At the ordination of deacons of the Prelature, Basilica of St. Eugene (May 21, 2005)

At the priestly ordination of deacons of the Prelature, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome

My dear sons who soon will become priests:

My dear brothers and sisters:

I greet you with St. Paul’s salutation to the Corinthians that we have just heard: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:14).

Today, the solemnity of the Holy Trinity, is a great day in the Church. We celebrate and adore the highest mystery of our faith, the central mystery of Christian life—of the life of every man and woman, who are all called to share in God’s life. This truth, revealed to us by Christ, infinitely surpasses the intellectual grasp of any creature and constitutes “the fruit and goal of our entire life.”[1] As St. Augustine says, “this is our ultimate joy, and there is none greater: to enjoy the Triune God in whose image we have been made.... This contemplation is promised as the aim of all of our actions and the eternal perfection of our joy.”[2]

Our joy on such a great feast is increased by the ordination of forty-two new priests. I cordially congratulate their families, and assure you that you are especially present in our hearts. But you must also pray a lot for the new priests. Now they need your prayers more than ever. At the same time, let us give thanks to God, who never ceases to bring forth ministers of Christ. And let us beseech him that they may be even more abundant throughout the whole world.

The priest, a man of the Eucharist

The spiritual riches of the priesthood are enormous. Each priest, in virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, is configured in a special way to the Eternal High Priest and is enabled to visibly represent him before men, taking his place and acting in persona Christi Capitis, that is to say, as a living instrument of Christ, the Head of the Church.

I would like to invite you to reflect for a moment on some of the aspects of this specific sacramental configuration with Christ. I refer to the Eucharistic, ecclesiological and Marian dimensions of the priestly ministry.

In first place, the Eucharistic dimension. As our beloved Pope John Paul II so often recalled, the Eucharist and the priesthood were born together in the Cenacle at Jerusalem, on the evening of Holy Thursday. Therefore “the life of a priest,” as he wrote in his last letter to priests, a few weeks before his death, “must, all the more, be ‘shaped’ by the Eucharist.”[3]

Between the priesthood and the Eucharist there exists, therefore, an indissoluble bond: the priest lives for the Eucharist, and the Eucharist, which is the Bread of Life for all Christians, can only be effected by bishops and their collaborators, the priests. Thus the paschal mystery of our Lord’s death and resurrection is made present in a sacramental way in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Pope Benedict XVI wanted to emphasize this truth of our faith from the first moments of his pontificate. Speaking of the “providential coincidence” of the beginning of his Petrine ministry with the Year of the Eucharist, he said: “The Eucharist makes constantly present the Risen Christ who continues to give himself to us, calling us to participate in the banquet of his Body and his Blood.”[4]

My dear candidates for the priesthood: always remember that the gift and task of consecrating the Eucharist, which our Lord is granting you today, brings with it a very great responsibility. At times the thought will occur to you that you are only poor men, and it is true: we all are. But have no fear. God, who called you, also offers you all of his help to be holy priests; that is to say, priests in love with Christ, dedicated to the salvation of souls, fully available for the needs of the apostolate. Follow the example of St. Josemaría, who liked to define himself as “a priest of Jesus Christ,” and also as “a sinner who loves Jesus Christ madly.” The two are perfectly reconcilable, because the incomparable dignity of the priesthood, as our Founder taught, is “a greatness which is on loan: it is completely compatible with my own littleness. I pray to God our Lord” he said, “to give all of us priests the grace to perform holy things in a holy way, to reflect in every aspect of our lives the wonders of the greatness of God.”[5]

The priest, builder of communion

If the Church “makes” the Eucharist through her priests, it is also certain that the Church itself is “born” of the Eucharist, as Pope John Paul II stressed in his last encyclical. From the Eucharistic dimension of the priesthood there stems necessarily its ecclesiological dimension. A priest lives for the Eucharist in the Church and at the service of the Church. Without full communion with the Roman Pontiff and one’s own Ordinary, a priest could not provide a true ecclesial service. From remotest antiquity, an important witness to this reality is found in the liturgy of the Mass, where mention is always made of the universal Church and of its visible head, the Pope, as well as of one’s own bishop and all the other bishops in communion with the Holy See.

In this regard, with gratitude to our Lord, I would like to recall the impressive manifestation of communion that was seen in Rome and in the whole world during the past weeks. Every sector in the Church was closely united around John Paul II in the moving farewell that accompanied his departure from this world, and then around Benedict XVI. During these days the Church was seen to be more alive than ever, under the stimulus of the Holy Spirit. It is a task that falls to everyone, and first of all to priests, to see to it that this precious inheritance not only is not lost, but that it is strengthened in the future. This close communion of Catholics, in both heart and deed, around the Vicar of Christ will necessarily produce great goods for the Church and for the whole world.

You, my dear ordinands, in addition to offering joyfully, in union with all the faithful, many prayers and mortifications for the Roman Pontiff, from now on have in your hands specific means for reinforcing this communion. Your conformation with Christ the Priest enables you to teach the Word of God with authority. Go even more deeply into the Church’s teachings, which you know very well, especially with the example of your complete adherence to the magisterium. In your specific case, being builders of communion in the Church, to which you are called, has to be manifested in what St. Josemaría called a “dominant passion” in Opus Dei: to love the unity of the Prelature with your whole heart, as an expression of the unity of the Church, of which the Work is a small part. You have to be instruments of unity among your fellow men and women and in the heart of all the apostolic activities in which you take part. A great mission awaits you, my sons, in your service to the Church, which will be so efficacious!

Another specific way of building communion, as priests, is by your joyful dedication, which at times may be fatiguing, to the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to you today. This sacrament brings about communion with God and with the others, reconciling with God and with the Church those who admit they are sinners and increasing grace in those who receive it worthily. This has to be another “dominant passion” of yours: to bring many souls to God in the holy sacrament of Penance.

All of us are called to carry out a great catechesis of confession. Bring your friends, relatives and acquaintances to the sacrament of divine mercy. You will make them happier and then they too will be eager to bring others to confession.

The Marian dimension of

the priesthood

Although only briefly, I would like to mention a third dimension of the priesthood: its special relationship with our Lady. Christ the Redeemer, whom priests represent, is not an abstraction but a specific Person: he is the eternal Son of God, born in time of a very specific woman, the Virgin Mary, whose blood runs in his veins. Being a priest precisely insofar as he was man, Jesus wanted to associate his Mother in his redemptive work. From high on the Cross, he addressed to his disciple those marvelous words: here is your mother; and to our Lady: here is your son (cf. Jn 19:26-27). Certainly every Christian is a child of Mary, but the priest is such by a new title as well. When Jesus directed himself to John, he was speaking to a man who had been invested with the priestly dignity the evening before, in the Cenacle.

Let us all meditate on these words of John Paul II: “In the ‘memorial’ of Calvary [in the Holy Mass] all that Christ accomplished by his passion and his death is present. Consequently all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present....

“Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting—like John—the one who is given to us anew as our Mother. It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us. Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist. If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist.”[6] As a result, the special relationship of the priest with the Eucharist also brings with it a special relationship of the priest with Mary.

I would like to cite here some words of St. Josemaría that have a universal value for all of us, but that in the Marian month of the present Eucharistic Year are especially timely. He wrote: “for me, the first Marian devotion—I like to see it that way—is the Holy Mass...Every day, as Christ comes down into the hands of the priest, there is renewed his real presence among us with his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity: the same Body and Blood that he took on in the womb of Mary.”[7] I recommend that everyone reflect on these words, and I do so myself. Let us try to have them very present in the coming weeks, preparing ourselves for the solemnity of Corpus Christi.

To conclude, I would like to pass on to you a thought of Benedict XVI, taken from the homily he gave a few days ago, when he took possession of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the seat of the Bishop of Rome. The Pope reminded us that from the Eucharistic sacrifice is born the apostolic yearnings of the people of God. And he added: “In this mystery, Christ’s love becomes permanently tangible among us. Here, again and again he gives himself. Here, again and again his heart is pierced; here he keeps his promise, the promise which, from the Cross, was to attract all things to himself....

“Thanks to the Eucharist, the Church is reborn ever anew! The Church is none other than that network—the Eucharistic community!—within which all of us, receiving the same Lord, become one body and embrace all the world.”[8]

Through the intercession of the Mother of the Church, of the Mother of priests, of the Mother of all Christians. Amen.

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on teh Books of Sentences, 1, dist. 2, 1, 1 exordio.

[2] St. Augustine, The Trinity, 1, 6, 18 and 17.

[3] John Paul II, Holy Thrusday Letter to Priests, March 13, 2005, no.1.

[4] Benedict XVI, Message after the Eucharistic celebration with the Cardinal electors in the Sistine Chapel, April 20, 2005, no.4.

[5] St. Josemaria, Homily A Priest Forever, April 13, 1973.

[6] John Paul II, Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, April 17, 2003, no.57.

[7] St. Josemaria, article published in the Libro de Aragon, Saragossa, 1976.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Mass for taking possession of the chair of the Bishop of Rome, May 7, 2005

Romana, n. 40, January-June 2005, p. 61-65.

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