Chapter 4


Chapter 6


Chapter V
The One who Gives us Jesus




Who is the one who prepares the Holy Eucharist for us and gives Our Lord to us?  It is the priest.  If there were no priests, there would be no Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, nor Holy Communion, nor the Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle.


And who is the priest?  He is the "man of God" (2 Tim. 3:17).  It is God alone who chooses him and calls him from among men for a very special task.  "No man takes the honor to himself; he takes it who is called by God, as Aaron was" (Heb. 5:4).  God sets him apart from everyone else "to preach the Gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1).  God signs him with a sacred character that will endure forever, making him "a priest forever" (Heb. 5:6) and bestowing on him the supernatural powers of the ministerial priesthood so that he is consecrated exclusively for the things of God.  The priest, being "taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Heb. 5:1-2).


Virgin, poor, crucified


By his ordination the priest is consecrated in soul and body.  He becomes a being totally sacred, likened to the Divine Priest, Jesus.  The priest is thereby a true extension of Jesus, sharing in Jesus' vocation and mission.  He fills Jesus' role in the most important works of universal redemption, namely, divine worship and the spread of the Gospel.  In his own life he is called to reproduce completely Jesus' life—the life of the One who was a virgin, of the One who was poor, of the One who was crucified.  It is by thus making himself like Jesus that he is "minister of Christ Jesus among the Gentiles" (Rom. 15:15), "a guide and instructor of souls" (Mt. 28:20).


St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, "One who yesterday was one of the people, becomes their master, their superior, a teacher of sacred things and leader in the sacred mysteries."  This happens by the work of the Holy Spirit; for "it is not a man, nor an angel, nor an archangel, nor any created power, but it is the Holy Spirit which bestows the priesthood on a person" (St. John Chrysostom).  The Holy Spirit makes the priest's soul a likeness of Jesus, empowers the priest to fill the role of Jesus so that "the priest at the altar acts in the same Person of Jesus" (St. Cyprian), and "has charge of all of God" (St. John Chrysostom).  Who will be astonished, then, if the priestly dignity is declared "heavenly" (Cassian), "divine" (St. Dionysius), "infinite" (St. Ephrem), the "summit of every greatness" (St. Ignatius Martyr), something "lovingly venerated by the very angels" (St. Gregory Nazianzen), so great that "when the priest conducts the Divine Sacrifice, angels station themselves about him and in a choir they chant a hymn of praise in honor of the Victim who is sacrificed" (St. John Chrysostom).  And this happens at every Mass!


Respect and veneration


We know that St. Francis of Assisi was unwilling to become a priest because he considered himself unworthy of such a high vocation.  He honored priests with a special devotion, considering them his "lords," because in them he saw only "the Son of God."  His love for the Eucharist blended with his love for the priest who consecrates and administers the Body and Blood of Jesus.  He paid special veneration to the priest's hands, which kneeling he used always to kiss very devoutly.  He used even to kiss a priest's feet and even the footprints where a priest had walked.


St. John Bosco exhorts all in this manner:  "I urge you to have the highest respect for priests; take off your hats as a sign of reverence when you speak with them or meet them in the street, and kiss their hands respectfully.  Keep especially from showing contempt for them in word of deed.  Whoever does not respect these sacred ministers should fear a great punishment from the Lord."


The veneration of the priest's consecrated hands, reverently kissed by the faithful, has always existed in the Church.  It is noteworthy that during the persecutions of the first centuries, an outrageous cruelty practiced in particular on bishops and priests consisted in cutting off their hands so that they could no longer perform the consecration nor give blessings.  Christians used to search out those amputated hands and treated them with spices preserve them as relics.


Kissing the priest's hands is also a delicate expression of faith and love for Jesus whom the priest represents.  The more faith and love one has, the more he will venture to kneel before the priest and kiss those "holy and venerable hands" (the Roman Canon), in which Jesus lovingly makes Himself present every day.


"Oh the venerable dignity of the priest," exclaims St. Augustine, "in whose hands the Son of God becomes incarnate as He did in the Virgin's womb!"  The holy Curé of Ars said, "We attach great value to objects that are handed down and kept at Loreto, as the holy Virgin's porridge bowl and that of the Child Jesus.  But the priest's fingers, which have touched the adorable Body of Jesus Christ, which have been put into the chalice where His Blood was and into the ciborium where His Body was—might anything be more precious than these fingers?"  Perhaps we never thought of it before.  But it is really so.  The examples of the saints warrant this affirmation.




In ecstasy the Ven. Catherine Vannini saw angels gather about the priest's hands during Mass and support them at the elevation of the Host and the chalice.  We can imagine the reverence and affection with which this Venerable Servant of God used to kiss those hands!


The Queen, St. Hedwig, every morning attended all the Holy Masses that were celebrated in the Chapel of the court, showing herself to be very grateful and reverent toward the priests who had celebrated Holy Mass.  She used to offer them hospitality, kiss their hands devoutly, see that they were fed, and show them every honor.  She would show deep feeling when exclaiming, "God bless the one who made Jesus come down from Heaven and gave Him to me!"


