Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Three Mysteries of Holy Thursday

I love Holy Thursday because it is on this day that I, along with all of my brother priests throughout the world, give thanks to God for the gift and mystery of our vocation. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the reason for our existence: the priesthood, Christ’s gift to the Church which continues his presence among us in a unique and sacramental way. It is our Feast Day.

Three central mysteries are commemorated on Holy Thursday: the institution of the Sacred Priesthood, the gift of the Holy Eucharist, and divine charity. Each of these mysteries must be the driving force in every priest’s life. However, the man discerning a call to the priesthood can also meditate on these mysteries to help him see more clearly whether or not the Lord is calling him to be a priest.

First and foremost, every priest must love and surrender his life to The True High Priest, Jesus Christ; and in his love for Christ the Priest, he necessarily loves the vocation to the priesthood to which he has been called. We must remember that there is only one Priest, Jesus Christ. He is the Priest who offered the perfect sacrifice to the Father. And although each baptized Christian shares in the priesthood of Christ, the man who is ordained a priest shares in Christ’s priesthood in a unique way. As a ministerial priest he exists first and foremost for the sacraments, for it is through the sacraments that the saving grace of Christ is communicated to us. It is an awesome privilege to be a priest. It is a most humbling realization to know that a man is not called to be a priest because he is worthy, but simply because God has chosen him. It is a gift and mystery.

Jesus Christ must be the center of every priest’s life, and therefore the Eucharist, the abiding presence of Christ in the Church, must be at the center of his life. Because he exists for the Eucharist, the man who is a priest must love the Eucharist. He acts in the Person of Christ, and so each time the priest celebrates Mass he offers to the Father the same sacrifice that Christ offered for our redemption, albeit in an unbloody manner. This, once again, is an awesome and humbling privilege. How often do we as priests celebrate the Mass utterly aware of our unworthiness, and yet simultaneously aware of the sheer grace of the calling!

Lastly, the man who is a priest must model himself after Jesus Christ who came to serve, not to be served. The mystery of Christ’s life which illuminates the service that priests are called to is the washing of the feet. This is the third mystery of Holy Thursday: we see the humility of God in the charity that Christ extends to his apostles. Filled with love for Christ and centered in the Eucharist, the man who is a priest lives his life for others. He is not called to live for himself, but to serve as Christ served. His primary concern is to lead people to Jesus Christ by making the love of Christ present in their lives. The only way to do this is by living selflessly, loving as Christ loved.

The Priesthood, the Eucharist, and divine charity, three mysteries which give shape to our lives and to priests in particular.


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