing a greater theoretical knowledge of
God, but also in living a lively and profound experience of God.
Vital presence of God
In the absence of this experience, which must already be sought
during the seminary years and constantly renewed in the
presbyteral ministry, the priest will encounter major
difficulties in living his vocation and his mission. God cannot
be merely an abstract idea, a doctrine, a programme of life;
above all, he must be Someone with whom to develop a strong,
personal relationship and friendship, filial, adult and
responsible, a binding relationship of unconditional dedication
to the mission of saving humanity.
For this reason, the Pope affirms that the priest must "seek God
tirelessly while remaining attuned to the concerns of his
brothers and sisters". Together, the priest and Jesus Christ are
dedicated unreservedly to the salvation of humanity. Side by
side, they set out on mission.
Thus, just as Jesus spent entire nights in prayer with the
Father, undoubtedly talking to him about how his mission in this
world is proceeding, the priest must do likewise.
His constant reference to God and, in a different dimension, the
total gift of himself to the mission together with men and
women, even at the cost of his life, appears profoundly
Eucharistic. It is at the school of the Eucharist that the
priest is strengthened on this spiritual and pastoral journey of
Consequently, the Pope declares: "I join... in recommending 'the
daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not
present" (n. 80).
Whenever possible, it would obviously be better to celebrate
Mass with the participation of the faithful. This was warmly
recommended by the Second Vatican Council and Benedict XVI
confirms it by making his own what the Synod Fathers have
recognized, in other words: "The Synod Fathers acknowledged and
reaffirmed the beneficial influence on the Church's life of the
liturgical renewal which began with the Second Vatican
Ecumenical Council" (n. 3).
Nonetheless, the Pope bases his recommendation of daily Mass,
even without the participation of the faithful, on the argument
that it is consistent with "the objectively infinite value of
every celebration of the Eucharist" (n. 80). Indeed, Holy Mass
is also an act which is equivalent to a universal or even cosmic
— and also eschatological — embrace, so that even in the
physical absence of the faithful it continues to be essentially
communitarian, involving the entire Mystical Body of Christ,
which is the Church.
Daily celebration of Mass also has a "unique spiritual
fruitfulness. If celebrated in a faith-filled and attentive way,
Mass is formative in the deepest sense of the word, since it
fosters the priest's configuration to Christ and strengthens him
in his vocation" (n. 80).
Mass: daily focal
Furthermore, the celebration of Holy Mass must not be merely one
of the many activities of the day but, on the contrary, its
central moment, the most important act of the priestly ministry.
There is no more exalted, meaningful, involving, salvific,
transforming or vivifying event in the world, none more merciful
in regards to human misery, than the celebration of the
Eucharist, which makes present in history, renewing each time,
the one Paschal Sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered to the Father
for our salvation.
If Holy Mass is the most important daily act in human history,
it must be celebrated with the greatest possible dignity and
care. Benedict XVI writes: "The liturgy is a radiant expression
of the Paschal Mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and
calls us to communion..., the truth of God's love in Christ
encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to
emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation,
which is love" (n. 35).
All this is God's action. Now, "[s]ince the Eucharistic liturgy
is essentially an actio Dei which draws us into Christ through
the Holy Spirit, its basic structure is not something within our
power to change, nor can it be held hostage by the latest
trends" (n. 37).
Having considered this, one understands the importance of
"faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their
richness; indeed, for 2,000 years this way of celebrating has
sustained the faith life of all believers" as stressed by the
Pope (n. 38), and he adds: "Attentiveness and fidelity to the
specific structure of the rite express both a recognition of the
nature of Eucharist as a gift and, on the part of the minister,
a docile openness to receiving this ineffable gift" (n. 40).
As well as by a dignified celebration of the Eucharist,
Eucharistic spirituality, which must constitute the backbone of
presbyteral spirituality, is strengthened by Eucharistic
Visits to and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the
tabernacle during the course of the day are among its most
traditional expressions, as the example of so many saints has
confirmed. Truly, the hours spent before the Most Blessed
Sacrament are among the most precious in a priest's life.
We all learn this from the time we attended the seminary. These
hours are priceless opportunities to experience a long moment of
prayer and personal encounter with the Lord.
We know that in recent decades, with the liturgical reform of
the Second Vatican Council, it has not always been easy to
understand the relationship between the celebration of Holy Mass
and Eucharistic Adoration.
