Crusade Meditations: Winter 2005

The Priest:
Christ Present Among Us

“The Lord Himself will give you a sign, behold a virgin shall be with Child and will bear a Son, and His name will be Emmanuel, for God is with us” (Is 7:14). These words of the prophet Isaiah are echoed in Jesus’ last testament to His disciples before ascending into heaven: “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time” (Mt 28:20). Both prophecies are fulfilled preeminently in His real and substantial presence in the Holy Eucharist. For the Eucharist is God’s presence among us, His loving, nourishing, healing, comforting, enduring, self-giving presence among us. “And His delight was to be among the sons of men” (Prov 8:31). But the Eucharist is more than merely Christ’s substantial presence, His body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearances of bread and wine. For the Eucharistic sacrifice is also the same sacrifice as the sacrifice on the Cross. “The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it…[Rather, the Mass] makes Christ’s one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 12). Through the Eucharist, then, we are with Christ on Calvary and receive His grace at its source.

But as our Holy Father points out so emphatically, without the priest, there can be no Eucharist. For the ministry of the priest is “essential for validly linking the Eucharistic consecration to the sacrifice of the Cross and to the Last Supper. The assembly gathered together for the celebration of the Eucharist, if it is to be a truly Eucharistic assembly, absolutely requires the presence of an ordained priest as its president”  (EdeE, 29). The Holy Father comments that though the power of consecration is reserved to bishops and priests, rather than belittling the role of the laity, within the context of the Mystical Body this power should be seen as a gift that “redounds to the benefit of all” (EdeE, 30). We see, then, that the Eucharist and the priesthood are essentially linked. Our Holy Father goes so far as to say that the Eucharist “is the principle and central raison d’être of the sacrament of priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist” (Dominicae Cenae, 2). In order to have Christ among us, then, we need the priest. For through him, and him alone, God comes to be with us in the Holy Eucharist.

Christ remains among us, however, in more ways than in His substantial presence in the Eucharist. As the Second Vatican Council teaches following the long tradition of the Church, Christ is also really present among us “in the person of His minister” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). The priest makes Christ present because he acts in persona Christi at every liturgical celebration. In persona Christi, as Pope John Paul II teaches, “means more than offering ‘in the name of’ or ‘in the place of’ Christ. In persona means in specific sacramental identification with the eternal High Priest Who is the author and principal subject of this sacrifice of His, a sacrifice in which, in truth, nobody can take His place” (Dominicae Cenae, 8). When, therefore, the priest says, “This is My body…This is My blood”, it is Christ Himself Who speaks and offers Himself to the Father. When the priest absolves us from our sins, he does not say “Christ absolves you from your sins”. Rather, he says, “Ego te absolvo…I absolve you”, that is, Christ acting in me absolves you from your sins. On the altar, in the confessional, praying the divine office: Christ is there, really present, in the person of His minister. But this presence extends beyond the celebration of the Sacraments: “The Eucharist extends its efficacy to all the minister’s actions, since the priestly function does not only include sanctification but also shepherding and teaching” (Cardinal Schotte, Lineamenta for the XI Ordinary Synod of Bishops, 49). The words of the homily and the counsels given in Confession, then, when spoken by the priest who allows himself to be led by the Spirit, are in a special way efficacious words of Christ for those who receive them. This efficacy derives not only from his priestly Ordination but also from the Eucharist, that is to say, from his union with Christ. For as the Second Vatican Council teaches, “The pastoral love [of the priest] flows mainly from the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is therefore the center and root of the whole priestly life” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 14). We should be open, therefore, to receive these words of the priest with particular attention. For through the priest, Jesus is speaking to our hearts. As Our Lord says in the Gospel, “He who receives any one whom I send, receives Me; and he who receives Me, receives Him Who sent Me” (Jn 13:20).

Not only ordained priests, however, but all the People of God, as members of Christ’s Body and sharers in His common priesthood, are bearers of Christ and witnesses to His presence among us to the extent that they are conformed and united to Him by grace. For the more we are united to Christ, the more we will live by His Spirit, speak His words and love with His heart. Our words and actions will then bear a certain efficacy, to the extent that they derive from the Spirit of God. Our Blessed Mother is the foremost example of this efficacy of the word through her profound union with Christ. When Mary greeted her cousin, the child leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. What was the word of greeting spoken by Mary? Certainly it was the greeting commonly used among the Jewish people: “Shalom!”, a word that means completeness, soundness, welfare, peace! The greeting of Mary had the immediate effect of bringing true peace to the child John, who was destined to be the precursor of the Messiah. It is believed that at this moment the child was freed from Original Sin and, for this reason, was filled with the Holy Spirit. In this way the true soundness and welfare came to John through the instrumentality of the word of Mary. The efficacy of Mary’s word reminds one of the passage from the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me in vain, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55: 10-12).

As was said, the efficacy of Mary’s words derived from her union with Christ. When she spoke, it was the Spirit of Christ speaking through her, bringing His presence and grace to those who were open to receive them. Every member of the faithful is called Christian precisely because he bears Christ; he is Christ as a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. Every Christian is called to bear witness to Christ by living the love that Christ lived. But this identification of the Christian with Christ can be said in a more distinct way of His priests. For by the grace of his priestly ordination the priest is conformed both in his way of life and in his very being not only to Christ, but more precisely, to Christ as the Head of the Mystical Body. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, therefore, the priest offers the Sacrifice of Christ Himself, Christ as Head. The laity truly participate in this Sacrifice of Christ according to their common priesthood when they unite to it by the dispositions of their mind and hearts the offering of their own lives, works and sufferings in union with the divine Victim. They truly are Christ offering Himself to the Father as members of Christ the priest. Nevertheless, they do not offer Him in the same way as the priest, who in representing Christ the Head serves as a mediator between God and man. The priest offers Christ in the name of the whole Body of Christ, Head and members.

Further, the priest is given gifts whereby he becomes open for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and for the pastoral love with which Christ loves all men. This conformity to Christ and union with Him grows as the priest grows in holiness, being nourished especially by the Sacrament of the Eucharist and purified in holy Confession. Beyond the Sacraments, the priest grows in holiness and spiritual union with Christ most profoundly through Eucharistic Adoration outside the context of the Mass. Here he lies close to the Heart of Jesus beating with love for him and listens to His every wish like the Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper. Here before the Blessed Sacrament the soul of the priest is transformed, becoming truly Eucharistic and overflowing with the love with which Christ offered Himself for our salvation. The priest must live from this love and find in it the strength for his pastoral duties. For like Christ who “loved the Church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her” (Eph 5:25-26), the priest must also offer himself totally for the service of the Church.

Many priests of our day, however, are either unaware of the great benefit of Eucharistic Adoration or are too preoccupied with administration and pastoral duties to take advantage of this infinite wellspring of strength, holiness and love. In our own way, therefore, we can kneel before our Eucharistic Lord in the place of His priests. We can implore, especially in this Eucharistic Year, the graces, comfort and solace they need to fulfill their difficult calling to be “in the world but not of it”. We can love Jesus doubly for those who no longer find the time to give Him their love. Let us pray, therefore, for our priests especially in our hour of adoration. Let us receive Christ’s love for them and channel it to them through our continual intercession, that they may have the courage, the strength and, above all, the burning love to fulfill their mission: to be Christ present among and for all men, “Emmanuel”, God is with us.

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