0ur Divine Saviour, in His exceeding great love for men, chose to institute, through a stupendous miracle of His omnipotence, the most holy Sacrament of the Altar, in order to remain in our midst truly, really and substantially, with His body, blood, soul and divinity (1), and that He might give Himself, under the sacramental veils, to the souls of His faithful disciples, to be their spiritual food and drink.
Side by side with this miracle of love, nay, precisely on account of this Eucharistic mystery and as a complement of the same, the adorable Heart of Jesus desired to give to the world another pledge of His infinite charity, by instituting the priesthood of the New Law. Thus it is, that both the Blessed Eucharist and the Catholic priesthood are the moat splendid manifestations of Christ's love for us.
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It was in force of that same power, by which Jesus Christ changed the elements of bread and wine into His body and blood at the Last Supper, that he conferred also on His apostles and their successors the power to do that selfsame action which He Himself had just accomplished. And this wonderful power was to last to the end of time.
So Christ ordered that the Catholic priest not only should represent Him upon earth, but that he should be, as it were, Himself again, raising him above the rest of mankind, nay, above all angelic spirits who admire, with holy envy, those among the sons of men whom they see clothed with sacerdotal dignity. Thus the seraphic St. Francis was wont to say that, were he to meet at one time an angel and a priest, he would first salute the priest.
Now, this dignity of the Catholic priesthood takes its root in the Most Holy Eucharist. In fact, it was in view of this divine Sacrament that Jesus Christ instituted the order of priests, whose function it is to consecrate and distribute the Lord's body to the faithful.
Hence the Catholic priesthood is justly called a reflection of the Blessed Eucharist. Moreover, as this Sacrament is the life of the Church, so, consequently, the religion of Jesus Christ would cease to exist, the moment the world were left without priests.
This truth those Novatians well understood who, urged on as they were by a satanical hatred against Christ and His Church, strained every nerve to root out at one time the Blessed Eucharist and the Catholic priesthood. Against both these institutions they directed, but in vain, their most deadly blows.
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This intimate relation between the Blessed Eucharist and the Catholic priesthood is the reason why every priest may be called another Christ. It is also the principal motive for which the minister of the New Law should strive to live a Eucharistic life, considering this Sacrament as the center of his thoughts, aspirations and affections. Every member of the sacerdotal order should become in very truth a Eucharistic priest.
There are still other motives to show that every priest should try to live a Eucharistic life. These motives are drawn from the very nature of the Catholic priesthood. It will prove useful and edifying, at the same time, to develop these motives in the first part of this work.
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The first motive is drawn from the origin, the development and complement of the sacerdotal vocation, which derives entirely from the Blessed Eucharist.
The second motive comes from the ministry proper to the priest, that is, a ministry essentially Eucharistic, which requires that the life also of the priest himself be a Eucharistic life.
The third motive proceeds from the fact that a priest finds in the most Blessed Eucharist that of which he has an extreme need in his sublime yet most difficult state. He finds, namely, in this divine Sacrament, that spiritual fervor which buoys him up to the level of his dignity, and the spiritual consolations which sustain him in the pains, difficulties and anxieties inherent in his high office.
For these three motives, which we shall develop respectively in the three following chapters, we claim that it is highly becoming for a Catholic priest to foster in himself a truly Eucharistic life and that he should make the Blessed Sacrament the center of his life. He should, as it were, identify himself with Jesus Christ hidden under the Eucharistic veils, so that the saying may truly be verified in him: Sacerdos alter Christus.
Jesus! Thy name inspires my mind
With springs of lift and light;
More than I ask in Thee I find,
And languish with delight.(2)
The choice which God makes, among men, of some individuals in order to invest them with spiritual authority and dignity by making them priests of the New law is doubtless to be numbered among the marvels of His Omnipotence.
These privileged men, destined to be the successors of the apostles and God's representatives upon earth, are not always chosen from the more refined and wealthy classes of society, but sometimes they spring forth from the more needy and less educated popular masses. But, from whatever state of life they may come, the seal impressed on them by the sacred ordination endows them with a spiritual dignity which has not its equal upon earth. By the very fact of his becoming a priest a man receives a post of honor among the princes of the people (3) and even crowned sovereigns owe him veneration and honor.
It is no exaggeration, but sheer truth, to say, with St. John Chrysostom, that the priestly character is the highest dignity that exists upon this earth, a dignity superior to that of princes and emperors. For a priest, by virtue of his ordination, has the power to consecrate the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, and to administer the same to the people.
"Sublime is this mystery," we read in the Imitation of Christ (4), "and great is the dignity of priests, to whom is given what is not granted to the Angels. For only priests duly ordained in the Church have power to celebrate, and to consecrate the Body of Christ."
We have said that this great dignity, this wonderful pre-eminence, the priest owes all to the most Blessed Eucharist. For, by the imposition of the bishop's hands, he receives a mysterious power over both the real and mystical body of Jesus Christ. In virtue of this power he, on the one hand, comes nearest to the great King of kings, to the divine Lord, who is the fountainhead of every dignity and honor. On the other hand, he is appointed Christ's representative upon earth, being set as a mediator between Him and men. In one word, the Catholic priest is, as it were, another Christ: Sacerdos alter Christus.
This great dignity the priest does not owe to his own merits. For, he is generally raised to this honor in his youth, when be has not yet been able to make himself conspicuous by noble and glorious deeds. Neither does it come to him through nobility of birth or abundance of worldly goods, for the words of the Psalmist are often literally true in his case (5) : "Raising up the needy from the earth, and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill." The irradiation which comes from the Blessed Eucharist is, therefore, the adequate source of the dignity with which he is clothed and of the veneration which all true Catholics have for him.
It is useful and, at the same time, consoling for every priest to bring back to mind every now and then, the mysterious beginnings of that heavenly calling which opened to him, in his youth, the gate of the sanctuary and showed him, as if in a celestial vision, that halo of mysterious light which encircles the Catholic priesthood.
In reality, the first start of a priestly vocation comes from God Himself. The sublimity of the office with which this vocation is accompanied is the reason why no one is allowed to receive the sacred ordination unless he be called by the Most High, as St. Paul expressly declares (6) : "Neither doth any man take the honor to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was."
The young candidate to the priesthood, however, should not of his own accord present himself to the bishop in order to receive from him the sublime character destined to make him a priest of the Most High. This he must do because chosen and called by God Himself; otherwise he would incur, if not the penalty, certainly the sentence of reprobation pronounced against Dathan, Core and Abiron, when these vain and rebellious men presumed to usurp the sacerdotal functions (7).
To the bishop belongs the duty of passing judgment on the fitness of the candidate to the priesthood, because he is the recognized judge of the usefulness or necessity of such candidates for the Church, as the sacred canons expressly declare (8). But the vocation in itself, that is, that inward attraction or impulse of the heart and that firm deliberation of the mind toward the ecclesiastical state, is the work of God, who rules the whole world with His providence and moves each man, sweetly and strongly, to choose a special state in preference to any other. Should anyone choose to enter the sanctuary in any other way, he ought to be likened to a thief and a robber that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up another way (9).
The question arises now, in what way does this calling to the priesthood come from God? Is it in the same way in which Divine Providence rouses some individuals to fill those divers professions which are necessary for the welfare of society, as, for instance, the profession of magistrate, lawyer or soldier?
The answer must be in the negative. For God, while making use of secondary causes, raises, in a much more sublime manner, vocations to the priestly state. The reason is, because these vocations pertain formally to the supernatural order; and so God raises them in a manner which transcends the forces of nature, this manner being akin to that in which He accomplishes in us the workings of divine grace.
Of its nature, the priestly vocation has a reference to the administration of the sacraments of the Church, which are the ordinary channels by which divine grace comes to us. This being so, the Holy Ghost, who is the author of our sanctification, must intervene in a special manner where there is question of choosing the sacred ministers. This is clearly brought out in the writings of the holy Doctors as well as in the authentic declarations of the Church. Here we are told expressly that, with regard to the recruiting of priests, the seed of a divine vocation is deposited in the heart of the young man by God Himself.
Hence this mysterious calling and the work of divine grace which accompanies it are attributed to the Holy Ghost, to whom the work of our sanctification is appropriated, as theologians say. The Holy Ghost, when bringing into effect the harmonious dispositions of Divine Providence in the choice of this or that person, selects him from among thousands, in order to make him a minister of Christ in the all-important work of the sanctification of men.
