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Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2005

Life Must Be "Shaped" by the Eucharist

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 19, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is John Paul II's "Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2005," published today by the Holy See.

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Dear Priests!

1. In this Year of the Eucharist, I particularly welcome our annual spiritual encounter for Holy Thursday, the day when Christ's love was manifested "to the end" (John 13:1), the day of the Eucharist, the day of our priesthood.

My thoughts turn to you, dear priests, as I spend this time recuperating in hospital, a patient alongside other patients, uniting in the Eucharist my own sufferings with those of Christ. In this spirit I want to reflect with you on some aspects of our priestly spirituality.

I will take as my inspiration the words of Eucharistic consecration, which we say every day "in persona Christi" in order to make present on our altars the sacrifice made once and for all on Calvary. These words provide us with illuminating insights for priestly spirituality: If the whole Church draws life from the Eucharist, all the more then must the life of a priest be "shaped" by the Eucharist. So for us, the words of institution must be more than a formula of consecration, they must be a "formula of life."

A life of profound "gratitude''

2. "Tibi gratias agens benedixit." At every Mass we remember and relive the first sentiment expressed by Jesus as he broke the bread: that of thanksgiving. Gratitude is the disposition which lies at the root of the very word "Eucharist." This expression of thanksgiving contains the whole Biblical spirituality of praise for the "mirabilia Dei." God loves us, he goes before us in his Providence, he accompanies us with his continuous saving acts.

In the Eucharist, Jesus thanks the Father with us and for us. How could this thanksgiving of Jesus fail to shape the life of a priest? He knows that he must cultivate a constant sense of gratitude for the many gifts he has received in the course of his life: in particular, for the gift of faith, which it is his task to proclaim, and for the gift of the priesthood, which consecrates him totally to the service of the Kingdom of God. We have our crosses to bear -- and we are certainly not the only ones! -- but the gifts we have received are so great that we cannot fail to sing from the depths of our hearts our own "Magnificat."

A life that is "given''

3. "Accipite et manducate. Accipite et bibite." Christ's self-giving, which has its origin in the Trinitarian life of the God who is Love, reaches its culmination in the sacrifice of the Cross, sacramentally anticipated in the Last Supper. It is impossible to repeat the words of consecration without feeling oneself caught up in this spiritual movement. In a certain sense, when he says the words: "take and eat," the priest must learn to apply them also to himself, and to speak them with truth and generosity. If he is able to offer himself as a gift, placing himself at the disposal of the community and at the service of anyone in need, his life takes on its true meaning.

This is exactly what Jesus expected of his apostles, as the Evangelist John emphasizes in his account of the washing of the feet. It is also what the People of God expect of a priest. If we think about it more fully, the priest's promise of obedience, which he made on the day of ordination and is asked to renew at the Chrism Mass, is illuminated by this relationship with the Eucharist. Obeying out of love, sacrificing even a certain legitimate freedom when the authoritative discernment of the bishop so requires, the priest lives out in his own flesh that "take and eat" with which Christ, in the Last Supper, gave himself to the Church.

A life that is "saved'' in order to save

4. "Hoc est enim corpus meum quod pro vobis tradetur." The body and the blood of Christ are given for the salvation of man, of the whole man and of all men. This salvation is integral and at the same time universal, because no one, unless he freely chooses, is excluded from the saving power of Christ's blood: "qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur." It is a sacrifice offered for "many," as the Biblical text says (Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28; Isaiah 53:11-12); this typical Semitic expression refers to the multitude who are saved by Christ, the one Redeemer, yet at the same time it implies the totality of human beings to whom salvation is offered: the Lord's blood is "shed for you and for all," as some translations legitimately make explicit. Christ's flesh is truly given "for the life of the world" (John 6:51; 1 John 2:2).

Repeating Christ's venerable words in the recollected silence of the liturgical assembly, we priests become privileged heralds of this ...

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