Thursday, March 29, 2018

Holy Thursday Letter to Priests - Cardinal Patriarch of St. Stephen

Letter from the Cardinal Patriarch of St. Stephen to the Priests of the Patriarchate on Holy Thursday

29 MARTII A.D. 2018

To Our Venerable Brethren and Dearest Sons the Priests of the Patriarchate of St. Stephen, and to our future priests,

the peace of the Lord be with each of you on this Holy Thursday, 2018. Today, as you know, we celebrate and live the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the establishment of Christ’s Holy Priesthood. The mass celebrated this morning is indeed oriented entirely towards what happened so long ago when Christ gathered the Twelve together – but though it was so long ago, through the mystery and the power of the mass, we do not see it through the ages as through a glass and darkly, but experience it truly and in a living way.

The liturgy of Holy Thursday celebrated this morning contains with it several unique aspects that connect us to the very moment in which the Eucharist was established. This, of course, being priests and those studying for the priesthood, you know. Yet, it is good for each of us to review annually and reflect. We consume all the reserved hosts, so that all is consecrated fresh at the Easter Vigil. We reserve one consecrated host, however, taken with great reverence to the Altar of Repose, where it remains until it is used in the Mass of the Presanctified. Christ indeed remains with us, yet taken away by the authorities of the earth – and at the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, He is taken from us, from earthly life to the grave, only to conquer death and rise again at Easter, when the host, the living Body of Our Lord, is again consecrated. In each of these details is contained a specific aspect of the Truth of our Faith. The manner in which we the priests celebrate them is of the utmost importance, for it is, as you know, never mere entertainment. We worship the Truth, not ratings or popularity.

Following the translation of the Most Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose, we return from white vestments to purple and strip the altar. It is laid completely bare. Then, similar to the silencing of bells and instruments after the Gloria of the mass, after which is only used a wooden instrument, the office of Vespers is said without chant in choir. Then follows an important ritual that is often misunderstood in modern times – the Mandatum, or the Maundy. It is a direct experience of Christ washing the feet of the Apostles, establishing the sort of servant leadership that Christ expected. Understood in that context, then, it should be easy to see why it is not a “participatory rite” in which all the faithful who wish can or should take part. It must be limited, by Sacred Tradition, moral theology, and the ceremonial regulations, to no more than twelve men, generally clerics, though some may be drawn from the laity if need be. Once the Celebrant of the Mass has demonstrated the servant leadership of Christ through the Mandatum, Compline is said without chant, and the liturgy of Holy Thursday ends.

That Most Blessed Sacrament which was established by Our Lord as His earthly ministry was drawing to a close, each of us who share in the Holy and Royal Priesthood of Christ continue each time we celebrate the Holy Mass. Christ did not leave humanity alone. The Holy Spirit was sent, empowering the Church, and the priests, the first of whom were the Apostles, continue the sacrificial ministry of our Lord. For those who have been chosen to be blessed with this ministry, no matter what else you do, the priestly ministry is the most important and must always take precedence over everything else.

The priesthood is, as you know, an indelible mark on your soul. Were you to try to deny your ministry as Peter denied our Lord, it would be in vain. The mark remains permanently, for it places you in a separate state in life. But, to whom much is given, much is expected – a phrase that We often use, for it is wise to remind ourselves of that truth. All that we do must begin at and flow from the altar of Christ. When others brag about all that they do, let your answer simply be to say: “We celebrate the liturgy.” Indeed, nothing else is of as much importance, and nothing is as powerful. All the armies of the world that have ever existed do not have as much power as one priest devoutly saying a single mass. It is the greatest weapon in the world, and it is a weapon of peace. Nothing that does not originate from it has any meaning whatsoever.

My venerable brethren and dearest sons, ponder these things as you continue your journey through the Sacred Triduum this year and as you continue to celebrate the Holy Mass in the future. Through your own better understanding of your ministry, you may experience that ministry in a deeper and more complete way, and in so doing, you cannot help but guide those entrusted to your care towards a deeper spiritual journey towards the ultimate Truth of Jesus Christ.