If we wish to determine to what order of spiritual effects a vocation to the priestly state pertains, we shall say at once that it belongs formally to the series of those choice gifts of which St. Paul speaks when he says (10) : "And having different gifts according to the grace that is given us, either prophecy, to be used according to the rule of the faith, or ministry, in ministering; or he that teacheth, in doctrine, etc." In a word, that heavenly calling which inclines certain individuals to the priesthood belongs to that economical program, mapped out by God from all eternity and actuated in time on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ, the scope of which is the salvation of souls redeemed by His most sacred blood.
Oh! the unspeakable condescension of a God, at once infinitely great and infinitely liberal, thus to allow mere rational creatures to share with that secret and sublime power which He gave to His only-begotten Son made Man, a power by which priests co-operate with Jesus Christ in the sanctification of men, leading them to eternal happiness! Great indeed is the bounty of God, who "raises up the needy from the earth and lifts up the poor out of the dunghill, that He may place him with princes, with the princes of His people (11)."
This divine calling, however, does not force the candidate, but draws him sweetly, though firmly, to follow the object it has in view. For, in all the workings of grace, God does not force man's will but leaves it perfectly free. The prime Mover of all things, in fact, moves each agent according to its proper nature. So, in calling a young man to the sacred priesthood, God uses no violence, but leaves him free to follow or not the heavenly voice. Thus, we see that some saints, as Francis of Assisi and Alexis Falconieri, never consented to receive the priestly ordination, while others, as Augustine and Cajetan of Thienna, accepted this high dignity only after being pressed with solicitations on the part of their superiors.
The sublimity of the Catholic priesthood and the action of the Holy Ghost in regard to sacerdotal vocations are clearly brought out by the difference between the priesthood of the New and that of the Old Law, in that which belongs to the choice of the candidates for that office.
As is well known, the priesthood under the law of Moses was the privilege of one tribe onlythat of Levi; it was therefore, properly speaking, hereditary. Hence, the ruling action of the Holy Ghost did not enter directly in the choosing of candidates for that office. Upon reaching the age of reason, the youths of this tribe had no other prospect than to enter one day into those functions which they saw their fathers exercise. The sacerdotal state was for him an inevitable necessity from which he could never licitly free himself.
Not so, however, in the New Law. The moment Divine Providence ordained that Jesus Christ, the "High Priest of our confession (12) " should spring out not of the tribe of Levi but of that of Juda, in which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priests, it follows that the priests of the New Law, who share the sacerdotal dignity with Jesus and are destined to continue His redeeming work, need not necessarily belong to any one class of people but may be chosen from all families, ranks and conditions. Thus, under the action of the Holy Ghost, the Catholic priesthood may be recruited from among any nation or family, from the rich as well as from the poor, from the noble and the plebeian, from the great and the lowly.
If we ask why the candidates to the Catholic priesthood may thus freely be chosen out of all classes of society, it will be easy to understand that this is because of the universality of the Catholic religion, which embraces not merely one single nation, race or people, but all the nations and peoples of the earth. On the other hand, a candidate for so lofty and responsible a vocation has need of a variety of virtues and personal qualities superior to those of the priests of the Old Covenant. And for this reason also it is necessary that those destined for the sacerdotal functions under the New Dispensation should be chosen out of all social classes.
Hence the levite of Christ, levita Christi, is, by the special intervention of the Holy Ghost, chosen from among thousands. He is the object of a special providence of God, who separates him, so to speak, from his entrance into this world, from the rest of mankind, looking ever upon him with special predilection. For this special youth, unknown perhaps to the world, is destined one day to hold the place of Christ in the Church. Happy youth, who can say with St. Paul (13) : "When it pleased Him, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles."
This sublime sacerdotal calling every priest has heard at some time or other of his life, each in his own way. But, in whatever way it was heard, we should, upon close examination, find that its origin, development and complement were constantly accompanied by the thought of the Most Blessed Eucharist.
Indeed, the first vestiges of the priestly vocation, even as those of the mountain rivulet, usually lie hidden to the human eye. But as far as is given us to read into the human heart, we usually see that its first beginnings are associated with some Eucharistic thought or ceremony.
