.- Before his noontime Angelus prayer at the papal Castelgandolfo summer residence yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI said that the key to holy priests and to a sanctified Church lies in the celebration of the Eucharist.
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) begins a probe into seminary formation programs across the country, and smoke continues to rise from the priestly sexual abuse scandal, the Holy Father's words yesterday paint a fitting roadmap toward the shaping of faithful priests.
"The secret of the sanctification" of priests, the Pope said, lies in the Eucharist. "By virtue of Holy Orders, a priest receives the gift and the duty to repeat sacramentally the gestures and words by which, at the Last Supper, Christ instituted the memorial of His Easter. In his hands he renews this great miracle of love, which he is called to witness and announce ever more faithfully."
"A priest", Pope Benedict continued, "must above all adore and contemplate the Eucharist, starting from the very moment in which he celebrates it. We well know that the validity of the Sacrament does not depend upon the sanctity of the celebrant, but its effectiveness, both for him and for others, will be all the greater the more he experiences it with profound faith, ardent love and a fervent spirit of prayer."
The Pope highlighted certain historical examples of "saintly ministers of the altar," such as St. John Chrysostome, known as "'Eucharistic doctor' for the vastness and depth of his doctrine on the Most Holy Sacrament." He also recalled St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina who, in celebrating Mass, "relived the mystery of Calvary with such fervor as to arouse everyone's faith and devotion. Even the stigmata which God gave him were an expression of his intimate conformation to the crucified Christ."
"Nor, thinking of priests who love the Eucharist, can we forget St. Jean Marie Vianney, a humble pastor of Ars in France at the time of the French Revolution. With the sanctity of his life and his pastoral zeal," Benedict said, "he managed to make that small village a model Christian community, animated by the Word of God and by the Sacraments."
In conclusion, the Pope implored prayer for priests throughout the world saying "that from this Year of the Eucharist, they may draw the fruit of a renewed Love for the Sacrament they celebrate. Through the intercession of the Virgin Mother of God, may they always live and bear witness to the mystery that is put in their hands for the saving of the world."
The Year of the Eucharist, instituted by the late John Paul II, will conclude early next month with a synod of bishops from around the world.