At the priestly ordination of deacons of the Prelature, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome (May 8, 2010)
Dearest sons who are about to be ordained. Dear brothers and sisters.
1. Just recently we celebrated “Good Shepherd Sunday,” which
takes its name from the Gospel texts which are read in that Mass. It is a common practice to celebrate priestly ordinations on the same day and also to pray in a special way for priests. As we begin today’s celebration I entreat all of you to ask our Lord to make these men, as well as all the priests in the world, into true saints. Let us accompany them closely with our prayers and sacrifices.
Today, by means of the imposition of the Bishop’s hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, a new group of well prepared men will be added to the innumerable number of priests who have been ordained be- fore them. From this day forward, they will be able to collaborate with the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, in guiding the Christian people by means of the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the pastoral care of the souls entrusted to them.
Let us pause for a moment to consider the divine origin of the sa- cred ministry. The Apostles, who were chosen directly by Our Lord, were completely normal men. They had the same weaknesses that we do. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ promises them that the Holy Spirit will always be present in the life of the Church. And so it happens that when the apostles unite to resolve certain difficulties after Pentecost, they leave us a wonderful testimony of this presence: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28).
This reminds me of the admiration that St. Josemaría Escrivá expressed when commenting on this daring expression used by the Apostles. “They reached an agreement and then they drafted their conciliar decrees using that fantastic affirmation: visum est enim Spiritui Sancto et nobis ... It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. What boldness!”
2. At the center of the ordination ceremony, we find the gesture of the imposition of hands by the Bishop. This gesture, which is carried out in silence, signifies that Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, takes possession of the priest in an extremely special way. As Benedict XVI explains, it is as if Our Lord is saying to each candidate: “You belong to me. . . . You are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. You are kept safely in the palm of my hands, and this is precisely how you find yourself in the immensity of my love. Stay in my hands, and give me yours.”
I now say to you, sons of mine who are about to be transformed into priests: always remain very close to Our Lord by means of prayer and sacrifice. Be sure to carry out your ministerial duties with love, day in and day out. Deal with Our Lord not only when you celebrate the Eucharist but also throughout the day. Be very devoted to the Blessed Virgin, Our Mother, and to St. Joseph. By imitating the example of St. Josemaría, our beloved father, you will always remain well protected in the hands of Jesus.
In addition to the imposition of hands by the Bishop, which together with the consecratory prayer constitutes the sacrament’s essential sign, various priests will also impose their hands on the candidates. This signifies the fraternal reception of the new priests into the priestly order. Indeed, the sacrament creates a strong bond of communion among all priests. The joys and sufferings of some are the joys and sufferings of all the others. Keep this in mind, my sons, so that you may aid your brother priests in all of their needs, so that you may truly be their servants, and so that you may also docilely let yourself be helped by the others.
3. Once they have changed into the priestly vestments for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, the new priests will have their hands anointed with holy oil. This gesture is also very significant. “The human hand is the instrument of human action, it is the symbol of the human capacity to face the world, precisely to ‘take it in hand’. The Lord has laid his hands upon us and he now wants our hands so that they may become his own in the world. He no longer wants them to be in- struments for taking things, people, or the world for ourselves, to reduce them to being our possession, but in- stead, by putting ourselves at the service of his love, they can pass on his divine touch.”
In his mercy God entrusts great treasures into the hands of priests. With their hands they take up the bread and the chalice of wine which are then transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. With the same hands they impart God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation and they anoint the sick with the holy oils. With those same hands they bless the apostolic initiatives of their brothers in the Church, they offer fraternal aid to the needy, and they express their desire to serve all men without exception.
“The Sacrament of Orders”— writes St. Josemaría—“effectively equips the priest to lend Our Lord his voice, his hands, his whole being.” This is the foundation of the incomparable dignity of the priesthood. The Church has defined as a dogma of faith that this dignity does not depend on the personal worthiness of individual priests. St. Josemaría thus used to give the fol- lowing advice: “If you ever come across a priest who apparently does not seem to be following the teach- ing of the Gospel—do not judge him, let God judge him—bear in mind that if he celebrates Mass validly, with the intention of conse- crating, Our Lord will still come down into his hands, however un- worthy they are. Where could you find greater self-surrender and anni- hilation? Here it is greater than in Bethlehem or on Calvary. Why? Be- cause Jesus’ heart, filled with a desire to redeem, does not want anyone to
be able to say that he has not been called. He goes out to meet those who do not seek Him.”
The same thing holds for the other sacraments. “It’s Love! There is no other explanation for it. When it comes to speaking of Christ’s Love, we are lost for words. He has so abased Himself that He accepts everything; He exposes Himself to everything—to sacrilege, to blas- phemy and to the cold indifference of so many people—in order to offer even one man the chance of hearing the beating of his Heart in his wounded side.”
4. Today’s ordination takes place within the Year for Priests proclaimed by Benedict XVI to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the dies natalis of the Holy Curé of Ars. As we listen to the words of this great pastor let us thank God for giving the Church the gift of these new priests. “We will only fully understand the priesthood in heaven. If, while still in this life, we really understood what a priest represents we would die, not from fear but from love.” He goes on to explain, “Without priests none of God’s gifts would do us any good. Of what use to us is a house filled with gold if no- body can open its door for us? The priest holds the key to the heavenly treasures: he is the one who opens the door; he is God’s good admin- istrator, the administrator of his goods.”
There is thus no reason to be surprised if the enemies of God attempt to discredit the institution of the priesthood in an infinite variety of ways. In fact this has happened often in the history of the Church. “When someone wants to destroy religion,” the Holy Curé of Ars rightly affirms, “they begin by attacking the priest- hood, because wherever there are no priests there is neither sacrifice nor religion.”
Thanks be to God, this will never happen. As Our Lord has promised us, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Mt 28:20). We are thus filled with confidence: Jesus Christ will never abandon his Church and, as proof of his promise, he has sent the Holy Spirit into the world.
I do not want to conclude with- out congratulating the parents, the brothers and sisters, the families and the friends of the new priests. They now have more need than ever of your prayers, of our prayers. Let us pray for them and for all priests, that they be holy and that there be enough of them to attend to the needs of the Church in the entire world. Let us ask the Master of the harvest that he send many holy la- borers into his harvest (cf. Mt 9:38).
Let us pray in a special way for the Pope, for his collaborators in governing the Church, for the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, and for all of the Bishops in the world. We entrust this prayer to Mary the Mother of priests, asking her to take special care of these sons of hers, helping them to be more and more identified with Jesus Christ, the Eternal High priest. Amen.