The Pope mentions this incomprehension and corrects it,
affirming: "During the early phases of the reform, the inherent
relationship between Mass and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
was not always perceived with sufficient clarity. For example,
an objection that was widespread at the time argued that the
Eucharistic Bread was given to us not to be looked at, but to be
"In the light of the Church's experience of prayer, however,
this was seen to be a false dichotomy.... Eucharistic Adoration
is simply the natural consequence of the Eucharistic
Celebration, which is itself the Church's supreme act of
adoration" (n. 66).
To manifest all the richness of the Eucharistic mystery in the
context of priestly spirituality, it is right to give further
emphasis to the following aspects.
First of all, the Trinitarian character of the Eucharistic
The Church encounters in the Eucharist the mystery of the Most
Holy Trinity and is inserted into its communion of life and love
through the memorial of the Paschal Mystery of the death and
Resurrection of Jesus Christ, celebrated and made sacramentally
Pope Benedict XVI says: "The Eucharist reveals the loving plan
that guides all of salvation history (cf. Eph 1:10; 3:8-11).
There the Deus Trinitas, who is essentially love (cf. I Jn
4:7-8), becomes fully a part of our, human condition. In the
bread and wine under whose appearances Christ gives himself to
us in the paschal meal (cf. Lk 22:1420; I Cor 11:23-26), God's
whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us.
God is a perfect communion of love between Father, Son and Holy
Spirit.... But it is in Christ, dead and risen, and in the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn
3:34), that we have become sharers of God's inmost life" (n. 8).
All this began when the Father sent forth his Son, made man in
the Virgin Mary's womb by the action of the Holy Spirit. In this
context, the Pope cites the illuminating Gospel passage: "God so
loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes
in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the
Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world
might be saved through him (Jn 3:16-17)" (n. 7).
The other Eucharistic element is the gift without reserve which
Christ makes of himself for the life of the world. "This is my
body which is given for you.... This cup which is poured out for
you is the new covenant in my blood" (Lk 22:19-20).
Thus, Jesus in the Eucharist of the Last Supper anticipated the
gift of his life on the Cross. He gave himself totally: "Greater
love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his
friends" (Jn 15:13).
Every time the priest celebrates the Eucharist, he learns from
Christ to give his own life without reserve for humanity's
salvation. This complete gift of himself, made possible by a
growing configuration with Jesus Christ, dead and risen, also
sustains and nourishes the priest in the charism of celibacy.
In the Eucharist, Christ distributes the Bread of Life, which is
himself, dead and risen. This is the true Bread for which every
human being profoundly hungers.
We have all been created for communion with the divine life of
the Most Holy Trinity. It is a life of love, because God is
love, a life of loving and of feeling loved. The Eucharistic
Bread is the testimony and gift of this divine love.
Solidarity with the
Yet at the same time, it reminds us that in this world material
bread, indispensable for our survival, has not been distributed
in a just or fraternal way. Indeed, many go hungry. They die of
hunger. Practical and effective solidarity with the poor is a
form of coherency necessary for anyone who partakes of the
The Pope says: "Our communities, when they celebrate the
Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of
Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who
believe in him to become 'bread that is broken' for others, and
to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world.
"Keeping in mind the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, we
need to realize that Christ still continues today to exhort his
disciples to become personally engaged: 'You yourselves, give
them something to eat' (Mt 14:16)" (n. 88).
In this broad vision of the Eucharist perceived as "bread broken
for the life of the world", Benedict XVI urges us, ever and
again, to let ourselves be involved in building a world of true
peace founded on "justice, reconciliation and forgiveness" (n.
89), but a world that "liberate[s] the immense masses of the
poor from destitution" (n. 90).
Lastly, it is necessary to consider that "an authentically
Eucharistic Church is a missionary Church" (n. 84). The
Eucharist compels the priest to be a missionary.
Some priests go in mission ad gentes. All, however, are called
to be missionaries among the people of their own parish and
diocese. Missionary in the strict sense of the word means people
who decide to set out and meet the people, especially Catholics
who have fallen away.
The field of missionary action is vast. The harvest is ripe and
truly risks being wasted. Today, the Church has a new awareness
that only a genuine missionary spirit can renew her.
The Pope writes: "The love that we celebrate in the Sacrament is
not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it
demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God's
love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him.
"The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the
Church's life, but also of her mission.... We cannot approach
the Eucharistic table without being drawn into the mission
which, beginning in the very heart of God, is meant to reach all
people. Missionary outreach is thus an essential part of the
Eucharistic form of the Christian life" (n. 84).
These are a few of the points contained in
that form part of an authentic presbyteral spirituality. In this
way, Benedict XVI shows once again his love for and closeness to
© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
October 17, 2007