It may be that a solemn religious function centering round the Sacred Host was the means of depositing in the tender heart of the future levite the first seedlings of the priestly calling. Or perhaps the chosen candidate, while still a boy serving at the altar and witnessing the priest raising aloft the Host and Chalice first conceived the thought that he, too, might one day consecrate the body and blood of the Saviour and distribute it to the people. Or, again, it might just have been a word let drop casually regarding the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, or a story connected with the priestly calling, which first roused in his heart the idea of becoming a priest of God. More frequently still, the first dawning of this sublime vocation can be traced back to that mysterious and solemn moment when Jesus for the first time visited sacramentally the soul of the future priest, taking up His abode in his pure and innocent heart as in a fitting tabernacle.
More commonly, however, the first realization of the priestly calling in a youth is to be attributed to the loving invitation made by some holy and devout priest, anxious to promote the honor and worship of the Blessed Eucharist, to the little lads whom he judges fit candidates for the sanctuary. Thus we see, especially at the present time, not a few pious priests, aflame with seal for souls and love toward the Blessed Sacrament, devoting their energy to this fruitful work of recruiting candidates for the priesthood. They go further, and with loving care prepare them to worthily consecrate one day the body of Jesus Christ and distribute it to the faithful.
Since, then, the beginnings of this mysterious calling to the Catholic priesthood are traceable to some Eucharistic influence, it follows that the priest should, of all Christians, lead a Eucharistic life by striving to cultivate in himself a special devotion to this August Sacrament.
We have hitherto explained how the first beginnings of the sacerdotal vocation are usually due to some Eucharistic influence. It being so, the recollection of these influences, which directed the young man's life into the priestly career, should awaken in him, for the rest of his days, a sense of special devotion toward the august Sacrament of the Altar, and urge him to make this devotion, as it were, the very essence of his life. This conviction, however, will be deepened when he reflects how greatly he is indebted to the Eucharist for having surmounted the many obstacles that usually stand in the way of the realization of his desires.
It happens at times that a man, once he has reached a much coveted goal, comes to forget the difficulties he had to conquer. For a priest, besides the canceling of the hand of time, other causes also conspire to erase from his mind the memory of those first obstacles. These are the deep study which for years absorbs his attention, the pastoral care and pressing duties of his office. Thus does the memory of those obstacles fade away together with that keen sense of anxiety which kept him in suspense for so many years. It is well therefore, to recount here a few of the more common difficulties which the youthful levite has to overcome and did overcome through the Blessed Eucharist. This consideration will certainly lead him to a greater love and devotion toward this August Sacrament.
We may first note that these difficulties, formidable indeed, as every priest can testify, are, usually speaking, of two kindsexterior and interior. A word on each will, we think, prove useful to the thoughtful reader.
The first source of difficulties which a candidate to the priesthood often encounters is the reluctance of certain parents to make the sacrifice of their sons to God.
The pious youth, having heard the call of God, meets in his own family obstacles which, humanly speaking, seem insurmountable. Not without trepidation does he make known to his parents the divine invitation; with anxious eye he watches the effect of his words on them as he intimates to them the long pent-up yearning of his heart. When at last he summons up sufficient courage to tell his parents all, he meets with an unyielding resistanceperhaps the first real sorrow in his hitherto calm and tranquil life. Bent as they are upon material interests, his parents are utterly unable to appreciate the sublimity of the Catholic priesthood. Their minds and ways are too egotistic and selfish to allow them willingly to deprive themselves of the earnings of their sons, or else they are too vain to consent that they should thus forego professions or engagements which, in the eyes of the world, prove both honorable and advantageous. In their worldly pride they dream of nothing for their sons but positions of rank, honor and riches.
Together with this first difficulty there is, for many a young man, that of financial embarrassment. This, indeed, represents frequently a most serious obstacle to the development of the sacerdotal vocation, since many candidates for the priesthood spring from the working classes. In such cases, parents, however anxious they may be to please God, are debarred from furthering their son's calling by the impossibility of bearing the heavy expenses required for the long years of ecclesiastical study and training prescribed by the laws of the Church.
These, then, are some of the principal exterior difficulties which the candidates to the priesthood often times encounter. Now, if they succeed in overcoming them, to whom do they owe the victory if not to the Blessed Eucharist?
The pious youth to whom the divine call has been made known may have met with much opposition, as we have said, on the part of his father or mother. Now, how will he overcome this obstacle? How will he persuade his parents to give their consent?
