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Vol. XI, October, 2005

 

Eucharistic Woman—Eucharistic Man

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The Eucharistic Year comes to an end this month, the month of the Holy Rosary, at the closing of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. The studies and reflections we have made should anchor more firmly in our hearts the strong conviction: Eucharistic devotion can never end. The Eucharist is the total Christ (cf. CCC 1374) and without Him we would remain with the anxiety which Mary experienced in Jerusalem when she and Joseph “lost” Jesus (cf. Lk 2:48). Let us conclude our monthly reflections dedicated to the Eucharist with a look at the “Eucharistic Woman”. There exists, according to John Paul II, “‘an essential rapport...between the Mother of Jesus and the priesthood of the ministry of the Son’ (Gen. Aud., June 30, 1993), stemming from the existing one between the divine maternity of Mary and the priesthood of Christ” (Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 68). She, therefore, will help us to become a priest as God wants us to be, “Eucharistic men”!

1. Mary as a Model

John Paul II said of the Church in general: “‘The Church which looks to Mary as a model is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery’ (EdE 53). The Eucharistic Bread which we receive is the spotless flesh of her Son: Ave verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine” (Mane nobiscum Domine, 31). This relationship with Mary must be considered, of course, all the more by the priest to whom Jesus first said: “Behold, Your mother!” Jesus handed Himself over twice: once to Our Lady in order to become man, a second time to Mother Church in order to bring all home to the Father.

a) The Person of Our Lady and the Celebration of the Eucharist

The special graces or privileges of Our Lady can be seen in their relationship to the celebration of the Holy Mass quite easily. Her grace of the Immaculate Conception, her freedom from the stain of Original Sin, is in a way the ideal grace to which the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass aspires: to be cleansed, to be freed of sin in order to receive Jesus. Through the gift of her perpetual virginity Mary is totally and exclusively open for God’s love and will which made her a perfect “handmaid of the Lord.” It shows her docility towards God’s will and word as is asked also of us in the Liturgy of the Word. Her mystery to be the Mother of the Son of God can be related to the mystery of transubstantiation at the moment of the consecration at Holy Mass. And when she received, at the end of her life, the grace to enter directly with body and soul into eternal union with God in heaven, this grace makes us think of Holy Communion at the Holy Mass. Such observations illustrate the fine and delicate association between her life and her sharing in the mysteries of Christ on the one hand, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the other.

b) The Life of Our Lady

The life of our Lady with Jesus as model of the priestly service was the object of many meditations in former times. So, for example, it was suggested to meditate upon the way she took care of Jesus in Bethlehem and Nazareth, when He was still a small, poor and helpless child. Her carefulness was presented as an example for the priest in preparing for Holy Mass, in his recollection and silence in the sacristy, in his care for the cleanness and order at the altar and around it. As she was always watching her child, so the priest was encouraged to concentrate and to flee all distractions. The gratitude of Mary towards the helpful presence of the holy angels should be reflected in the gratitude of the priest towards his sacristan, the organist or altar boys.

Mary was with Jesus during His public life, but rather silently and in the background (cf. Lk 8:19). This reminds us of the Liturgy of the Word: There the priest listens first to the lectors and then to the deacon or concelebrant during the gospel; in preaching he always directs the attention to Jesus, as Mary did.

Our Lady lived by faith before and after His Resurrection. Before, she believed in His words, pondered His foretold Passion and death; she prayed for the one who would betray her Son and persevered at the foot of His Cross during the three hours of His agony. Similarly, according to the Roman Canon we priests pray before the consecration for the living. After the Resurrection, Mary meditated on the Way of the Cross and prayed for the dead, for those whom her Son would release from purgatory and even more for those who had fallen into the spiritual death of sin. We priests do the same in the Eucharistic prayers after the consecration, when we pray for the deceased.

After the Ascension of Jesus, Mary prayed faithfully in the midst of the Apostles at prayer (cf. Acts 1:14). In the first years of the Church she certainly assisted at the Eucharistic celebration and lived in Eucharistic union with her Son. Similarly, the priest unites himself with the Eucharistic Jesus. When he sends the faithful into the world saying: “The Mass is ended, go in peace!” he remains in prayer, particularly through the Liturgy of the Hours as “an extension of the Eucharistic celebration” (CCC 1178).

2. The Mother of God, the “Eucharistic Woman”

Our Lady is present in the Church; she is her “pre-eminent and...wholly unique member” (LG 53). As such, Our Lady is not just a model to be imitated by the priests. She lived all her life with Jesus just as she now lives with His Mystical Body. Therefore, John Paul II teaches in the encyclical on the Eucharist: “Mary can guide us towards this Most Holy Sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it” (EdE 53).

In the document on Parish priests (August, 2002), the Congregation for the Clergy speaks about the pastoral charity of the priest which requires a profound love for Jesus and the Church, and refers then to the “essential rapport” between the heavenly Mother and priests. It says: “In penetrating that mystery, the Blessed Virgin Mary, united with the Redeemer, comes to our assistance because ‘when we celebrate the Holy Mass, the Mother of the Son of God is in our midst and introduces us to the mystery of His redemptive sacrifice. Thus, she is the mediatrix of all the grace flowing from this sacrifice to the Church and to all the faithful’ (JPII, Aug. 26, 2001)” (Priest, Pastor and Leader, 13,4). This mediation of grace occurs through her actual presence and help.

We said before that Jesus, after first giving Himself to Mary, gave Himself to the Church. In her, all are united. At Holy Communion it is not only Jesus Himself Who comes; He comes with the Father and the Holy Spirit: “We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn 14:23). We further enter into communion in Holy Communion with the entire Mystical Body of Christ. This is the central truth and foundation of the Communion of Saints. Here of course, Our Lady, His Mother and our Mother, is the first and foremost member of the Church (cf. CCC 1370). “The relationship between priests and the Blessed Virgin Mary is based not only on a need for protection and assistance but more so on an awareness of an objective fact: ‘the presence of Our Lady’, that ‘operative presence with which the Church lives the mystery of Christ’ (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus 11)” (Priest, Pastor and Leader, 8,2).

3. The Celebration with the Mother of the Priests

Since Mary is both our model and helping assistant in the celebration of the liturgy, we priests ought to strive to celebrate the Holy Mass with her and somehow with dispositions similar to those she had at the side of her Son. We will be well aware of her presence when we mediate from the Father to the faithful, and when we transmit the petitions of the people through the Son to the Father. Like Mary in the Church, the priests should celebrate with humility, pray respectfully, surrender themselves out of love, serve in the spirit of obedience, forget themselves completely, remain modestly in the background and be pure and transparent while celebrating Mass in the name and person of Christ.

In this way, we can be assured that the Holy Mass is also for our holy angels a precious moment. One of them explained to St. John the Apostle, “I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 19:10). They assist us and help us along with Our Lady at every celebration. Let us, therefore, also call upon their help for a worthy celebration characterized by attention and concentration, faith, confidence and love.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

As priests we must lead a God-centered life with the help of the holy angels and more so with the assistance of Our Lady. With the help of both we will become Eucharistic priests. Let us remind ourselves of their life in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord and of their longing and readiness to help us in this most sublime act on earth by invoking them before and after the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. For centuries now the Church has been inviting us the priests to say the following prayers to the Virgin Mary (Sacramentary, pp. 1009, 1014):

In Preparation for Mass

Mother of mercy and love, Blessed Virgin Mary, I am a poor and unworthy sinner, and I turn to you in confidence and love. You stood by your Son as He hung dying on the cross. Stand also by me, a poor sinner, and by all priests who are offering Mass today here and throughout the entire Church. Help us to offer a perfect and acceptable sacrifice in the sight of the holy and undivided Trinity, our most High God. Amen.

Thanksgiving after Mass

Mary, holy Virgin Mother, I have received your Son, Jesus Christ. With love you became His Mother, gave birth to Him, nursed Him, and helped Him grow to manhood. With love I return Him to you, to hold once more, to love with all your Heart, and to offer to the Holy Trinity as our supreme act of worship for your honor and for the good of all your pilgrim brothers and sisters. Mother, ask God to forgive my sins and to help me serve Him more faithfully. Keep me true to Christ until death, and let me come to praise Him with you forever and ever. Amen.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC