Bookmark and Share

Priests are ordained to celebrate Mass

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 12 May 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. The complete dimension of the presbyter's mission in relation to the Eucharist is understood if one considers that this sacrament is primarily the renewal at the altar of the sacrifice of the cross, the central moment in the work of redemption. Christ, the priest and victim, is as such the artisan of universal salvation, in obedience to the Father. He is the one high priest of the new and eternal covenant, who by accomplishing our salvation offers perfect worship to the Father, a worship which ancient celebrations of the Old Testament merely prefigured. By the sacrifice of his own blood on the cross, Christ "entered once for all into the sanctuary, thus obtaining eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). He abolished every ancient sacrifice in order to establish a new one by offering himself to the Father's will (cf. Ps 40:8). "By this 'will,' we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.... For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated" (Heb 10:10, 14).

In sacramentally renewing the sacrifice of the cross, the presbyter reopens that source of salvation in the Church and the entire world [1] .

2. For this reason the 1971 Synod of Bishops pointed out, in accord with the documents of Vatican II, that "The priestly ministry reaches its summit in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the source and center of the Church's unity" [2].

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church asserts: "They exercise their sacred function especially in the Eucharistic worship or the celebration of the Mass by which acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the prayers of the faithful with the sacrifice of their head and renew and apply in the sacrifice of the Mass until the coming of the Lord the only sacrifice of the New Testament, namely that of Christ offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father" (LG 28; cf. CCC 1566).

In this regard, the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis makes two fundamental assertions: a) the community is gathered by the proclamation of the Gospel so that all can make a spiritual offering of themselves; b) the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect through union with Christ's sacrifice, offered in an unbloody, sacramental manner by the hands of the priests. Their whole priestly ministry draws its force from this one sacrifice [3] .

This shows the connection between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful. It also shows how the priest, among all the faithful, is especially called to identify himself with Christ mystically as well as sacramentally, in order to be himself in some way sacerdos et hostia, according to the beautiful expression of St. Thomas Aquinas [4] .

3. In the Eucharist the presbyter reaches the high point of his ministry when he pronounces Jesus' words: "This is my Body.... This is the cup of my Blood...." These words concretize the greatest exercise of that power which enables the priest to make present the sacrifice of Christ. Then the community is truly built up and developed in a sacramental way, and thus with divine efficacy. The Eucharist is indeed the sacrament of communion and unity, as was asserted by the 1971 Synod of Bishops and more recently by the letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith On Some Aspects of the Church Understood As Communion [5] .

This is how one explains the piety and fervor with which saintly priests--about whom hagiography tells us abundantly--always celebrated Mass, not hesitating to make adequate preparation beforehand and afterward to make suitable acts of thanksgiving. In order to help with making these acts the Missal offers appropriate prayers, often laudably printed on special cards in sacristies. We also know that on the theme of sacerdos et hostia various works of priestly spirituality have been written and can always be recommended to priests.

4. Here is another essential point of Eucharistic priestly theology, the subject of our catechesis: the whole ministry and all the sacraments are directed toward the Eucharist, in which, "The Most Blessed Eucharist contains the entire spiritual good of the Church [6] , that is, Christ himself, our Pasch and Living Bread, by the action of the Holy Spirit through his very flesh vital and vitalizing, giving life to men who are thus invited and encouraged to offer themselves, their labors and all created things, together with him" (PO 5).

In the celebration of the Eucharist, therefore, the greatest participation takes place in the perfect worship which Christ the high priest gives to the Father by representing and expressing the whole created order. The presbyter sees and recognizes that his life is thus deeply linked to the Eucharist. On the one hand he feels the horizons of his spirit broadened on a global scale, embracing even heaven and earth, and on the other, he is aware of the increased need and responsibility to impart this treasure--"the entire spiritual good of the Church"--to the community.

5. Therefore, in the projects and programs of his pastoral ministry, he keeps in mind that the sacramental life of the faithful is directed toward the Eucharist (cf. PO 5) and he will see to it that Christian formation aims at the active, conscious participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic celebration.

Today it is necessary to rediscover the central importance of this celebration in Christian life and in the apostolate. The data on the Mass attendance of the faithful is not encouraging. Although the zeal of many priests has led to a generally fervent and active participation, the attendance percentages remain low. It is true that in this area, more than in any other regarding the interior life, the value of statistics is quite relative; furthermore, it is not the structured, outward expression of worship that proves its real worth. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the fact that outward worship is normally a logical consequence of what is inside [7] . In the case of Eucharistic worship, it is a consequence of faith itself in Christ the priest and his redeeming sacrifice. Nor would it be wise to minimize the importance of the celebration of worship by citing the fact that the vitality of the Christian faith is shown by conduct in complete conformity with the Gospel, rather than by ritual gestures. In fact, the Eucharistic celebration is not a mere ritual gesture. It is a sacrament, that is, an intervention of Christ himself who communicates to us the dynamism of his love. It would be a pernicious illusion to claim that one is acting in accordance with the Gospel without receiving strength from Christ himself in the Eucharist, the sacrament he instituted for this purpose. Such a claim would be a radically anti-Gospel attitude of self-sufficiency. The Eucharist gives Christians greater strength to live according to the demands of the Gospel; it makes them more fully members of the ecclesial community to which they belong; it renews and enriches in them the joy of communion in the Church.

Therefore, by catechesis, pastoral exhortation and the excellent quality of the celebration in its liturgical and ceremonial aspect, the priest will make every effort to encourage participation in the Eucharist. He will thus succeed, as the Council stresses (cf. PO 5), in teaching the faithful to offer the divine victim to God the Father in the sacrifice of the Mass and, in union with this victim, to make an offering of their own lives in service to their brothers and sisters. The faithful will also learn to seek pardon for their sins, to meditate on the Word of God, to pray with sincere hearts for all the needs of the Church and the world and to put all their trust in Christ the Saviour.

6. Finally, I want to mention that the priest has the mission to promote the worship of the Eucharistic presence also outside of the celebration of Mass, by striving to make his own church a Christian "house of prayer," one in which, according to the Council, "The presence of the Son of God, our Savior, offered for us on the altar of sacrifice bestows strength and blessings on the faithful" (PO 5). This house must be a worthy place for prayer and sacred functions both for its good order, cleanliness, the neatness with which it is maintained, and for the artistic beauty of its environment, which has a great importance for the way it forms and inspires prayer. For this reason the Council recommends that the priest "properly cultivate liturgical knowledge and art" (PO 5).

I have called attention to these aspects because they too belong to the complex picture of a good "care of souls" on the part of priests, especially parish priests and all those responsible for churches and other places of worship. In any case, I stress the close connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist, as the Church teaches us. I reaffirm with conviction and deep spiritual joy that the presbyter is above all the man of the Eucharist: Christ's servant and minister in this sacrament, in which--according to the Council, summarizing the teaching of the ancient Fathers and doctors--"the entire spiritual good of the Church is contained" (PO 5). Every priest, at any level, in any area of work, is the servant and minister of the paschal mystery accomplished on the cross and lived anew on the altar for the redemption of the world.

[1]   cf. CCC 1362-1372
[2]   Ench. Vat., IV, 1166; cf. AG 39
[3]   cf. PO 2; CCC l566
[4]   cf. Summa Theol., III, q. 83, a. 1, ad 3
[5]   cf. Communionis Notio 11
[6]   cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., III, q. 65, a. 3, ad 1; q. 79, a. 1
[7]   cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., II-II, q. 81, a. 7"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli provenienti dalla Germania 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dem innigen Wunsch, die Teilnahme an der Feier der Eucharistie möge auch weiterhin Mittelpunkt auf Eurem Glaubensweg sein und sich im Leben eines jeden auswirken, heibe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, herzlich willkommen. Mein besonderer Grub gilt der Pilgergruppe aus Bad Zell mit Herrn Bishof Maximilian Aichern, den Teilnehmern der ökumenischen Studienreise evangelischer Vikare und Vikarinnen der Württembergischen Landeskirche und der Gruppe von Inspektorenanwärtern des gehobenen Verwaltungsdienstes des Landes Baden Württemberg.

Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat sowie allen, die uns im echten Gebetsgeist verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen. 

Ad un gruppo di fedeli austriaci 

”Nachbar in Not“. Hilfe die ankommt: unter diesem Motto haben die Caritas, das Rote Kreuz und andere Hilfsorganisationen mit dem österreichischen Fernsehen und inzwischen auch weiteren Fernsehstationen zusammengearbeitet, um den Flüchtlingen und Vertriebenen im ehemaligen Jugoslawien konkrete Hilfe zukommen zu lassen. Dabei haben zahllose Menschen mit ihren kleinen oder gröberen Spenden eine überzeugende Antwort auf den Notschrei ihrer von den Folgen eines menschenverachtenden Krieges gedemütigten Nachbarn gegeben. Leider ist der Krieg noch immer nicht zu Ende. Die Not der Menschen, vor allem der alten, der Frauen und Kinder, ist heute gröber als vor einem Jahr. Mit meinem herzlichen Dank für die bisher bewiesene beispielhafte Solidarität verbinde ich den Wunsch, dem ”Nachbar in Not“ auch weiterhin die dringend notwendigen Mittel nicht zu versagen. Möge diese hoffnungsvolle Quelle der Hilfe nicht versiegen, damit niemand mit leeren Händen abgewiesen werden mub. Die Aktion ”Nachbar in Not“, das Zeugnis eines tätigen Idealismus, begleiten auch zukünftig meine besten Wünsche.

Ai pellegrini francesi 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Dans la joie du temps de Pâques, j’accueille cordialement les pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française présents à cette audience.

Chers Frères et Sœurs, je vous accorde bien volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique afin de vous aider à être, par votre vie, de généreux témoins du Christ ressuscité. 

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the participants in the Fifteenth Symposium on Safeguards and Nuclear Material Management, and to the Executives and Staff of the IBM Corporation. May your professional activities always be at the service of the common good, in the building of a better world.

A special greeting goes to the Up With People group. Dear young people, I encourage you in your efforts and I thank you for the joy which you give through your music.

Upon all the English–speaking visitors, from Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and from Charleston in the United States, I invoke abundant divine blessings.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Atodas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana 

Rivolgo ora un saluto cordiale ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare sono lieto di accogliere i rappresentanti della diocesi di Palestrina, guidati dal Vescovo, Monsignor Vittorio Tomassetti, i quali domenica scorsa hanno sigillato il gemellaggio con la Parrocchia di San Martino a Beli Manastir, in Croazia, distrutta dalla guerra. Grazie ad un’attiva e concreta solidarietà possano la speranza e la vita rifiorire là dove adesso sono rovine e morte! 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Infine il mio cordiale pensiero si dirige a voi, giovani, malati e sposi novelli, che partecipate all’Udienza. Durante questo mese di Maggio, dedicato alla Vergine Santa, invoco con fiducia la celeste protezione della Madonna su ciascuno di voi: Maria è Madre dei credenti, a Lei affidati da Gesù sulla croce. Ricorrete a Lei spesso! Le varie forme di devozione mariana, e specialmente la recita del Santo Rosario, vi aiuteranno a vivere con sempre maggiore fedeltà la vostra vocazione. Aiuteranno voi, giovani, che vi aprite agli impegni della vita; voi, malati, chiamati a condividere in modo particolare le sofferenze di Cristo; voi, sposi novelli, che con gioia e responsabilità avete accolto l’invito del Signore a testimoniare nella vostra famiglia il mistero dell’amore divino. A tutti imparto di cuore la mia benedizione.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana