Bookmark and Share

The priesthood requires personal holiness

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 26 May 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. All Christian Tradition, based on Sacred Scripture, speaks of the priest as a "man of God," a man consecrated to God. Homo Dei: this definition is valid for every Christian, but St. Paul refers it especially to Bishop Timothy, his disciple, when he recommends the use of Sacred Scripture to him (cf. 2 Tim 3:16). It is appropriate to the presbyter as well as to the bishop, by reason of his special consecration to God. In truth, a person already receives a first, basic consecration in Baptism, with deliverance from evil and entry into a special state of belonging ontologically and psychologically to God [1] . Priestly ordination confirms and deepens this state of consecration, as the 1971 Synod of Bishops recalled when it referred to the priesthood of Christ shared by the presbyter through the anointing of the Holy Spirit [2] .

Here the Synod took up again the teaching of Vatican II which, after reminding presbyters of their duty to strive for perfection by virtue of their baptismal consecration, added: "Priests are bound, however, to acquire that perfection in special fashion. They have been consecrated by God in a new manner at their ordination and made living instruments of Christ the eternal priest that they may be able to carry on in time his marvelous work whereby the entire family of man is again made whole by power from above" (PO 12). Pius XI recommended the same in his encyclical Ad Catholici Sacerdotii of December 20, 1935 [3] .

According to the faith of the Church, priestly ordination not only confers a new mission in the Church, a ministry, but a new "consecration" of the person. This consecration is linked to the character imprinted by the sacrament of Orders as a spiritual, indelible sign of a special belonging to Christ in being and, consequently, in acting. The perfection required of the presbyter is thus commensurate with his sharing in the priesthood of Christ as the author of redemption. The minister cannot be exempted from reproducing in himself the sentiments, the inner tendencies and intentions, and the spirit of sacrifice to the Father and of service to the brethren that is proper to the "principal agent."

2. As a result the priest has a sort of mastery of grace, which allows him to enjoy union with Christ and at the same time to be devoted to the pastoral service of his brothers and sisters. As the Council says, "Since, therefore, every priest in his own fashion acts in place of Christ himself, he is enriched by a special grace, so that, as he serves the flock committed to him and the entire People of God, he may the better grow in the grace of him whose tasks he performs, because to the weakness of our flesh there is brought the holiness of him who for us was made a high priest 'holy, guiltless, undefiled, not reckoned among us sinners' (Heb 7:26)" (PO 12; cf. PDV 20). In this condition the priest is bound to a special imitation of Christ the priest, which is the result of the special grace of Orders: the grace of union with Christ the priest and victim and, by virtue of this same union, the grace of good pastoral service to his brothers and sisters.

In this regard it is helpful to recall the example of St. Paul. He lived as an entirely consecrated apostle, he who was "taken possession of by Christ Jesus," and left everything to live in union with him (cf. Phil 3:7-12). He felt so filled with Christ's life that he could say in complete sincerity: "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). Nevertheless, after alluding to the extraordinary favors he had received as a "man in Christ" (2 Cor 12:2), he also suffered a thorn in the flesh, a trial from which he was never freed. Despite a triple request made to the Lord, Paul heard him respond: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9).

In the light of this example, the presbyter can better understand that he must strive to live fully his own consecration by remaining united to Christ and allowing himself to be imbued with Christ's spirit, despite the priest's experience of his own human limitations. These will not prevent him from carrying out his ministry, because he is favored with a "grace that is sufficient for him." The priest must put his trust in this grace; he must have recourse to it, knowing that he can thus strive for perfection in the hope of continually increasing in holiness.

3. Participation in Christ's priesthood cannot fail to arouse in the presbyter a sacrificial spirit too, a type of pondus crucis, the burden of the cross, which is expressed especially in mortification. As the Council says: "Christ, whom the Father sanctified, consecrated and sent into the world, 'gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and cleanse for himself an acceptable people, pursuing good works' (Ti 2:14), and thus through suffering entered into his glory. In like fashion, priests consecrated by the anointing of the Holy Spirit and sent by Christ must mortify the works of the flesh in themselves and give themselves entirely to the service of men. It is in this way that they can go forward in that holiness with which Christ endows them to perfect man" (PO 12).

This is the ascetical aspect of the way of perfection, which for the priest cannot be lacking in renunciation and struggle against every sort of desire and yearning that would induce him to seek the good things of this world, thus compromising his interior progress. This is the "spiritual combat" of which the ascetical masters speak and which is required of every follower of Christ, but especially of every minister in the work of the cross, called to reproduce in himself the image of him who is "Sacerdos et hostia".

4. Obviously, one always needs to be open and responsive to the grace which itself comes from him who begets "any measure of desire or achievement" (Phil 2:13), but who also demands that one use the means of mortification and self-discipline without which one remains impervious soil. The ascetical tradition has always pointed out--and in a certain sense prescribed--to priests certain means of sanctification, especially the appropriate celebration of Mass, the punctual recitation of the Divine Office ("not to be mishandled," as St. Alphonsus de Liguori recommended), visits to the Blessed Sacrament, daily recitation of the rosary, daily meditation and periodic reception of sacramental Penance. These practices are still valid and indispensable. Particular importance must be given to the sacrament of Penance, the careful reception of which helps the presbyter to have a realistic image of himself, with the resulting awareness that he too is a poor, weak man, a sinner among sinners, one in need of forgiveness. He thus acquires "truth about himself" and is led to have confident recourse to the divine mercy [4] .

In addition, it must always be remembered, as the Council says, that: "Priests who perform their duties sincerely and indefatigably in the Spirit of Christ arrive at holiness by this very fact" (PO 13). Thus, the proclamation of the word encourages them to achieve in themselves what they teach to others. The celebration of the sacraments strengthens them in faith and in union with Christ. The whole pastoral ministry develops their charity: "As they direct and nourish the People of God, may they be aroused by the example of the good shepherd that they may give their life for their sheep, ready for the supreme sacrifice" (PO 13). Their ideal will be to achieve unity of life in Christ, integrating prayer and ministry, contemplation and action, because they continually seek the Father's will and the gift of themselves for the flock (cf. PO 14).

5. Moreover, it is a source of courage and joy for the presbyter to know that his personal commitment to sanctification helps make his ministry effective. In fact, as the Council recalls: "Although divine grace could use unworthy ministers to effect the work of salvation, yet for the most part God chooses, to show forth his wonders, those who are more open to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, and who can by reason of their close union with Christ and their holiness of life say with St. Paul: 'And yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me' (Gal 2:20)" (PO 12).

When the priest recognizes that he is called to serve as the instrument of Christ, he feels the need to live in intimate union with Christ in order to be a valid instrument of the "principal agent." Therefore, he seeks to reproduce in himself the "consecrated life" (the sentiments and virtues) of the one, eternal priest who shares with him not only his power, but also his state of sacrifice for accomplishing the divine plan--sacerdos et hostia.

6. I will finish with a recommendation of the Council: "This holy Council, to fulfill its pastoral desires of an internal renewal of the Church, of the spread of the Gospel in every land and of a dialogue with the world of today, strongly urges all priests that they strive always for that growth in holiness by which they will become consistently better instruments in the service of the whole People of God, using for this purpose those means which the Church has approved" (PO 12). This is the greatest contribution we can make to building the Church as the beginning of God's kingdom in the world.

[1]   cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., II-II, q. 81, a. 8
[2]   cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1200-1201
[3]   cf. AAS 28 (1936):10
[4]   cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 31; PDV 26"

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dem innigen Wunsch, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, Euer Gebet möge dazu beitragen, dab die Priester sich als geeignete Werkzeuge Gottes dem Dienst vor Gott und an den Menschen widmen, grübe ich Euch herzlich. Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat sowie allen, die uns in froher pfingstlicher Erwartung verbunden sind, erteile ich mit der Bitte um die bestärkende Gnade und den Beistand des Heiligen Geistes von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen. 

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française qui êtes présents ce matin. A quelques jours de la Pentecôte, je demande au Christ de vous combler des dons de son Esprit. Qu’il allume en vous le feu de son amour pour tous les hommes! Qu’il fasse lever chez vous les serviteurs dont son Église a besoin! Qu’il vous garde et vous bénisse chaque jour!

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I gladly welcome the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors present at this audience. In particular I greet the Course members of the NATO Defense College. I pray that by working together in your professional duties, you will become ever more effective builders of understanding and solidarity among peoples.

Upon all of you I invoke Almighty God’s blessings.

Ai pellegrini giunti dal Giappone 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini della diocesi di Fukuoka e parrocchiani di Chofu e componenti della “The World Peace Prayer Society”.

È imminente la festa di Pentecoste. In questi giorni che la precedono, dobbiamo implorare con maggior fede e con più fervore lo Spirito Santo, perché riempia del Suo amore il cuore degli uomini, faccia risplendere nel mondo la Sua luce, e doni a tutti la pace.

Con questo auspicio vi imparto la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

Doy mi afectuosa bienvenida a este encuentro a los Señores Obispos de Extremadura, España, que con esta visita a la Sede de Pedro desean conmemorar, en el marco del V Centenario de la evangelización del Nuevo Mundo, la gran obra evangelizadora de los misioneros extremeños en América y Filipinas.

Saludo también con todo afecto a los grupos procedentes de Argentina, Colombia, Chile y México.

La Iglesia en México y la Iglesia universal han sufrido una gran pérdida con la trágica muerte del Señor Cardenal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, Arzobispo de Guadalajara, víctima, junto con otras seis personas, de reprobable e irracional violencia. Quiera Dios que la sangre derramada de este ejemplar Pastor, que dedicó generosamente su vida al servicio de Dios y de la Iglesia, sea un apremiante llamado a rechazar la injustificable violencia, causante de tanto dolor y muerte y que pone en peligro la pacífica convivencia, y a fortalecer los valores cristianos que impulsen en todos un renovado empeño para ser constructores de paz, fraternidad y armonía.

A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nestes dias da Novena do Pentecostes, invocamos uma renovada efusão do Espírito Santo, que realiza toda a consagração e santidade na Igreja. Possam os Seus dons frutificar abundantemente nos vossos corações, e estes frutos do Espírito renovem as vossas famílias e comunidades, com a bênção sacerdotal, que me foi dado repartir em benefício de todos os crentes!

Ai gruppi di fedeli italiani 

Nel porgere il consueto saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, sono lieto di rivolgermi in maniera particolare al folto gruppo di fedeli della Parrocchia “Santa Croce” di Bari, che celebrano quest’anno il 25° anniversario della costruzione della loro chiesa. Auguro ad essi, ed in particolare a quanti si apprestano a ricevere il Sacramento della Confermazione, che lo Spirito Santo li renda testimoni di Cristo, pronti sempre a diffondere ed a difendere con la parola e l’esempio la fede cristiana. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e alle coppie di sposi 

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi presenti. Carissimi, si celebra oggi la memoria liturgica di San Filippo Neri, comunemente chiamato il “santo della gioia”. La naturale allegria, sostenuta dalla grazia del Signore, accompagni e arricchisca il cammino che voi, giovani, state compiendo nella vostra formazione umana e cristiana; l’accettazione delle sofferenze in unione a quelle di Cristo sia per voi, ammalati, fonte di intima pace e serenità; la letizia rasserenante, dono del Signore, conduca voi, sposi, a costituire una famiglia aperta ai bisogni dei fratelli. A tutti di cuore la mia benedizione.  

Al popolo eritreo 

Desidero ora invitarvi a condividere la gioia del popolo eritreo che, dopo travagliati anni di guerra, ha conseguito di recente la sua indipendenza. Non possiamo dimenticare quanto gli organismi internazionali, inclusi quelli cattolici, hanno realizzato nel campo dell’azione umanitaria in quel difficile periodo. Confido che tale sollecitudine possa continuare ancora oggi. Ai membri della Chiesa locale, pastori e fedeli, vada il mio affettuoso e benedicente pensiero! Sono sicuro che, in armonia di intenti con i fratelli delle altre Chiese cristiane, tutti sapranno contribuire alla ricostruzione morale e materiale della Patria. Il Signore risorto vi aiuti a scrivere una nuova pagina della vostra storia nella concordia ed in serena operosità!

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana