In the Eucharist priests are united with the Lord in his thanksgiving to the Father, grow in pastoral charity, and learn to praise God for his blessings
During his General Audience on 9 June, the Holy Father continued his series on the Church; on the Wednesday before the Feast of Corpus Christi and his visit to Spain for the International Eucharistic Congress, the Pope spoke about the Eucharist in the spiritual life of the priest. This catechesis was the 62nd in the current series.
The eyes of believers all over the world are turned these days to Seville where, as you know, the International Eucharistic Congress is being celebrated, and where I shall have the joy of going next Saturday and Sunday.
At the beginning of today's meeting, in which we shall reflect on the value of the Eucharist in the spiritual life of the presbyter, I paternally invite you to join in spirit in that great, important celebration, which calls everyone to a genuine renewal of faith and devotion towards the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
1. The catecheses which we are developing on the spiritual life of the priest especially concern presbyters, but they are addressed to all the faithful. It is indeed good that everyone should know the Church's doctrine on the priesthood and what she desires of those who, having received it, are conformed to the sublime image of Christ, the eternal Priest and most pure Victim of the salvific sacrifice. That image is developed in the Letter to the Hebrews and in other texts of the Apostles and Evangelists, and it has been handed on faithfully in the Church's tradition of thought and life. Today too it is necessary for the clergy to be faithful to that image, which mirrors the living truth of Christ the Priest and Victim.
Every priest should celebrate Mass daily
2. The reproduction of that image in priests is attained primarily through their life-giving participation in the Eucharistic mystery, to which the Christian priesthood is essentially ordered and linked. The Council of Trent emphasized that the bond between the priesthood and sacrifice comes from the will of Christ, who conferred upon his ministers "the power to consecrate, to offer and to distribute his Body and his Blood" (cf. D-S, 1764). In this there is a mystery of communion with Christ in being and doing, which must be translated into a spiritual life imbued with faith in and love for the Eucharist.
The priest is quite aware that he cannot count on his own efforts to achieve the purposes of his ministry, but rather that he is called to serve as an instrument of the victorious action of Christ whose sacrifice, made present on the altars, obtains for humanity an abundance of divine gifts. However, he also knows that, in order worthily to pronounce the words of consecration in the name of Christ— "This is my Body", "This is the cup of my Blood"—he must be profoundly united to Christ and seek to reproduce Christ's countenance in himself. The more intensely he lives in Christ, the more authentically he can celebrate the Eucharist.
The Second Vatican Council recalled that "especially in the sacrifice of the Mass (priests) act in a special way in the person of Christ" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 13) and that without a priest there can be no Eucharistic sacrifice; however, it emphasized that those who celebrate this sacrifice must fulfil their role in intimate spiritual union with Christ, with great humility, as his ministers in the service of the community. They must "imitate what they handle, so that as they celebrate the mystery of the Lord's death they may take care to mortify their members from vice and concupiscence" (ibid., n. 13). In offering the Eucharistic sacrifice, presbyters must offer themselves personally with Christ, accepting all the renunciation and sacrifice required by their priestly life. Again and always, with Christ and like Christ, Sacerdos et Hostia.
3. If the priest "hears" this truth proposed to him and to all the faithful as the voice of the New Testament and Tradition, he will grasp the Council's earnest recommendation of the "daily celebration (of the Eucharist), which is an act of Christ and the Church even if it is impossible for the faithful to be present" (ibid., n. 13). The tendency to celebrate the Eucharist only when there was an assembly of the faithful emerged in those years. According to the Council, although everything possible should be done to gather the faithful for the celebration, it is also true that, even if the priest is alone, the Eucharistic offering which he performs in the name of Christ has the effectiveness that comes from Christ and always obtains new graces for the Church. Therefore I, too, recommend to priests and to all the Christian people that they ask the Lord for a stronger faith in this value of the Eucharist.
Visits to the Blessed Sacrament are earnestly recommended
4. The 1971 Synod of Bishops took up the conciliar doctrine, declaring: "Even if the Eucharist should be celebrated without participation of the faithful, it nevertheless remains the centre of the life of the entire Church and the heart of priestly existence" (cf. Enchiridion Vaticanum, 4, 1201).
This is a wonderful expression: "The centre of the life of the entire Church". The Eucharist makes the Church, just as the Church makes the Eucharist. The presbyter, having been given the charge of building up the Church, performs this task essentially through the Eucharist. Even when the participation of the faithful is lacking, he cooperates in gathering people around Christ in the Church by offering the Eucharist.
The Synod speaks further of the Eucharist as the "heart of priestly existence". This means that the presbyter, desiring to be and remain personally and profoundly attached to Christ, finds him first in the Eucharist, the sacrament which brings about this intimate union, open to a growth which can reach the heights of mystical identification.
5. At this level, too, which is that of so many holy priests, the priestly soul is not closed in on itself, because in a particular way in the Eucharist it draws on the "charity of him who gives himself as food to the faithful" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 13). Thus he feels led to give himself to the faithful to whom he distributes the Body of Christ. It is precisely in being nourished by this Body that he is impelled to help the faithful to open themselves in turn to that same presence, drawing nourishment from his infinite charity, in order to draw ever richer fruit from the sacrament.
To this end the presbyter can and must provide the atmosphere necessary for a worthy Eucharistic celebration. It is the atmosphere of prayer: liturgical prayer, to which the people must be called and trained; the prayer of personal contemplation; the prayer of sound Christian popular tradition, which can prepare for, follow and to some extent also accompany the Mass; the prayer of holy places, of sacred art, of sacred song, of sacred music, (especially on the organ), which is incarnated as it were in the formulas and rites, and continually inspires and uplifts everything so that it can participate in giving praise to God and in the spiritual uplifting of the Christian people gathered in the Eucharistic assembly.
6. To priests the Council also recommends, in addition to the daily celebration of the Mass, "personal devotion" to the Holy Eucharist, and particularly that "daily talk with Christ the Lord in their visit to the Blessed Sacrament" (Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 18). Faith in and love for the Eucharist cannot allow Christ's presence in the tabernacle to remain alone (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1418). Already in the Old Testament we read that God dwelt in a "tent" (or "tabernacle"), which was called the "meeting tent" (Ex 33:7). The meeting was desired by God. It can be said that in the tabernacle of the Eucharist too Christ is present in view of a dialogue with his new people and with individual believers. The presbyter is the first one called to enter this meeting tent, to visit Christ in the tabernacle for a "daily talk".
Lastly, I want to recall that, more than any other, the presbyter is called to share the fundamental disposition of Christ in this sacrament, that is, the "thanksgiving" from which it takes its name. Uniting himself with Christ the Priest and Victim, the presbyter shares not only his offering, but also his feelings, his disposition of gratitude to the Father for the benefits he has given to humanity, to every soul, to the priest himself, to all those who in heaven and on earth have been allowed to share in the glory of God. Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam... Thus, to counter the expressions of accusation and protest against God—which are often heard in the world—the priest offers the chorus of praise and blessing, which is raised up by those who are able to recognize in man and in the world the signs of an infinite goodness.
L'Osservatore Romano June 16, 1993