Prayers for Priests
Chalice of Strength
Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper. On that same night He began His Passion on the Mount of Olives, falling into an agony as His Sacred Humanity pondered the sufferings He would take on to redeem the whole world. To assist Him in this spiritual battle, an angel was sent to offer Him a chalice. This chalice symbolizes the strength which Christ received from the Heart of the Father in order to accomplish the sacrifice of Redemption. This night of agony in the garden is intrinsically related to the priesthood. Every priest is an “alter Christus” (another Christ), likewise called to carry on this same sacrificial mission of Redemption in the Church today. By our prayers and sacrifices we too—like the angel—wish to offer our priests a chalice of strength, so that they may persevere in their daily trials and faithfully accomplish the unique mission entrusted to them by the Father.
Crusade of Prayer and Reparation for Priests
Priests are a gift from God to the Church and to all humanity. Through them we receive the Eucharist and all the Sacraments, by which our sins are forgiven, grace is infused and we attain to union with God. The salvation or loss of thousands of souls can depend on the fidelity of a single priest. For this reason, priests are in a special way under spiritual attack. From the very beginning our Lord exhorted His disciples to pray to the Father to send laborers into the harvest (Mt 9:39). St. Paul, in turn, implored the prayers of the faithful for himself as a priest and Apostle (cf. 1 Thes 5:25; Rom 15:30, etc.), mindful surely that even as a priest, he carried the treasure of divine grace in a vessel of clay (cf. 2 Cor 4:7). Priests need the prayers and support of many lay persons in order to fulfill faithfully their special mission. The second Vatican Counsel states, “The Christian faithful, for their part, should realize their obligations to their priests… [S]haring their cares, they should help their priests by prayer and work insofar as possible so that their priests might more readily overcome difficulties and be able to fulfill their duties more fruitfully” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 9).
On December 8, 2007, the Congregation for the Clergy, addressed a letter to every diocesan bishop in the world, calling for Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of priests and spiritual maternity, after the example of Mary, Mother of the Eternal and High Priest, Jesus Christ. Recognizing the great spiritual crisis of priests in our times and the crisis of vocations, the Congregation announced that in handling this situation, “with an awareness that action follows being and that the soul of every apostolate is Divine intimacy, it is our intention that the departure point be a spiritual endeavor” (Claudio Cardinal Hummes, Congregation for the Clergy, Letter to Bishops, emphasis added). Priests cannot remain faithful just on the strength of committees and social groups—they need above all an intimate union with Christ, a deep prayer life and the spiritual support of those who pray for them.
In the midst of all his duties and ministry, the priest must find and maintain an intimate union with Christ as the source of his spiritual efficacy in the service of souls. “The mystery and reality of the Church cannot be reduced to the hierarchical structure, the Liturgy, the Sacraments, and juridical ordinances. In fact, the intimate nature of the Church and the origin of its sanctifying efficacy must be found first in a mystical union with Christ” (ibid., p. 5, emphasis added). Mary is the beginning and model of union with Christ. She is our Mother in the order of grace. “She is the model of the maternal love which must inspire all those who cooperate—through the apostolic mission of the Church—in the regeneration of all humanity” (ibid., p. 6). It is the duty of priests to administer to the needs of souls.Nonetheless, with and like Mary, every soul can, in the order of grace, become a spiritual mother especially to priests, helping them to maintain their union with Christ in the midst of all their trials, duties and temptations.
The efficacy of Mary’s mediation comes from her holiness, her union with Christ through obedience, faith, hope and charity. And out of the fecundity of this union—she in Jesus and Jesus in her—they confer all the graces their children need to grow up to “the full stature of Christ” (cf. Eph 4:13). So great and efficacious is Mary in this union that she also mediates to priests not only their own personal grace, but that of their ministry as well.
Today, the Church calls us also to unite ourselves with Mary and to offer our prayers and sufferings especially for priests. Like her and with her help, we are called to become spiritual mothers of these souls so precious in the eyes of God. Our Lord said to Venerable Conchita of Mexico (1862–1937), “I want to come again into this world…in My priests. I want to renew the world by revealing Myself through the priests. I want to give My Church a powerful impulse in which I will pour out the Holy Spirit over My priests like a new Pentecost” (Congregation for the Clergy, Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity, 2007, p.24). St. Therese of Lisieux also said to her sister, Celine, “Let us live for souls, let us be apostles, let us save especially the souls of priests. …Let us pray, let us suffer for them, and, on the last day, Jesus will be grateful” (LT 94).
With Mary, let us all—both men and women—learn to live this spiritual maternity for priests. The closer we grow to the Heart of Jesus, the more we will read there His thirst for priests. We are not to rely on our own strength, but listening to the word of God, we want to surrender ourselves to His will in every trial and stand before Him in the name of priests, interceding and pleading for their sanctification and salvation. We want to “pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He send laborers into His field”, that young men have the courage to open their hearts for the call of Jesus, “Be not afraid! … I will make of you fishers of men!” And “on the last day, Jesus will be grateful!”
Spiritual Adoption Program in Opus Angelorum
Along with the call to prayer for priests, the Congregation for the Clergy has also called for a worldwide campaign to encourage the spiritual adoption of priests, a call to souls who will pray and especially make Eucharistic Adoration for the salvation and sanctification of priests. For many years the Opus Angelorum has sponsored the spiritual Crusade of Prayer and Reparation for Priests with an appeal for prayer, sacrifice and even the spiritual adoption of specific priests. Priests depend upon our prayers—they need the spiritual support of the faithful.
There are several ways to participate in the Crusade for Priests:
1. You may sign up for our free bi-annual meditations on the priesthood and commit to pray in a general way on behalf of priests, remembering them especially on Thursdays, the day of the institution of the priesthood.
2. You may spiritually adopt a specific bishop, priest, seminarian or young man discerning his vocation. In this program, members will receive a free initial Crusade packet containing a suggested daily prayer for priests, a copy of this booklet and the Litany of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim. They will also receive the free bi-annual Circular Letter on the priesthood. They dedicate themselves to more regular prayers and sacrifices for the benefit of the individual entrusted to their care. In the spiritual adoption program, we remain anonymous and support our priest by our prayers and sacrifices rather than by letters or gifts.
The Holy Eucharist and a Holy Priesthood
by Rev. John A. Hardon, SJ
It must sound pious to associate the Holy Eucharist with the Holy Priesthood. But this is not piety. It is necessity. Without the priests there would not be a Eucharist, and without the Eucharist, the priesthood would not be holy. Our present focus, however, is on the necessity of the Eucharist to produce and provide that the sanctity of the priesthood will survive till the end of time. The Holy Eucharist is indispensable for living out the supernatural and therefore humanly impossible demands that Christ places on those who enter the priesthood in his name. My plan is to cover the following views of this fundamental issue:
The sacrifice of selfless love required of a priest is impossible without the superhuman strength from God. The principal source of this superhuman strength is the Holy Eucharist. Catholic priests are a living witness to Christs power to work moral miracles in the world today. The single most important need for the priesthood is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist.
It does not take great intelligence to see that a faithful and spiritually fruitful priesthood requires superhuman strength. Change the word "superhuman" to "supernatural" and we begin to see what we are talking about. Catholic Christianity is unique among the religions of the world, whether ancient as among the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans before Christ, or among the living religions of the human race.
Catholic Christianity is unique in making demands on the morality of its believers that are beyond human nature, by itself, to live up to. The two hardest demands are the practice of Christian chastity and Christian charity. Combine these two virtues with celibacy and self-sacrifice and we begin to see why the priesthood requires, indeed demands, superhuman power from God to remain faithful for a lifetime.
This is what Christianity is all about: living a superhuman life by means of superhuman grace provided by Christ to those who believe that he is God who became man to enable us to witness to his name.
Receiving priestly ordination is one thing. Living as a holy priest for a lifetime is something else. That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The moment we say, "Sacrament of the Eucharist," we mean a triple Sacrament:
The Sacrifice - Sacrament of the Mass.
The Communion - Sacrament of the Mass.
The Presence - Sacrament of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist to give those who believe in him the power they need to remain alive in his grace. For priests, this means the light and the strength they must constantly receive if they are to live out the sublime directives of the Holy Spirit for Christian believers who received the Sacrament of the Priesthood. They have no choice. The world in which they live is a world in which the self has been defiled and lust has become the new norm of society.
Not to be deceived by this world, whose prince, Christ tells us, is the devil, Catholic priests need the light that only Christ can give. He is available with this grace through the Holy Eucharist.
Not to be seduced by this world, masterminded by Satan, Catholic priests need the courage that only Christ can give. He tells us not to be afraid. Why not? Because as he says, "have confidence, I have overcome the world."
