June 15, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Relationship of Eucharist and holy orders most clearly seen at Mass

(Fifth in a series)

The apostolic exhortation “The Sacrament of Charity” provides a reflection on the Eucharist and the sacrament of holy orders.

“The intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders clearly emerges from Jesus’ own words in the Upper Room: ‘Do this in memory of me’ (Lk 22:19). On the night before he died, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and at the same time established the priesthood of the New Covenant. He is priest, victim and the altar: the mediator between God the Father and his people (cf. Heb 5:5-10), the victim of atonement (cf. Jn 2:2, 4:10) who offers himself on the altar of the Cross. No one can say ‘this is my body’ and ‘this is the cup of my blood’ except in the name and in the person of Christ, the one high priest of the new and eternal Covenant” (cf. Heb 8-9) (n. 23).

The Holy Father recalls several important points about the relationship between the sacrament of the Eucharist and holy orders. “First of all, we need to stress once again that the connection between Holy Orders and the Eucharist is seen most clearly at Mass, when the bishop or priest presides in the person of Christ the Head.

“The Church teaches that priestly ordination is the indispensable condition for the valid celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, ‘in the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of the Body, Shepherd of his flock, High Priest of the redemptive sacrifice’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1548). Certainly the ordained minister also acts ‘in the name of the whole Church, when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice’ (CCC, #1555). As a result, priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands. This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality” (n. 23).

The Synod on the Eucharist re-emphasized that the ministerial priesthood, through ordination, calls for complete configuration to Christ.

“While respecting the different practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches, there is need to reaffirm the profound meaning of priestly celibacy, which is rightly considered a priceless treasure. … The fact that Christ himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission even to the sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church. It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms. Celibacy is a special way of conforming oneself to Christ’s own way of life. This choice has first and foremost a nuptial meaning; it is a profound identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives his life for his Bride” (n. 24).

Pope Benedict XVI writes: “In continuity with the great ecclesial tradition, with the Second Vatican Council and with my predecessors in the papacy, I reaffirm the beauty and the importance of priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God, and I therefore confirm that it remains obligatory in the Latin tradition. Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself” (n. 24).

The Synod considered the difficult situation that has arisen in various dioceses which face a shortage of priests.

“Efforts need to be made to encourage greater awareness of this situation at every level. … The Synod discussed pastoral initiatives aimed at promoting, especially among the young, an attitude of interior openness to a priestly calling” (n. 25).

The Holy Father cautions that the current shortage should not cause bishops to be less careful in admission of candidates for the priesthood. He also made the point that the pastoral care of vocations needs to involve the entire Christian community in every area of life; he encourages exploring the matter with families, which are often indifferent or even opposed to the idea of a priestly vocation.

The pope writes that we need to have ever greater faith and hope in God’s Providence. Finally, he extends a special word of thanks to bishops, priests and deacons who serve faithfully and generously. †

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