Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the great Triduum of Easter. The celebration starts with Jesus at the Passover table with his apostles. Under sacramental signs, Jesus breaks his body, given up for us, and sheds his blood. The first reading reminds us that this, now, is the real Passover of the Lord. For centuries the People of God had celebrated this meal in anticipation of this great event. We are no longer being released from an earthly captivity to an earthly promised land; but from an eternal captivity to eternal salvation!
This day the Church celebrates the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Jesus and ministerial priesthood. In the gospel from John we do not read about the institution of the Eucharist, as we do in the synoptic gospels. We read the gospel of service; Jesus, the master, washes the feet of his disciples. Participation in the Eucharist and in the ministerial priesthood is based on service. Both Eucharist and ministerial priesthood need to lead us to wash the feet of our sisters and brothers.
In its liturgy the Church celebrates the feast of the Body and Blood with great solemnity after the feast of Pentecost. For our reflection from De Piro’s writings, we will today focus on the priesthood.
On the occasion of a First Solemn High Mass, De Piro spoke about the priesthood:
Let us all rejoice in the Lord as we celebrate this feast …
I repeat this invitation to the relatives and friends of this newly-ordained priest, to the whole parish gathered here to greet and honour this new ambassador of Jesus Christ, and to you, dear brother in the priesthood; the dignity you have been given is great, and the mission you have been entrusted is sublime.
Priesthood is a great honour established on earth by Jesus himself, God made man, foreshadowed by Aaron and by Melchisedec, praised by the prophets, and for which the angels were found to be unworthy! Which ministry could be more beautiful, more consoling and nobler than yours, called to continue here on earth the ministry of Jesus Christ and to renew the wonders of his deep love towards God and humanity!
The mission of the priest is to bring light and consolation to society.
It cannot be denied that any society is pleased with its civilisation and progress in the arts, science and all sorts of inventions. Yet, however much a nation may have advanced on the road of civilisation and progress, it always needs the light that leads it to the safe haven of glory; religious instruction is an absolute necessity. Society must be instructed and taught how to conduct itself in God’s sight.
Now who can meet such a grave need? Jesus Christ, pointing to his ambassador, his priest says, “Behold the light that will keep you from error. Behold the light that will lead you to the safe haven of well-being and glory.”
Listen to Jesus Christ as he commands his apostles and the Catholic priest: “Go and teach all nations” (Mt 28:19),” “Whoever listens to you, listens to me” (Lk 10:16).
If the Catholic priest were to be removed from society, then it would be robbed of all benefits. Without the priest, Jesus Christ cannot be present, and where he is not present reign one can only expect darkness, not light; error, not truth; death, not life; since only Jesus Christ can say, “I am the truth and the life “(Jn 14:6).
Each time error starts to spread like a poisonous snake in a country, a state, or a nation and begins to darken the minds, to spoil and corrupt hearts, the priest speaks out and raises his voice like a trumpet; he keeps alive the sacred flame of the Catholic faith. When selfishness triumphs and the poor, the widow, the orphan are mistreated, the priest preaches the evangelical commandment of charity and with apostolic courage reminds all of that judgement that awaits us in the next world.
When families are ruined, the priest intervenes to reconcile the members. The priest offers words of wisdom to young and old, rich and poor. His message is always the same: love God, love one another, live the virtues and avoid evil.
It is said that the apostles’ voices reached all over the earth (Rm 10:18); this means that the priest is not limited to one town, one city, or one country. On the contrary, he is to be ready to leave his native country, his parents, friends and relatives, and without any weapon, except the Word, and without any flag except the Cross, he climbs mountains, crosses oceans, and reaches all parts of the earth.
The priest overcomes all types of obstacles and is not scared of any dangers, of the cruelty of unbelievers or of instruments of torture. He goes wherever his is needed, to bring glory, victory and triumph.
Without priests, there could be no religious instruction and humanity would debase itself. There would be conflicts, hatred, abuse of power and civil and religious disturbances. There would be tyranny, uncontrolled Godless egotism and extreme poverty; the elderly would be abandoned, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable institutions destroyed.
Without priests, churches remain closed and we would be deprived of the real presence of our beloved Jesus Christ, and the cult towards Mary, our mother, intermediary of all grace, would be erased from our hearts. The singing of the psalms would be replaced with that of profane songs, not to mention other things.
Without priests, the family would lose the dignity to which it has been raised by Jesus Christ; we would be deprived of his influential words and civil authority would lose its power and no longer be able to prevent civil disorder. Without a religious spirit, contempt would be born, and this does not acknowledge any authority.
The Catholic priest deserves honour, respect and love because he is a source of light for society. He deserves your respect and love because his ministry among you is the source of all consolation. “He went about doing good” (Ac 10:38). This is what scripture says about our Lord Jesus Christ, he walked around doing good to all and imparting solace and blessings.
Jesus Christ wanted his Church to continue to carry out works of charity. He instructed the priest: “Go out all over the face of the earth and be a source of comfort to all.” These inspiring words, from God’s mouth, source of eternal wisdom, are received by the priest and the most splendid miracles of divine love take place.
No place is too difficult for the priest. He is in the home of the poor, helping them struggle in their desperation. And the poor man on the verge of desperation is consoled and regains his serenity.
He is in the houses of the wealthy reminding them: “Do not forget those who are living in extreme poverty; remember that your abundance of wealth is not yours but belongs to the poor. Help the poor; love him because he is your brother. Yes, on his face shines the image of God and in his veins runs the real blood of Jesus Christ.”
The priest has an important role when God is tired of the sins of the world, resulting in some terrible calamity. Catholic priests have delivered many sermons in these circumstances. We remember the latest scourge, the (first) world war, that devastated whole nations. The priest was in the trenches; admire his sacrifice and abnegation. Many thousands of soldiers asked to die comforted by the Catholic priest. Even in France and Italy, where the Socialists and Communists are strong, he is respected because during the conflict he was the only consoler.
The priest visits married couples and consecrates them. He visits us, helps us, and during the last moments of our life, he consoles us. When we die he showers prayers on our tomb. Like Jesus, he “allows children to go to him” (Mt 19:14); he is their guide and teacher; he teaches them how to avoid vices and live the virtues. In the families he brings peace and pardon when necessary. Therefore, have respect for the priest; he deserves to be honored.
Dear newly ordained priest, this is your mission. Be glad because “let us rejoice in the Lord” and do not let the shouts of our enemy cause you to fear. Against him you are armed with the admiration, respect and love of this entire people, faithful in the practice of our dear holy faith.
Let us rejoice in the Lord for this destiny that is yours. It is greater than any other dignity on earth; greater than the dignity of kings, princes, emperors and the most powerful heads of state; greater even than the dignity of the angels. Angels cannot absolve a single sin; they cannot change the substance of bread and wine into that of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and what the angels cannot do, you do every day.
Rejoice, and respond to your vocation and dignity; go and work willingly in the Lord’s vineyard. The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Always set a good example to your people in all that you think and do. Live in such a way that it could be said of you: ‘This is a priest in whom God is pleased’.
Now, approach the altar with joy in your heart. At this moment when heaven and earth are looking upon you, pray for your parents, who did a lot for your benefit. Pray for the Church of Jesus Christ so that she always emerges victorious in her battles. Pray for your friends, and also for the enemies of the clergy so that the Lord might give them the grace to repent. Pray for this unworthy servant who, for the last two years, was your director in the seminary and who today had this joy of leading you in reaping the first fruits of your priestly ministry.