THE YEAR FOR PRIESTS
This past March, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, announced a special Year for Priests to begin on June 19, 2009, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and end on June 19, 2010. The principal reason for this special year, he explains, is “precisely to encourage priests in…striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends” and to make “the importance of the priest’s role and mission in the Church and in contemporary society ever more clearly perceived” (Address to Congregation for Clergy, March 16, 2009). This year also coincides with the 150th anniversary of St. Jean Marie Vianney, patron of parish priests. The Holy Father intends to extend this patronage now to all priests, making the holy Curé of Ars the universal patron of priests.
In our Crusade for Priests, we too wish to renew our fervor in praying for priests during this “Year for Priests” and to better understand why we are called to support our bishops and priests in their special mission. By their sacred ordination, priests are conformed to Christ in their very being, so that they can act in persona Christi, in His Name and with His power. Although this special gift of God is ordered to ministry and for the building up of the faithful, we cannot forget the inherent dignity of priests as men who are conformed to Christ in a special way and called to carry on His mission among us. Indeed, they are especially called to become Christ among us. As Pope Benedict expresses it, “every priest must be well aware that he is bringing to the world Another, God Himself. God is the only treasure which ultimately people desire to find in a priest” (Address to Cong. for Clergy, March 16, 2009).
In order to transmit the presence of God to others, the priest must himself be interiorly transformed and conformed to Christ, the God-man, not only by the sacramental grace of his ordination, but also by his intimate union with Christ. His mission must in turn "derive essentially from that divine intimacy, in which the priest is called to be an expert, so that he may be able to lead the souls entrusted to him humbly and trustingly to the same encounter with the Lord" (Address to Cong. for Clergy, March 16, 2009). Priests "have been consecrated by God in a new manner at their ordination and made living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest that they may be able to carry on in time His marvelous work whereby the entire family of man is again made whole by power from above" (Vatican II, PO 12). One of the most essential pastoral goals of the Second Vatican Council was to serve as an impetus towards the holiness of all the faithful and the interior renewal of the Church. Towards this end, the Council aims first at the spiritual renewal of priests and "strongly urges all priests that they strive always for that growth in holiness by which they will become consistently better instruments in the service of the whole People of God" (PO 12).
Priests are to dedicate their lives for this service in the Church, sacrificing their own plans and wishes, in order to bring greater glory to God by leading His people in the ways of holiness. Their ministry and mission is a continuation of the ministry and mission of Christ, handed on first to the Apostles, and from them, to their successors, the bishops. To a lesser degree, all priests share in this same ministry and in "the authority by which Christ builds up, sanctifies and rules his Body" (PO 2). Priests are for us, therefore, shepherds and fathers; but they are called first of all to be, like the faithful, disciples of Jesus. They must know and follow Jesus first, in order to lead us in His ways. Therefore, holiness is an imperative for priests: "Although divine grace could use unworthy ministers to effect the work of salvation, yet for the most part, to show forth His wonders God chooses those who are more open to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, and who can by reason of their close union with Christ and their holiness of life say with St. Paul: 'And yet I live; or rather, not I, it is Christ that lives in me' (Gal 2:20)" (PO 12).
Since priests dedicate their lives to the sanctification of God's faithful—and personal holiness is a major presupposition to the fruitfulness of their ministry—it is only right that the faithful should pray and support the priest, so that he receive the grace he needs in order to grow in response to his sublime vocation. The Vatican Council exhorts us: "The Christian faithful, for their part, should realize their obligations to their priests, and with filial love they should follow them as their pastors and fathers. In like manner, sharing 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" (PO 9). Our love for Christ, Pope Benedict states, will lead us to a "correct appreciation of the ministerial priesthood, without which there would be neither the Eucharist, nor even the mission nor the Church herself" (Address to Cong. for Clergy, March 16, 2009).
Claudio Cardinal Hummes, Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, gives us direction in how this Year for Priests is to be celebrated. It is to be a year "in which the Church says to her priests…that she is proud of her priests, loves them, honors them, admires them and that she recognizes with gratitude their pastoral work and the witness of their life" (Letter on the Year of Priesthood). Although some have gravely failed in their vocation, "the overwhelming majority of priests are people of great personal integrity, dedicated to the sacred ministry; men of prayer and of pastoral charity, who invest their entire existence in the fulfillment of their vocation and mission, often through great personal sacrifice, but always with an authentic love towards Jesus Christ, the Church and the people, in solidarity with the poor and the suffering" (ibid.). And since this Year for Priests is aimed at the spiritual growth and sanctification of priests, "it must be, in a very special way, a year of prayer by priests, with priests and for priests, a year for the renewal of the spirituality of the presbyterate and of every priest" (ibid., emphasis added).
Since the Eucharist and the priesthood are so intimately related, Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of priests—as called for by the Holy See in December of 2007—is especially encouraged. Further, to promote an even more fervent commitment to praying for priests, the Vatican has announced special indulgences which can be gained in the Year for Priests. Besides special indulgences granted to priests themselves in this year, the lay faithful can also gain a plenary indulgence on the first and last day of the Year for Priests (June 19th), on the first Thursday of each month, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney (August 4th), or on any other day decreed by the local Bishop. To obtain the indulgence, the faithful must attend Mass in an oratory or Church and offer prayers to "Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify them and mold them to His Heart" (Zenit.org). These must be accompanied by sacramental confession within twenty-one days before or after, and prayers for the Pope.
The elderly, the sick, or any other who for a legitimate reason is home bound may gain the plenary indulgence if, with the intention of observing the usual three conditions (Mass and Communion, Confession, detachment from sin) as soon as they can, "on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles". A partial indulgence is offered to the faithful when they pray five times the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, or any other duly approved prayer "in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life."
With so many great incentives and helps we encourage you, as Crusaders for priests and the priesthood, to stir up your fervor in this Year for Priests, to offer many prayers and sacrifices for the sanctification of priests, and especially for our bishops, who are presently facing so many great challenges in our society and culture. They must remain in the world, but not of it, always leading men in the way to God. Already in her own time St. Teresa of Avila stated: "Do not think that little help from God is necessary for this great battle these preachers and theologians are fighting; a very great deal is necessary" (Way of Perfection, 3). So we want to do our part, knowing that we are doing a great and important work for the good of the Church and her priests, and in the end, as St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us, "Jesus will be grateful!".
© 2015 • All texts of the Circular Letters are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without written permission except for personal use.