Passion Sunday—29 March AD 2009
On priests and priesthood
[Mass Text - Latin]
[Mass Text - English]
“Brethren, Christ being come, a
high-priest of the good things to come . . .
entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption . . .
not by the blood of goats or of calves, but by His own blood.”
As we get closer to Holy Week, and particularly to Holy
Thursday and Good Friday, we should gain from the Masses that are offered a
greater and more complete understanding of Jesus Christ as our high-priest.
The Epistle to the Hebrews, of which we read a brief passage today, contains a
fairly comprehensive explanation of the need for a priesthood to intercede with
God and to atone for the sins of mankind—from those of Adam, on down to our
very own time. As is often the case, I urge you to read the entire epistle
at home from your Bible when you have the time.
This Epistle to the Hebrews relates how our Lord took that
priestly role upon Himself—the only man worthy of atoning for sins against the
infinite God -- and how He offered the perfect sacrifice, once and for all.
It should always be remembered that whenever we attend
Mass, we are assisting at our Lord's Sacrifice on the Cross—for they are one
and the same. And also, it should always be remembered that the priest who
offers the Mass is Christ, who only acts through the instrumentality of His
human priests. Our Lord left us the Mass as His way of making His
Sacrifice on the Cross present to those who would follow Him, even if they were
separated from Calvary by great expanses of time and distance.
Today's Gospel is taken from St. John's eighth chapter.
And, if we read that chapter in its entirety, we can see a pretty good picture
of our Lord's priestly nature—one that might serve as a good “rule of
thumb” for priests to use in evaluating their own success as Christ's
representatives—and maybe for all of us in evaluating how well we are
When read in its entirety, the chapter begins with the
familiar story of the woman caught committing adultery. The Jews wanted to
trap our Lord into contradicting the Law of Moses, and then stone the woman to
death. But instead of allowing her to be stoned, or even delivering a
sermon about the evils of adultery—in true priestly fashion, our Lord forgave
her. He didn’t scold, or even raise His voice. His only admonition
was that she “go her way and sin no more.”
The chapter goes on to describe our Lord bearing witness to
the truth. The truth is the word of the Father, and must not be hidden.
Even though the Jews threatened to stone, and eventually to crucify Him, He
could never stop spreading the truth. The devil, He tells us, is the
“Father of Lies” —the father of all those who hate the truth. “He
that is of God, hears the words of God.” “I seek not my own glory . .
. I honor the Father.” This utter dependence on truth is the essence of
priestly preaching. We have all seen what damage the abandonment of this
attachment to truth has done to the Church and to civil society in modern times.
As high priest, our Lord promises not only to secure our
forgiveness, but also to restore some of the graces lost by Adam and Eve through
sin. He promises eternal life. He tells us that, “If anyone keeps
my word, he shall not see death forever. He shows us that He is
timeless—that He is over, above, and beyond the power of time—by the way He
speaks. “Before Abraham came to be, I am.” He does not
speak of “was,” nor “will be” —but rather, “I am” —past, present
and future all rolled into one.
In verse 28, He predicts how He was to be given up in
sacrifice. As the ultimate victim for sin, He would give Himself over the
power of the Jews, and they would “lift Him up.” And this “lifting
up” could only mean to His listeners the painful death of crucifixion.
Our Lord is not only priest, but also sacrificial victim.
As St. Paul tells us, He didn't offer up the blood of goats
or calves, nor the ashes of a heifer. He filled the chalice with His own
Blood; delivered His body to be broken; gave His own sacred humanity to redeem
our suffering humanity.
Our Lord gave the priestly gift of forgiveness. He
preached the truth, without counting the personal cost. By His timeless
atonement, He turned perdition into eternal life. He gave Himself up as
both priest and victim. For all these reasons, He is truly, therefore, the
As I said before, these are qualities which we should all
try to emulate; whether we be priests or laity. We should all seek truth,
offer forgiveness, willingly sacrifice, and strive for eternal life.
But I would also like to ask you to pray for priests.
And specifically that God will strengthen all of His priests with massive doses
of these priestly qualities. An unholy priest is still a priest. He
truly offers Mass and absolves us of our sins. But think of the great
destruction that he brings upon himself and his own soul. And think how
much more pleasing to God the Church would be if it was filled with truly holy
priests and people.
So please do pray that our Lord will send us many good
priestly vocations, and that He will strengthen those of us, His priests, that
could be better priests than they are. Pray for priests as we enter the
season of our Lord's Passion and Death—the annual reminder of His Eternal High
Next week, on Palm Sunday, we begin Holy Week. I urge
you to attend the Masses of that week, as many as you can. It has been my
custom not to preach on Palm Sunday. We will read about our Lord’s
triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His Last Supper, His Crucifixion and His death.
And I urge you to pay particular attention to the Gospel readings, on Sunday and
throughout the week, which demonstrate the close connection between the Last
Supper and the Crucifixion. “Take and eat, this is My body which shall
be given up for you,” He said, and within a few hours His body was given up to
those who sought His life. “This is My blood of the new covenant which
shall be shed for many in remission of sins,” He said, and in a few more hours
it was shed as He was nailed to the Cross and as His side was pierced with a
Finally, I urge you to make a good Confession, and to
receive Holy Communion—for this week commemorates, especially, God’s
replacement of the imperfect sacrifice with the perfect—the fulfillment of
Jesus’ promise: “I am the bread of life. If anyone eat of this bread
he shall live forever: the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life
of the world.”
We are dealing here with reality—the reality of Jesus
Christ’s Sacrifice and the Bread that we must eat if we are to have eternal
life. I ask you to spend as much time as you can in re-living these events
with us during the coming weeks.