He knows full well that in the august Sacrament of the Altar is present One in whose hands is the key to men's hearts. So he hastens to the nearest church and there, before the tabernacle, he begs this loving Lord, whom he has already chosen for his own portion, to soften the hearts of his parents and inspire them to give the consent he longs for so ardently. And as in the case of St. Aloysius, so in thousands of others, the earnest prayer of the future levite is all-sufficient to wrest that permission from even the most reluctant parent.
In case the parents of the priestly candidate find themselves in straitened circumstances and their means are not sufficient to meet the expense of so many years' study, what is to be done? In such a case the future levite once again seeks counsel and assistance before the door of the tabernacle. From that same tabernacle oftentimes issues forth some secret inspiration to some wealthy benefactor who, of his charity, sees that youth through to ordination, in this way opening to himself, and who knows to how many another, the gates of Paradise.
Regarding the difficulty arising from military service, it is also from the Heart of Jesus, hidden under the sacramental veils, that the young levite receives an almost miraculous assistance in his trials.
In difficult moments he repairs to the church and there pours forth his troubled heart before the tabernacle of his beloved Lord, who consoles him and strengthens his weakness with new heavenly grace. Peace of mind and sweet hope refresh his heavy heart and, as Daniel in the lions' den, he walks in the midst of scorching flames unscathed until the day dawns when, returning to the peaceful abode of the seminary, he resumes his studies, advancing ever more and more in the practice of those virtues destined to make him one day a worthy priest of God.
The exterior difficulties, heretofore mentioned, are not the only nor the minor obstacles which the young levite meets with at the beginning of his ecclesiastical career. Others there are of a more intimate and delicate nature, which prove at times most violent and which, therefore, are more difficult to conquer.
In the first place, there are those trying and humiliating temptations, from which even great saints are not exempt and which sometimes assail, in a most violent and tenacious manner, the young men who have determined to give themselves entirely to God. Here, then, is a candidate for the priesthood who, fully knowing the loftiness and sanctity of his calling, is determined to make to God a whole-hearted sacrifice of himself as he knows it to be pleasing to the Almighty. Hence, on his entrance into the seminary he proposes not to do anything against the angelic virtue, which he knows should illumine with kindly light the whole life of a priest of Jesus Christ.
But the enemy of man's welfare, the unclean spirit, as he is called in Holy Scripture, is by no means idle. He has sworn the moral ruin of that young man, because he knows that, if he succeeds in blotting out from his heart that ideal of purity to which he tends, he will easily induce him to forsake his vocation. And he rouses in the mind of the youthful athlete new, more fierce temptations, to overcome which a superhuman strength is necessary. The young Samuel, then, has need of hearing a word of comfort from Above, which may make him sure of the victory over the demon of impurity.
Another kind of temptation to which the candidate to the priesthood is exposed is that of discouragement. This may arise from a twofold motive: first, from the candidate's uncertainty of success in his studies; secondly, from the length of time he has still to wait before receiving the priestly ordination.
Everyone knows how difficult and laborious the curriculum of studies is which the candidate to the priesthood has to go through. Not only must the young cleric acquaint himself with literature and human sciences; but he must also give himself to a serious and deep study of scholastic philosophy and dogmatic theology as well as of Holy Scripture, ecclesiastical history, canon law and moral theology. All these various branches of science put together, form, in his eyes, as it were a vast ocean of which he can neither perceive the shores nor gauge the depth.
Only brave young men, gifted with a ready mind, armed with courage, and well determined to go through the long ordeal of clerical studies will succeed in the glorious enterprise. Those whose natural faculties are too limited or who allow themselves to be over-apprehensive at the thought of the long way they have to cover before reaching the holy priesthood, stand little chance of success. And even with the best of wills how often a young man gets disheartened at the thought of the slow progress he makes in sciences! What a sharp thorn for his tender heart, after having done his best, he hears the terrible verdict from the mouth of his teachers, that it is doubtful whether he will be able to continue in the ecclesiastical career!
