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Vatican Letter for World Day of Prayer for Sanctification of Priests

Sent by the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 26, 2003 - Here is a translation of a letter that Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, sent on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, which will be observed this Friday, solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.



The feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is an invitation for us to contemplate the love which unceasingly flows from Christ and spreads through the whole human race through "the gift par excellence" which is the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II's recent encyclical draws our attention to the completely exceptional importance of this gift. The divine gift is given in a very special way to us priests. In receiving that gift, we bear responsibility for the efficacy of the Eucharist in the world.

The Call of Faith

At every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, having consecrated bread and wine so that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ, the priest proclaims: "The Mystery of Faith." Here we are placed before a miracle which evinces adoration. To the material eye, nothing appears changed. In his encyclical, the Holy Father expresses his desire to be with us "in adoration before this Mystery: this great Mystery, this Mystery of Mercy" (11). He adds: "What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes 'to the end' (cf. Jn 13:1), a love which knows no measure."

The Mass is the memorial of the sacrifice of the Cross. The Church constantly draws her life from the redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through actual contact, since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community which offers it at the hands of the ordained minister. The Eucharist thus applies to today's men and women the reconciliation obtained once and for all by Christ for mankind in every age. Indeed, "the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice" (12).

The Eucharist is a sacrifice in the proper sense of the term. Firstly, it is the gift of Christ to the Father. It is a "sacrifice that the Father accepted, giving, in return for the total self-giving of his Son, who became obedient unto death (Phil 2:8), his own paternal gift, that is to say, the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection. In giving his own sacrifice to the Church, Christ has also made his own the spiritual sacrifice of the Church, which is called to offer herself in union with the sacrifice of Christ" (13).

More particularly, the Supreme Pontiff emphasizes that "the Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of the Savior's passion and death, but also the mystery of the resurrection which crowns his sacrifice. It is as the living and risen One that Christ can become, in the Eucharist, the 'bread of life' (Jn 6:35, 48), the 'living bread' (Jn 6:51)."

The offering of the sacrifice is therefore the source of new life. The saving efficacy of the sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord's Body and Blood are received in communion: "we receive the One who offered himself for, we receive his body which he gave for us on the Cross and his blood which he 'poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Mt 26:28).

"Through communion with his Body and Blood, Christ also grants us his Spirit (17): grant that we who are nourished by his Body and Blood may be filled with his Holy Spirit so that we may become one body, one spirit in Christ. Thus, by the gift of his Body and Blood, Christ increases within us the gift of his Spirit, already poured out in Baptism and bestowed as a 'seal' in the Sacrament of Confirmation."

Moreover, the words "until you come in glory" affords us the opportunity better to discover the eschatological implications of the Eucharist: "the Eucharist is a straining towards the goal, a foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ (cf. Jn 15:11): it is in a certain sense the anticipation of heaven, 'the pledge of future glory.'"

These horizons which open on to communion with the heavenly Church should always be before our hearts and minds. While they may appear distant, they do inspire "our sense of responsibility for this world," "and plants a seed of living hope in our commitment to the work before us" (20).

The call to this sense of responsibility is valid for everyone. For us priests, however, it is especially resonant. Every Eucharistic celebration is bound to awaken to conscience of those who partake in it. For the priest, it awakens his responsibility towards a world ...

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