Jesus’ “priestly prayer” at the Last Supper for Christian unity should inspire Catholics to pray and work for it, Pope Benedict XVI said on Jan. 25.
“His priestly prayer can thus be seen as instituting the Church, the community of the disciples who, through faith in him, are made one and share in his saving mission,” the Pope said at his weekly general audience.
He also urged Catholics to pray “for the gift of the visible unity of all Christ’s followers, so that the world may believe in the Son and in the Father who sent him.”
The Pope addressed his remarks to thousands of pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on today’s Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the day that brings the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity to a close.
The “priestly prayer” of Christ is recalled most vividly in Chapter 17 of the Gospel of St. John. In order to understand “its immense richness,” said Pope Benedict, it must be seen “against the backdrop of the Jewish feast of expiation, Yom Kippur.”
During Yom Kippur, he explained, the Jewish High Priest sought “atonement first for himself, then for the order of priests and finally for the community as a whole.”
In an identical fashion, “Jesus, as priest and victim, prays that the Father will glorify him in this, the hour of his sacrifice of reconciliation.” Jesus also “asks the Father to consecrate his disciples, setting them apart and sending them forth to continue his mission in the world.”
The Pope then broke down the prayer into its three main parts.
Benedict XVI first touched on Jesus’ prayer that he would be glorified, when he said “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you.”
The Pope pointed out that this prayer is “more than a request.” It is “a declaration of willingness to enter freely and generously into the Father's plan, which is accomplished through death and resurrection.”
As the new High Priest, the glory Jesus seeks for himself “is to be fully obedient to the Father, an obedience which leads Him to fulfill His filial status.”
The second prayer Jesus prays to his Father is for his disciples, who “do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth.”
“To sanctify means to transfer something – a person or thing – to God,” explained Pope Benedict. This involves two complementary aspects of “segregation” or being “set apart” from the world, and then “being sent out” to evangelize the world.
For the disciples of Christ, this meant continuing “Jesus’ mission,” he said.
Finally, Jesus prays for future generations of Christians, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” In this “Jesus prays for the Church in all times, he also prays for us,” said the Pope.
“The main element in Jesus’ priestly prayer for his disciples,” he taught, “is his request for the future unity of those who will believe in him.”
Christian unity is “not a worldly achievement” and “derives exclusively from divine unity and comes down to us from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit,” the Pope said.
Today was the latest installment in the Pope’s weekly catechesis on prayer. He concluded today’s gathering by leading those present in singing the Our Father in Latin, before imparting his apostolic blessing.