Keeping all these things in our hearts….
By Sister M. Regina
When we follow in the missal as the priest begins the prayer of the Canon of the Mass, we notice that he prays using the first-person plural. He is speaking to God on behalf of all of us: He asks the “most merciful Father,” to accept the “Holy Victim,” which “we offer Thee,” for “whom we offer.”
Everyone and all intentions are brought to our heavenly Father in the Canon of the Mass. The priest begins by remembering the living, and we, praying with the priest, do well, at this point, to mystically bring before God those we wish to remember. The priest prays, “Be mindful, O Lord, of Thy servants and handmaidens, N. and N., and of all here present.”
Next, the Canon recalls to our memory that the Holy Sacrifice is being offered in union with all the saints. We need only look up at the fresco in the sanctuary to be reminded that the saints are truly present at Holy Mass. At this point, the Canon mentions twenty-four saints by name: twelve apostles and twelve martyrs. The list begins with the Queen of Apostles and the Queen of Martyrs and her Spouse Saint Joseph.
Having brought all the intentions and having invoked the saints, the priest begins a new section of the Canon with the “Hanc igitur” “We, therefore…” As he says those two words, he extends his hands horizontally over the chalice and the host and we hear the altar boy ringing the bell, to alert us that the consecration is approaching!
Then the priest begins the narrative of the Last Supper: “On the day before He suffered…” You will notice that the priest is speaking here in the third person singular, speaking about Jesus as “He,”: “He took the bread….He blessed it … broke it … gave it to His disciples…” Then there is a sudden switch! The priest bends low. He no longer speaks about Jesus in the third person singular, but he now speaks in the first person singular, speaking in the name of Jesus, saying, “For this is My Body.” The priest is Jesus—alter Christus; he is another Christ. Jesus is using the voice of the priest to speak the words of the consecration.
It is precisely because the priest is another Christ, and because Jesus comes upon the altar daily only through the hands of the priest, that Saint Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated this past week and who is depicted on the fresco in the sanctuary, had a deep reverence for all priests. He wrote in his Testament:
[T]he Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Roman Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them. . . . .And I do not want to consider any sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my lords. And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing corporally of the Most High Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others.
Saint John Mary Vianney, another one of the saints dear to us because he is depicted in the sanctuary, speaks words about the priesthood which we wish to imprint upon our hearts and minds:
O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…
When he explained the importance of the Sacraments to his parishioners, Saint John Mary Vianney said:
Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest… After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is.
Let us thank God for the gift of the priesthood, for the gift of the priest who baptized us, the priests at whose Holy Masses we assist, the priests who absolve us from our sin! Let us pray for all priests, especially for Father Matthew Bartulica, our Pastor.