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John Paul II's Holy Thursday Letter to Priests

4/7/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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"We Were Born From the Eucharist"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is the Letter John Paul II has addressed to priests for Holy Thursday, 2004. The Vatican press office published the text today.

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Letter of the Holy Father
Pope John Paul II
To Priests
For Holy Thursday 2004

Dear Priests!

1. It is with great joy and affection that I write you this Holy Thursday Letter, following a tradition which began with my first Easter as the Bishop of Rome twenty-five years ago. Our annual encounter through this Letter is a particularly fraternal one, thanks to our common sharing in the Priesthood of Christ, and it takes place in the liturgical setting of this holy day marked by its two significant celebrations: the morning Chrism Mass, and the evening Mass in "Cena Domini."

I think of you first as you gather in the cathedrals of your different Dioceses around your respective Ordinaries for the renewal of your priestly promises. This eloquent rite takes place following the consecration of the Holy Oils, especially the Chrism, and is a most fitting part of the Chrism Mass, which highlights the image of the Church as a priestly people made holy by the sacraments and sent forth to spread throughout the world the good odor of Christ the Savior (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

At dusk I see you entering the Upper Room for the beginning of the Easter Triduum. It is precisely to that "large room upstairs" (Luke 22:12) that Jesus invites us to return each Holy Thursday, and it is there above all that I most cherish meeting you, my dear brothers in the priesthood. At the Last Supper, we were born as priests: for this reason it is both a pleasure and a duty to gather once again in the Upper Room and to remind one another with heartfelt gratitude of the lofty mission which we share.

2. We were born from the Eucharist. If we can truly say that the whole Church lives from the Eucharist ("Ecclesia de Eucharistia vivit"), as I reaffirmed in my recent Encyclical (www.vatican.va/edocs/ENG0821/_INDEX.HTM), we can say the same thing about the ministerial priesthood: it is born, lives, works and bears fruit "de Eucharistia" (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, canon 2: DS 1752). "There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist" (cf. "Gift and Mystery. On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination," New York, 1996, pp. 77-78).

The ordained ministry, which may never be reduced to its merely functional aspect since it belongs on the level of "being," enables the priest to act "in persona Christi" and culminates in the moment when he consecrates the bread and wine, repeating the actions and words of Jesus during the Last Supper.

Before this extraordinary reality we find ourselves amazed and overwhelmed, so deep is the humility by which God "stoops" in order to unite himself with man! If we feel moved before the Christmas crib, when we contemplate the Incarnation of the Word, what must we feel before the altar where, by the poor hands of the priest, Christ makes his Sacrifice present in time? We can only fall to our knees and silently adore this supreme mystery of faith.

3. "Mysterium fidei," the priest proclaims after the consecration. The Eucharist is a mystery of faith, yet the priesthood itself, by reflection, is also a mystery of faith (cf. ibid., p. 78). The same mystery of sanctification and love, the work of the Holy Spirit, which makes the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, is at work in the person of the minister at the moment of priestly ordination. There is a particular interplay between the Eucharist and the priesthood, an interplay which goes back to the Upper Room: these two Sacraments were born together and their destiny is indissolubly linked until the end of the world.

Here we touch on what I have called the "apostolicity of the Eucharist" (cf. Encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," 26-33). The sacrament of the Eucharist -- like the sacrament of Reconciliation -- was entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and has been passed down by them and their successors in every generation. At the beginning of his public life, the Messiah called the Twelve, appointed them "to be with him" and sent them out on mission (cf. Mark 3:14-15). At the Last Supper, this "being with" Jesus on the part of the Apostles reached its culmination. By celebrating the Passover meal and instituting the Eucharist, the divine Master brought their vocation to its fulfillment. By saying "Do this in memory of me," he put a Eucharistic seal on their mission and, by uniting them to himself in sacramental communion, he charged them to perpetuate that most holy act in his memory.

As he pronounced the words "Do this ..." Jesus' thoughts extended to the successors of the Apostles, ...

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