Crusade Meditations: Summer 2020
The Eucharistic Priest
Ecclesia de Eucharistia — “The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by Him she is fed and by Him she is enlightened,” wrote St. John Paul II in his last encyclical letter. Also quoting the Second Vatican Council he often proclaimed the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life.” He stresses,
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and the work of our redemption is carried out. This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11)
Priest draws His life from the Holy Eucharist
The centrality of the Holy Eucharist instantly calls the dignity and importance of the ordained priesthood to mind. Only ordained priests have the power to offer the saving sacrifice of the Mass and to feed the people of God on their pilgrimage through life. Hence the saying, “Without the priest, no Eucharist; and without the Eucharist no salvation.”
On the other hand, we know well from experience that a single holy priest is incomparably more fruitful in the work of saving souls than many mediocre or lukewarm priests. This brings us to the question: what is it that distinguishes a holy priest from a not so-holy priest? The distinctive criteria is his relationship to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist! Every priest has tasks and duties; one serves as a pastor, another as a chancellor, again another as financial administrator of a religious community. Nevertheless, the fundamental reason why he was ordained a priest is the Holy Eucharist. Hence, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist must define, center and orientate his entire life and priestly ministry. A priest must realize in his inmost being the truth that he draws his life and holiness from the Holy Eucharist! In Him, he lives, moves and has his being (cf. Acts 17:28). Everything good comes forth from the Holy Eucharist and everything returns to the Holy Eucharist. Therefore, without the Holy Eucharist there can be no holy priest.
The Inseparable Unity between the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood
On the very night, before He died, Jesus gave us two great gifts which are inseparably united: the gift of Himself in the Eucharist and the gift of the priesthood to guarantee His living presence in the world until the end of the time. The Council of Trent defined the following doctrine:
Our Blessed Lord, was about to offer Himself, once and for all, to the Father on the altar of the Cross where His death would accomplish the eternal redemption of men. But His priesthood was not to end with His death. Therefore, at the Last Supper, during the night of His betrayal, He willed to leave to His beloved Spouse, the Church, a visible sacrifice, necessary as such to our human nature…. Therefore, in His quality of Eternal Priest according to the order of Melchisedech, He made the oblation of His Body and of His Blood, to God the Father under the species of bread and wine. Then, He gave that Body and that Blood to the Apostles who were constituted at that point priests of the New Testament, and lastly, with the words: “Do this in memory of Me,” He commanded the Apostles themselves and their successors in the priesthood to repeat that same oblation. (Session, 22, chapter l.)
The very first men were consecrated bishops when during the Last Supper Jesus consecrated bread and wine and fed them for the first time with His Body and Blood. This profound mystery highlights powerfully the truth that the ordained priesthood and the Holy Eucharist were “born” together, Christ instituting them together to perpetuate forever his paschal sacrifice. This underscores the inseparable unity between Christ’s Eucharistic Sacrifice and the priestly order of the New Testament. This is the reason why the Church held firm from ancient times to this day that while the other sacraments can be celebrated outside Mass, priestly ordination can only be fittingly accomplished in the context of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
After giving His Body and Blood to the newly ordained apostles Jesus charged them, “Do this in memory of Me,” commanding them and their successors to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice “from the rising of the sun, even to its setting … And everywhere they bring sacrifice to My name, and a pure offering” (Mal 1:11) until the end of the world. In this way the ordained ministers themselves continually nourish and strengthen their priestly lives from this Divine Sacrament and then give It to all the faithful who hunger for the Bread of Life.
Priest, “imitate what you hold in your hands!”
Speaking about the Holy Eucharist, it must be stated that the Mass is not only for the sake of confecting the Eucharist, but it re-enacts Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary. In the Mass Christ’s sacrifice becomes truly present for our sake, and its redeeming grace is dispensed to the priest himself and to the faithful. It is through his interior participation in Christ’s Eucharistic Sacrifice that the priest’s faith is nourished; he must never act like a mere functionary, but with a Christ-like heart and priestly self-surrender he ought to sacrifice himself along with the Sacrifice he is offering. In the same line Pope Pius XII wrote to the clergy in the entire world, “The soul of the priest must refer what takes place on the sacrificial altar to himself; for just as Jesus Christ immolates Himself, His minister must immolate himself along with Him” (Menti Nostrae, 66).
This sacrifice of himself is, of course, not limited to the celebration of Mass, but must be extended to and comprise his entire life. The priest must take sincerely to heart the Church’s maxim directed to priests offering Holy Mass, “Be aware of what you are doing; imitate what you hold in your hands.” Without this imitation his priesthood is doomed to fail. Pope Pius XII states, “It is not enough for him [the priest] to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice, but in a very deep sense, he must live it; for in this way, he can draw from it the heavenly strength that will enable him to be profoundly transformed and to share in the expiatory life of the Divine Redeemer Himself” (Menti Nostrae, 65).
