On Holy Thursday, Pope Speaks to our beloved Priests
On the eve of my priestly ordination I wanted to receive once more a word from the Lord. 'Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth'. I realized the Lord is speaking about me and he is speaking to me.
During the Holy Thursday Eucharistic Procession, the Holy Father carries the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose.'Indeed, when all is said and done, there is only one priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ himself. Consequently, the priesthood of the disciples can only be a participation in the priesthood of Jesus.'
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Upper Room, on the eve of his Passion, the Lord prayed for his disciples gathered about him. At the same time he looked ahead to the community of disciples of all centuries, "those who believe in me through their word" (Jn 17:20). In his prayer for the disciples of all time, he saw us too, and he prayed for us. Let us listen to what he asks for the Twelve and for us gathered here: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth" (17:17ff.). The Lord asks for our sanctification, sanctification in truth. And he sends us forth to carry on his own mission. But in this prayer there is one word which draws our attention, and appears difficult to understand. Jesus says: "For their sake I consecrate myself". What does this mean? Is Jesus not himself "the Holy One of God", as Peter acknowledged at that decisive moment in Capharnaum (cf. Jn 6:69)? How can he now consecrate – sanctify – himself?
To understand this, we need first to clarify what the Bible means by the words "holy" and "consecrate – sanctify". "Holy" – this word describes above all God’s own nature, his completely unique, divine, way of being, one which is his alone. He alone is the true and authentic Holy One, in the original sense of the word. All other holiness derives from him, is a participation in his way of being. He is purest Light, Truth and untainted Good. To consecrate something or someone means, therefore, to give that thing or person to God as his property, to take it out of the context of what is ours and to insert it in his milieu, so that it no longer belongs to our affairs, but is totally of God. Consecration is thus a taking away from the world and a giving over to the living God. The thing or person no longer belongs to us, or even to itself, but is immersed in God. Such a giving up of something in order to give it over to God, we also call a sacrifice: this thing will no longer be my property, but his property.
In the Old Testament, the giving over of a person to God, his "sanctification", is identified with priestly ordination, and this also defines the essence of the priesthood: it is a transfer of ownership, a being taken out of the world and given to God. We can now see the two directions which belong to the process of sanctification-consecration. It is a departure from the milieux of worldly life – a "being set apart" for God. But for this very reason it is not a segregation. Rather, being given over to God means being charged to represent others. The priest is removed from worldly bonds and given over to God, and precisely in this way, starting with God, he is available for others, for everyone. When Jesus says: "I consecrate myself", he makes himself both priest and victim. Bultmann was right to translate the phrase: "I consecrate myself" by "I sacrifice myself".
Do we now see what happens when Jesus says: "I consecrate myself for them"? This is the priestly act by which Jesus – the Man Jesus, who is one with the Son of God – gives himself over to the Father for us. It is the expression of the fact that he is both priest and victim. I consecrate myself – I sacrifice myself: this unfathomable word, which gives us a glimpse deep into the heart of Jesus Christ, should be the object of constantly renewed reflection. It contains the whole mystery of our redemption. It also contains the origins of the priesthood in the Church.
Only now can we fully understand the prayer which the Lord offered the Father for his disciples – for us. "Sanctify them in the truth": this is the inclusion of the Apostles in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the institution of his new priesthood for the community of the faithful of all times. "Sanctify them in truth": this is the true prayer of consecration for the Apostles. The Lord prays that God himself draw them towards him, into his holiness. He prays that God take them away from themselves to make them his own property, so that, starting from him, they can carry out the priestly ministry for the world. This prayer of Jesus appears twice in slightly different forms. Both times we need to listen very carefully, in order to understand, even dimly the sublime reality that is about to be accomplished. "Sanctify them in the truth".Jesus adds: "Your word is truth". The disciples are thus drawn deep within God by being immersed in the word of God. The word of God is, so to speak, the bath which purifies them, the creative power which ...
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