This excruciating pang was felt over and over again by the holy young seminarian, John Baptist Vianney, who in later years was to become the celebrated parish priest of Ars. He, notwithstanding his tenacious application to study, would hear his teachers complaining of his slowness in learning the sacred sciences. Nay, more, when the time of ordinations drew nigh, he had to learn of his rejection owing to intellectual incapacity. Thus would the cherished prospect of his life fall to the ground. Thus would the fond dreams he had formed for the future vanish on a suddendreams of more intense spiritual life under the shadow of the sanctuary, dreams of an intense work for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Who knows how often a similar tragedy is repeated in the case of well-meaning young levites!
Here, again, the beneficent ray of the Blessed Eucharist acts as a sweet balm on the depressed heart of the ecclesiastical candidate. Just as it was from that effulgent sun that he first received the inspiration to leave his beloved family and consecrate himself to God, or, again, as it was from that bountiful source that he derived grace enough to overcome the difficulties which stood in the way of his vocation; so, now, it is the gentle warmth of that kindly light which sustains him in his efforts, buoys his hopes up in moments of sadness and infuses in his heart that spirit of perseverance which enables him to triumph over the present obstacles.
Assailed and on the point of being overcome by the difficulties inherent in his studies, the young cleric finds, in the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, that supernatural help and sweet encouragement which restores peace and serenity to his mind, comforts his heart, spurs him on in the arduous path, and finally leads him safe to the harbor of holy ordination.
Indeed, it is well for a priest, when already of mature age and after, having devoted many years to the sacred ministry, to call back to mind these memories of his past life. They will convince him of the fact that, as he owed to the Eucharist the beginning of his vocation, so also he derived from it the grace of perseverance. Hence he will reflect how beseeming it is that he should lose no opportunity of cultivating in himself a special devotion to this August Sacrament. His life should be, as it were, a perpetual holocaust of pleasing odor to be consumed for the honor and glory of that same Jesus, who, by the very fact that he instituted the most Blessed Eucharist, has given us all.
If the vocation to the holy priesthood is divine in its beginning and in its development, much more do we see it to be so in its complement, when the chosen candidate, having now surmounted every difficulty by virtue of the Blessed Eucharist, is by the bishop consecrated a priest of the New Testament. Now, to become a priest of the New Testament means to be ordained in view of this August Sacrament, which is the center of the whole Catholic worship. It means to be set apart formally to consecrate and offer, in an unbloody sacrifice, the most holy body and the most pure blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. In a word, it means to hold His place and to act in His name upon earth. Sacerdos alter Christus.
The divine Eucharist is truly, therefore, the complement and, as it were, the crowning of the supernatural vocation of the priest, whose heart, on the day of his ordination, begins to be surrounded with a halo of glory, all heavenly and spiritual, formed by the kindly and resplendent rays of that mystical Sun, which illuminates and gladdens the whole Church, and clothes, as with a shekinah of glory the whole person of him on whom the bishop has pronounced the sacramental words: Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God and to celebrate Masses both for the living and the dead. In the name of the Lord. Amen. (14)
How beautiful and sublime is the priest at the moment in which, adorned with the sacred vestments, he ascends for the first time the altar of the Lord to offer Him the Eucharistic Victim! To him may be applied Dante's description of the Angel of Purgatory (15):
The goodly shape approach'd us, snowy white
In vesture, and with visage casting streams
Of tremulous luster like the matin star.
His arms he open'd.
On the other hand, who can describe the deep emotions of the newly ordained priest when Jesus, at his bidding, comes for the first time into His own hands, that same Jesus who created heaven and earth, who, as a little child, reposed in the arms of His Mother, who conversed with His apostles, who redeemed us in His blood, who now triumphs in heaven? How that fortunate young priest feels himself ennobled from his intimate contact with the Most Blessed Eucharist!
Truly is the Eucharist the chosen portion of the priest, his inheritance and his most effulgent aureola. For to the Eucharist he is indebted to be another Christ and, as such, to sit among the princes of the people of God:
It may be well to quote here the beautiful words of the Imitation of Christ(16) regarding the sanctity which should adorn a priest. "Oh, how great and honorable is the office of priests, to whom it is given to consecrate with sacred words the Lord of majesty, to bless Him with their lips, to hold Him in their hands, to receive Him with their own mouth, and to distribute Him to others!
"Oh, how clean ought those hands to be, how pure the mouth, how holy the body, how spotless the heart of the priest, into whom the Author of purity so often entereth! None but holy, edifying and profitable words should proceed from the mouth of the priest, who so often receiveth the Sacrament of Christ.