Just as Christ’s life was directed towards the sacrifice of Himself, in the same way, every priestly life must reproduce Christ’s example in himself. In other words, his time no longer belongs to him anymore but to God and the people; his talents are not for his own enrichment, but for the sake of building up the Kingdom of God; philosophical and theological studies are not for the advancement of career and fame, but to make the splendor of truth shine more radiantly in the world. Conveniences, tastes and preferences must be sacrificed, whenever priestly identification with Christ, the High Priest, calls for it. In other words, the priest is not his own; he is for God and for the sake of bringing people to God.
Called to the Eucharistic Life
Every priest is called to be a Eucharistic priest with every fiber of his being! The Holy Curé of Ars was devoted to the Blessed Sacrament with a most intense passion and charity; the tabernacle was like an irresistible magnet, from which a divine force drew him to his Eucharistic Lord. When people saw him offering Mass, how he prayed, how he moved, how he genuflected, he stirred up in a most contagious way in the faithful reverence and love for Christ hidden in the Blessed Sacrament. He told his parishioners most naturally, “He is the One Who has loved us so much; why shouldn’t we love Him in return?”
One proof of love is that we spend time with the beloved. Jesus Himself asked Peter, James and John to spend time with Him, “Remain here and keep watch with me” (Mt 26:38). When they failed He gently reprimanded them, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Mt 26:40). This request to make a Holy Hour is directed to every priest. The Sacred Heart is grieved when there is an inconsistency between the sublime priestly call and its poor realization in daily life. Fulton Sheen was known for his commitment to make a daily Holy Hour. He points out how intimately connected Eucharistic devotion is with the priest’s growth in holiness and fruitfulness in pastoral activity. Referring to St. Thomas Aquinas he writes,
The priest’s power over the corpus mysticum [meaning the members of the Mystical Body of the Church] follows from his power over the corpus physicum [meaning: the Body and Blood] of Christ. It is because he consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ that the priest can teach, govern and sanctify the members of the Church. Practically, this means that he walks into the confessional from the foot of the altar, that he [evangelizes] after having enacted the mystery of Redemption. Every sick call, every word of counsel in the parlor, every catechism lesson taught to children, every official act in the chancery flows from the altar. All power resides there, and the more shortcuts we [priests] take from the tabernacle to our other priestly duties, the less spiritual strength we have for those duties. (The Priest is not his own, p. 231)
Spending time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is not a devotion like others, but the filling of the priest’s mind and heart with Jesus’ Real Presence. Fulton Sheen says, “A priest can give only what he possesses. To give Christ to others, one must possess Him.” A Eucharistic priest is a most persuasive inspiration and motivation for those who are discerning the priesthood. “I want to be like this holy priest!” becomes an ardent desire in their own hearts. If there are holy priests, we don’t have to worry about new vocations.
Our world and culture have gone wrong in many ways. This great darkness could only grow so strong because those who are called to be children of light—and here are meant first of all the pastors—do not live up to their calling. Therefore, the crisis in the world and the Church is essentially a crisis of the priesthood. The priestly vocation is most sublime, and therefore in many ways it is also the most difficult to live up to and is certainly subjected to the most attacks. The remedy for priestly laxity is Christ encountered in the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament. All graces given to man, the angels and the physical creation originate ultimately in the Holy Eucharist.
The crisis in the priesthood and the shortage of vocations has its root in the lack of Eucharistic priests. There are priests who do not believe in the Real Presence; the larger number of priests certainly believes in the Real Presence and maybe even preach about It, but relatively few put the Mass and the Eucharist at the center of their lives. Is not the lack of close connection between the offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and their personal lives the reason behind tepidity and the failure in the apostolate? The holy Cure of Ars said, “The cause of priestly laxity is not paying attention to the Mass!”
Dear Crusaders, God has created us in interdependence, meaning that none of us can attain salvation and eternal beatitude on our own. You, the faithful need the priests, for without priests there is no Holy Eucharist and thus no grace. Jesus charged all the faithful with the obligation, “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for His harvest” (Lk 10:2). This must not be understood in the sense that we should only pray for new vocations, but we also ought to for the sanctification of those who are already serving as priests. The Little Flower called souls who pray and sacrifice for priests “apostles of the apostles”; they “preserve the salt of the earth” so that it keeps its salty permeating taste.
Nothing will console the Blessed Mother more than when you join her in pleading and sacrificing for her priestly sons (possibly before the Blessed Sacrament), in making reparation for the lack of Eucharistic devotion in the lives of priests. May they return ever more eagerly to this sublime mystery of our faith and draw from its inexhaustible fruits for the grace of holiness, the salvation of souls and the repatriation of the entire creation. May God reward you for praying for priests!
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