St. Paschal Baylon was porter in a monastery.  Each time a priest arrived, the holy lay brother knelt and reverently kissed both his hands.  People said of him—as they did of St. Francis—that "he had devotion for the consecrated hands of priests."  He judged that those hands had power to ward off evils and draw down blessings for the one who treated them reverently, since they are hands that Jesus uses.


And was it not edifying to watch Padre Pio of Pietrelcina affectionately kiss a priest's hands, sometimes suddenly seizing them unexpectedly?  We are impressed, too, by the example of another Servant of God, the priest Don Dolindo Ruotolo, who would not admit that any priest could refuse "the charity" of letting him kiss his hands.


We know that God has often rewarded this act of veneration by means of true miracles.  We read in the life of St. Ambrose, that one day after he had celebrated Holy Mass the Saint was approached by a woman afflicted with paralysis who wanted to kiss his hands.  The woman had great faith in those hands that had consecrated the Eucharist, and she was cured at once.  Likewise at Benevento a woman who had suffered paralysis for fifteen years asked Pope Leo IX to let her drink the water he had used during Holy Mass to wash his fingers.  The holy Pontiff granted the request, so humbly made, like that of the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus for "the crumbs that fell from the table of their master" (Mt. 15-27).  And she, too, was instantly, healed.


First the priest, then the Angel


The faith of the saints was something that was truly great and produced results.  They lived "by faith" (Rom. 1:17) and acted on a faith and a love that recognized no limits when treating of Jesus.  For them the priest represented nothing more nor less than Jesus.  "In priests I see the Son of God," said St. Francis of Assisi.  The holy Curé of Ars remarked in a sermon, "Every time I see a priest, I think of Jesus."  When she would speak of a priest, St. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi used to refer to him as "this Jesus."  Because of this esteem St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila used to kiss the floor or the ground where a priest had passed.  One day St. Veronica Giuliani saw the priest mount the stairway of the monastery to take Holy Communion to the sick.  She knelt at the foot of the stairs, and then climbed the steps on her knees, kissing each step and moistening it with tears that her love produced.  What examples of love!


The holy Curé of Ars used to say, "If I met a priest and an Angel, I would first pay my respects to the priest, and then to the Angel!. . . .  If it were not for the priest the Passion and Death of Jesus would not be of any help to us. . . .  What good would a chest full of gold be if there were no one to open it?  The priest has the key to the heavenly treasures. . . ."


Who causes Jesus to come down in the white Hosts?  Who puts Jesus into our tabernacles?  Who gives Jesus to our souls?  Who purifies our hearts so that we can receive Jesus?  It is the priest, only the priest.  He is the one "who serves the tabernacle" (Heb. 13:10), who has the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18), "who is for you a minister of Jesus Christ" (Col. 1:7) and dispenser "of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1).  Oh, how many instances could be reported of heroic priests sacrificing themselves in order to give Jesus to their flock!  We recount here one instance out of many.


"Farewell till we meet in Paradise"


Some years ago in a parish in Brittany, an old pastor was lying on his deathbed.  At that time one of his parishioners was also nearing the end of his life, one who was among those that had strayed from God and the Church.  The pastor was distressed because he could not get up and go to him; so he sent the assistant pastor to him, admonishing him to remind the dying man that once he had promised that he would nor die without the Sacraments.  The parishioner, hearing this, excused himself with the words, "That promise I made to the pastor, not to you."  The assistant pastor could do nothing but leave the dying man, and report his answer to the pastor.  The pastor was not discouraged, and though he realized he himself had only a few hours left, he arranged to be carried to the home of the sinner.  He was brought into the house, succeeded in hearing the dying man's confession and gave him Our Lord in Holy Communion.  Then he said to him, "Farewell till we meet in Paradise!"  The courageous pastor was carried back to his rectory on a stretcher.  When he arrived, the covers over him were raised, but the priest did not move.  He had already died.


The priests are the bearers of "Life," the mediators of salvation between Jesus and souls.  Where priests are lacking, the spiritual and moral condition of the people is really frightful; where there is no response to the priestly or missionary vocation, there will be lacking "multipliers" of Jesus, as St. Peter Julia Eymard used to say, and faith weakens or never matures.


It happened on one occasion that a leader of a Japanese tribe asked St. Francis Xavier, immediately after a sermon on the love of God for men: "How come God, if He is so good, as you say he is, has waited so long before making Christianity known to us?"  "Do you want to know?" replied the Saint with sadness.  "Here is why: God had inspired many Christians to come and announce to you the Good news, but many of them have not wanted to heed His call.


Worthy priests give to every church its stability and fruitfulness.  The Venerable Anthony Chevrier said that every true Church has "for its foundation. . . holy priests; for its columns. . . holy priests; for its lamp. . . a holy priest; on its pulpit. . . a holy priest; at the altar. . . a holy priest, alter Christus!"


Saint or devil


Let us hold the priest in veneration and be grateful to him because he brings us Our Lord.  Above all let us pray for the fulfillment of his lofty mission, which is the mission of Jesus: "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (Jn. 20:21).  It is a divine mission which makes the head spin and drives one mad with love when one reflects upon it deeply.  The priest is "likened unto the Son of God" (Heb. 7:3), and the holy Curé of Ars used to say that "only in Heaven will he be able to measure his greatness.  If he were to understand it already here on earth, he would die, not of fright but of love. . . .  After God, the priest is all."


But this sublime grandeur brings an enormous responsibility which weighs upon the weak human nature of the priest, a human nature fully identical with that of every other man.  "The priest," said St. Bernard, "by nature is like all other men; by dignity he surpasses every other man on earth; by his conduct he ought to imitate the angels."


A divine calling, a sublime mission, an angelic life, a very high dignity—what immense burdens. . . all on poor human flesh!  "The priesthood is a cross and a martyrdom": an excellent description by that wonderful priest and Servant of God, Fr. Edward Poppe.


Think of the heavy responsibilities for the salvation of souls laid upon the priest.  His task is to bring the faith to non-believers, to convert sinners, to give fervor to the lukewarm, to stimulate the good to become ever better and to encourage the saintly to walk on the heights of perfection.


Now how can he do all this if he is not truly one with Jesus?  This is why Padre Pio of Pietrelcina used to say, "The priest is either a saint or a devil.  He either moves souls to holiness or to ruin.  What incalculable ruin does the priest not bring who profanes his vocation by unworthy conduct or worse, who tramples on it, renouncing his consecrated statue as one chosen by the Lord (CF. John 15:16)!


St. John Bosco said that "a priest, either in Paradise or in Hell, never goes alone: with him always go a great number of souls, who are either saved by his holy ministry and good example, or are lost through his negligence in the fulfillment of his duties and by his bad example."


In the canonical proceedings for the canonization of St. John Vianney, we read that the holy Curé shed many tears "as he thought of the ruin of priests who do not correspond to the holiness of their vocation."  Padre Pio of Pietrelcina described heart-rending visions of the frightful pains Jesus suffered for the guilt of unworthy and unfaithful priests.


Let us pray for them


We know that St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the angelic Carmelite nun, just before she died made her last Holy Communion for this sublime intention: to obtain the return of a stray priest who had renounced his vocation.  And we know that this priest died repentant, invoking Jesus.


We know that there are more than a few souls, especially virginal souls, who have offered themselves as victims on behalf of priests.  These souls are favored by Jesus in an absolutely singular way.  Let us, then, also offer prayers and sacrifice for priests, for those in danger and for those who stand more firmly and securely, for those who are straying and for those who are already advanced in perfection.  Unfortunately, people tend much too readily to criticize the defects of priests, while it is rather rare that someone will pray for them.


St. Nicholas of Flüe, a famous Swiss saint, father of a family, bluntly told anyone too ready to point out the faults of priests: "And you, how many times have you prayed for the sanctity of priests?  Tell me: what have you done to obtain good vocations for the Church?"


One time, a spiritual daughter of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina accused herself in Confession of having criticized some priests for their less than worthy behavior and heard Padre Pio forcefully and decisively reply: "Instead of criticizing them, think of praying for them."


And in particular, every time we see a priest at the altar, let us also pray to Our Lady, in the words of the Venerable Charles Giacinto, "O my dear Lady, lend your heart to that priest so that he can worthily celebrate the Mass."  Let us also pray, as St. Thérèse did, so that priests at the altar may touch the most Holy Body of Jesus with the same purity and delicacy as Our Lady.  Better yet, rather let us pray that every priest is able to imitate St. Cajetan, who used to prepare to celebrate Mass by uniting himself so closely to Mary Most Holy, that it was said of him, "He celebrates Mass as if he were her."  And, indeed, as Our Lady welcomed Jesus into her arms at Bethlehem, similarly the priest receives Jesus in his hands at Holy Mass.  As the Immaculate Offered Jesus the Victim on Calvary, similarly the priest offers the Divine Lamb that is sacrificed on the altar.  As the Virgin Mother gave Jesus to mankind, similarly the priest gives us Jesus in Holy Communion.  Thus St. Bonaventure rightly declares that every priest at the altar ought to be intimately identified with Our Lady; for, since "it was by her that this most Holy Body has been given to us, so by the priest's hands It must be offered."  And St. Francis of Assisi said that for all priests Our Lady is the mirror reflecting the sanctity which should be theirs, precisely because of the close proximity between the Incarnation of the Word in Mary's womb and the consecration of the Eucharist in the priest's hands.


Let us also learn in the school of the saints to respect and to venerate priests, to pray for their sanctification and to help them in their very lofty mission.


Chapter 4


Chapter 6



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