The One who Gives us Jesus
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"
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!
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
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
"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.
SHE KISSED BOTH HANDS
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,
First the priest,
then the Angel
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
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
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,
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
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.