The Catechetical Review - Communicating Christ for a New Evangelization

Holiness in the Life of the Diocesan Priest

Authored by Msgr. Michael Heintz in Issue #5.4 of Catechetical Review
The fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium on “the universal call to holiness” reads very much like it could have been composed by St. Francis de Sales, as it echoes what he had written around 1609 in the first pages of his Introduction to the Devout Life. What St. Francis refers to repeatedly throughout his text as “devotion” could easily be rendered “holiness” or “sanctity.” This vocation is universal; that is, there is no member of the Church, configured to Christ dead-and-risen in the waters of baptism, who is not called to sanctity. However, what precisely this sanctity will look like will vary significantly depending upon one’s particular vocation within his Body and the details of one’s life. Formed in Spousal Love The diocesan priest is a man configured to Christ, Head of the Body, and espoused to Christ’s Bride, the Church. As the Church is formed from the love that pours forth from the side of Christ crucified, a man who is ordained a priest must find his identity in that wounded side of Christ. The beloved disciple in the Gospel is portrayed as resting in sinu Jesu, on the breast of Jesus (Jn 13:23). The Son, who dwells eternally in sinu Patris (Jn 1:18), by his incarnate existence extends his filial life to those who are reborn in baptism. They too, through him and with him and in him, dwell in sinu Patris. But since Jesus is revealed as the way to the Father (Jn 14:6), and as the one who makes the Father known (who has literally “exegeted” the Father, Jn 1:18), they must first dwell in sinu Jesu. The third century theologian, Origen, remarked that no one can understand the Gospel unless, like the beloved disciple, he learns to recline on the Lord’s breast. Intimacy with Christ is at the heart of the life of the baptized. At ordination, the faith and witness of the baptized man takes on (quite literally) a new character. The one who was configured to Christ in baptism and sealed with the Spirit in confirmation, receives a new configuration he is, by his ordination, configured to act in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ as head of the Body. He is conformed to Christ in act, so to speak, configured to Christ as he gives himself for his Bride, the Church. This is why the spousal love witnessed on the Cross is the font of the Church, the source of its sacramental life (the near unanimous view of the Fathers), and the very form of the priestly life. For the priest, the side of Christ in which he rests remains forever the pierced side, as Christ’s wounds do not disappear at the resurrection but remain the eternal sacrament of his love. In much the same way that a married couple most perfectly embodies the self-gift that defines their identity in the act of conjugal love (such that they are considered as consummating what was ratified within the Rite of Marriage), so the priest, at the altar and in offering Christ’s sacrifice in the celebration of the Mass, most perfectly embodies the self-gift that defines his identity, his espousal to Christ’s Bride, now the priest’s as well. Christ’s words, made the priest’s own (or perhaps the priest’s words, in union with Christ’s), express the priest’s spousal love for the Church. Gazing at the chalice, lifted at the consecration, it is not unusual for the priest to see himself reflected in it. In some respects, this captures the essence of his vocation: priesthood is not merely or even primarily something he does, it’s who he is. The conflict between functional and ontological understandings of the priesthood can be resolved easily if the former is always related to the latter: what the priest does (celebration of sacraments primarily, but many other pastoral tasks as well) must be rooted in and flow from who he is. His identity is determined not by these acts themselves, but by these acts as expressive of who he is by virtue of his ordination.

The rest of this online article is available for current subscribers.

Start your subscription today!


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

Articles from the Most Recent Issue

Editor’s Reflections: The Liturgical Life – A Source of Healing
By Dr. James Pauley
Free “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off” (Mt 13:24–25). Our Lord’s imagery helps us make sense of difficult and painful situations existing within the Church. He is describing, afterall, the “kingdom of God.”... Read more
Advent at Home: Five Practices for Entering into the Season
By Brad Bursa
Free Most Catholic parents are so far removed from a rich Catholic culture that living a liturgical season—let alone the liturgical year—can seem impossible. Dr. Tracey Rowland, professor at the University of Notre Dame Australia, describes the scene by saying that young Catholics “find themselves in a situation where they have rarely experienced a... Read more
Principles for Celebrating the Liturgical Year
By Fr. Eusebius Martis, OSB
For Christians, the celebration of the mystery of Christ is, on the one hand, formative and, on the other, an opportunity to offer praise and thanksgiving. This is especially true for Catholics because the events of our salvation in Christ are recalled daily, weekly, seasonally, and annually. The awareness of the liturgical cycle may not be... Read more

Pages

Watch Tutorial Videos

We've put together several quick and easy tutorial videos to show you how to use this website.

Watch Now