What is he telling priests? He is assuring them that he is still on earth in the Blessed Sacrament; that he is still offering himself daily on our altars in the Sacrifice of the Mass; that he is still giving himself to them in Holy Communion. Why? In order to enable them to do what is humanly beyond their natural intelligence to comprehend; beyond their natural will power to perform.
Priests have no choice, the psychological pressure from the world, the flesh and the devil are too strong to cope with by themselves. The Holy Eucharist must remain if it already is, or become, if it is not, the mainstay of their priestly lives. This is no option. It is a law of spiritual survival in every age and with thunderous emphasis for Catholic priests in our day.
No doubt the Eucharistic Faith and devotion of priests are crucially important in the priestly apostolate. "Like priest, like people" is a truism of the Churchs history. But "like Eucharist, like priest" is also a sobering fact of the Churchs biography.
Priests are as selfless and chaste, as sacrificing and humble, as their lives are centered on the Eucharist. The daily and devout offering of the Mass, the daily Holy Hour and frequent Benediction, the frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament - these are not superficial priestly devotions. They are expressions of a profound love for Jesus Christ, now living and offering himself for our sanctification on earth on our way to eternity.
If there is one thing that stands out in Christs visible life in Palestine, it was his power to work miracles. In one chapter after another of the Gospels, Christ performed signs and wonders that testified to his claims to being One with the Father and that, without him, we can do nothing to reach our eternal destiny.
Christ changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee.
Christ restored sight to the blind and speech to the mute.
Christ cured paralytics so they could use their limbs.
Christ calmed the storm at sea by a single word.
Christ even raised Lazarus from the grave. When he told the dead man to "come forth," what had been a decaying corpse came out of the tomb as a living human being.
But Christs greatest miracles were not his power over the physical laws of nature. They were his power to change unbelieving minds to become believers in his word, and unbelieving hearts to become men of heroic virtue.
The pagans of the first three centuries A.D. were converted to Christ when they saw Christians practicing chastity and charity. It was especially the generous and chaste love of Christs priests that changed pagans into believing Christians and in the process, changed the history of the human race.
Where did the early Christians receive the incredible strength they needed to follow Christ when even to become a Christian meant to expect martyrdom? Where did they receive the superhuman power to live such superhuman lives? Where? From the Holy Eucharist, to which the priests themselves were so devoted and which they so earnestly promoted among the people.
It is not commonly known, but should become known, that in the early Church, Christians heard Mass and received Holy Communion every day. The Holy Eucharist was brought to them in person as they were awaiting martyrdom by fire or the sword, or by being devoured by wild beasts.
We turn to our own day. What Christ did during his visible stay on earth in first century Palestine, he has continued doing down through the ages by the exercise of his almighty power available in his invisible presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is the same, really same, truly same, substantially same, Jesus Christ who worked miracles at the dawn of Christianity, who is now present in the Blessed Sacrament, offering himself in the Mass, and received by us in the Holy Eucharist.
What do we conclude from this? Obviously, that Catholic priests and bishops be witnesses in our day to Christs power in their lives, as were the Christians who were mangled by lions in the Roman Colosseum, or like St. John Fisher, who was beheaded by order of a lecherous king who discarded his wife in sixteenth century England.
This brings us to our final reflection. I make bold to say that the single most important need for Catholic priests is a renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist. There is an outstanding statement in the Gospel about Christ not performing miracles among some people because of their lack of faith.
Notice what we are saying. We are saying that the Almighty Master of heaven and earth, the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars, when he became man was unable to exercise his omnipotence because of some peoples lack of faith. Of course, this means that he could not, because he would not work miracles where the people refused to submit their minds in humble belief to his divinity.
Would anyone doubt that in our nation in the last decade of the twentieth century we need an avalanche of moral miracles to protect the priesthood and the priestly apostolate from the demonic forces let loose in our country today? Only God can work a miracle and, we need to change the metaphor, an ocean of miracles in America as in Canada as in England and France and Germany and Scandinavia, to mention just a few materially wealthy countries that are in desperate need of divine grace where so many are walking in darkness and the shadow of eternal death.
Jesus Christ is the infinite God who became man. He became man not only to die for us on Calvary, he became man to live with us in the Holy Eucharist. His divine power is accessible in the Holy Eucharist to those, beginning with priests, who have humility to believe.