"His eyes, which are accustomed to behold the body of Christ, should be guileless and chaste; his hands, which are wont to handle the Creator of heaven and earth, should be pure and lifted up to heaven. To priests especially applieth what is said in the Law(17) : Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy."
As the first germs of a vocation to the priesthood, their budding, expansion and crowning are due to the Blessed Eucharist, it is but meet that this divine Sacrament should form the center of the thoughts, affections and studies of the elect of the sanctuary and that, in all his actions, he should endeavor to copy the divine Model present in our tabernacles.
In the Old Law, no sooner was the tabernacle of the Covenant completed, than it was covered and filled with a cloud of glory, called "shekinah," the splendor of which kept Moses back from entering into the tabernacle. But in the New Dispensation, which is a law of grace, goodness and mercy, the priest is, as it were, invested with the mystic cloud which surrounds the Eucharist. As Peter, Andrew and James, on Mount Thabor, he enters into this glorious cloud, receiving upon his person a reflection of the majesty of Christ in the Sacrament.
Wherever a priest is, whether in the church or in his home, whether in the society of the faithful or amidst incredulous people, the majesty of his Eucharistic Lord covers him and draws upon him the attentive eyes of all present. It is as if the power which the sacred ordination confers upon him over the body and blood of Christ made him an object of special interest. Even as Jesus Himself, he is either loved and venerated by the good or hated by the wicked. The Catholic priest is, indeed, in virtue of the Blessed Eucharist, as it were the prolongation of the personality of our divine Redeemer.
A priest, conscious of his ecclesiastical and social position, will be careful not to betray his dignity by a life unworthy of his King, Lord and Model. Far from discrediting his sacred character by unconscionable actions, he, as the continuator of Christ's redemptive work, will not cease to edify the Church by a virtuous and holy behavior. This will be easy for him to do if only he keeps ever present before his mind's eye the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and strives to conform his life to that of this sweet Saviour.
The Catholic priesthood receives from the Blessed Eucharist that supernatural aureola which raises him who is invested with it above all other men, draws him nearer to Christ and makes him a partaker of God's infinite dignity and nobleness. This truth is clearly borne out, by way of contrast, if we consider the inferior esteem in which Protestants, who have rejected the belief in this august Sacrament, hold the office of their own ministers.
A Protestant pastor, whatever his personal achievements and social grade may be, is, in the eyes of his people, no more than an honest and respectable citizen, worthy indeed of esteem, but deprived of that mysterious charm and of that moral ascendency with which the Holy Eucharist surrounds as with a super natural halo the head of the priest, who is the acknowledged minister of the divine Eucharist.
It is, then, from theBlessed Sacrament that the marked distinction between the Catholic priest and the Protestant minister emanates. This is seen particularly in countries of mixed religion, as in America, England and Germany. Moreover, this marked difference appears clearly from the way in which Catholics and Protestants behave in reference to their respective pastors.
A Catholic sees in the priest another Christ and honors him as such; whereas for a Protestant, a clergyman is a state functionary, without supernatural character or attribution. He is honored simply as a man, but not as a representative of our divine Saviour.
Protestant ministers are not without feeling this difference. Some of them, anxious to enjoy the prestige which they see surrounds the Catholic clergy and which they know to be derived from the Holy Eucharist, endeavor to imitate in their churches, Eucharistic ceremonies, Mass, holy communion, reservation and adoration of the Host. Vain efforts, which convince neither Catholics nor Protestants. For every one knows that it is not enough to usurp sacerdotal functions to give a man that of which the true presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is the sole source the aureola of priesthood.
If, then, the Eucharist is for the priest deputed to consecrate it and administer it to the faithful, the authentic source of that glorious aureola which ennobles him so much in the eyes of the people; if it is from this Sacrament that he received the first germs as well as the complement of that sublime vocation which draws him so near to God; in a word, if Eucharist and priesthood are correlative terms in such a way that the one cannot be conceived without the other, it follows that it is a priest's duty to make the Blessed Eucharist the center of his life, of his thoughts and aspirations, so that he may say with truth(18) "I live, now not I, but Christ," really present in the august Sacrament of the Altar, "liveth in me."
Copyright © 2005 by Rev. Alexis H. M. Lepicier, O.S.M.
Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association
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Lombard, IL 60148
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