Christ's Faithful People
When saying Mass a few days ago I paused to reflect on a phrase from the psalms in the Communion Antiphon: The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. It reminded me of another psalm which was used in the rite of tonsure: The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup. Christ Himself is placed in the hands of priests who thus become the stewards of the mysteries - of the wonders - of God 
Next summer some fifty members of Opus Dei will receive Holy Orders. Since 1944 small
groups of members of the Work have been ordained, each ordination giving witness to the
working of God's grace and to service to the Church. And yet each year some people are
surprised. How is it, they ask, that thirty, forty or fifty men whose lives are so rich in
achievement and so full of promise, are ready to become priests? I should like today to
dwell on this subject - though I run the risk of adding to people's bewilderment.
The sacrament of Holy Orders is going to be conferred on this
group of members of the Work who have had very substantial experience, perhaps over many
years, in medicine, law, engineering, architecture and many other professional activities.
They are men whose work would allow them to aspire to more or less prominent positions in
They are being ordained to serve. They are not being ordained to give orders or to
attract attention, but rather to give themselves to the service of all souls in a divine
and continuous silence. When they become priests, they will not allow themselves to yield
to the temptation to imitate the occupations of lay people - even though they are well
able to do that work because they have been at it until now, and have acquired a lay
outlook which they will never lose.
Their competence in the various branches of human knowledge such as history, natural
sciences, psychology, law and sociology is a necessary feature of this lay outlook. But it
will not lead them to put themselves forward as priest psychologists, priest-biologists or
priest-sociologists: they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders to become nothing other
than priest-priests, priests through and through.
They probably know more about a wide range of secular, human matters than many lay
people. But the moment they are ordained they cheerfully silence this competence and
concentrate on fortifying themselves through continuous prayer so as to speak only of God,
to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. If I can put it this way, I would say
that this is their new professional work. To it they will devote their whole day and find
that they still have not enough time to do all that has to be done. They have constantly
to study theology; they must give spiritual guidance to very many souls, hear many
confessions, preach tirelessly and pray a great deal; their heart must always be focused
on the tabernacle, where He who has chosen us to be his own is really present. Their life
is a wonderful self-surrender, full of joy, though like everyone they will meet up with
As I said, all this may serve to increase people's surprise. Perhaps some may still ask
themselves: What is the point of this renunciation of so many good and noble things of the
earth? These men could have had a successful professional career. Through their example
they could have exerted a Christian influence on society, on cultural, educational,
financial and many other aspects of civil life.
Others will remind you that in many places today the idea of the priesthood is very
confused. They keep on saying that you must search for the identity of the priest
and they question the value of giving oneself to God in the priesthood in present-day
society. And then others will ask how it is that, at a time when vocations to the
priesthood are in short supply, this very vocation should arise among Christians who,
thanks to their own efforts, have already found their place in society.
I can understand this surprise, but it would be insincere of me
to say that I share it. These men become priests of their own free will, because they want
to, and this is a very supernatural reason. They know that they are not renouncing
anything in the normal sense of the word. Through their vocation to Opus Dei they have
been devoted to the service of the Church and of all souls. This full, divine vocation led
them to sanctify their work, to sanctify themselves in their work and to seek the
sanctification of others in the context of their professional relationships.
The members of Opus Dei whether priests or lay people, are ordinary Christians, and
like all Christians, they are addressed by Saint Peter in these words:  You
are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may
declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous
light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received
mercy but now you have received mercy.
As Christian faithful, priests and lay people share one and the same condition, for God
our Lord has called us to the fullness of charity which is holiness: Blessed be the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual
blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the
world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. 
There is no such thing as second-class holiness. Either we put up a constant fight to
stay in the grace of God and imitate Christ, our Model, or we desert in that divine
battle. God invites everyone; each person can become holy in his own state in life. In
Opus Dei this passion for holiness, in spite of individual errors and failings, does not
vary from priests to lay people; and besides, priests make up a very small part compared
with the total number of members.
So if you look at things with the eyes of faith, there is no question of renunciation
on entering the priesthood; nor does the priesthood imply a sort of summit of vocation to
Opus Dei. Holiness does not depend on your state in life (married or single, widowed or
ordained) but on the way you personally respond to the grace you receive. This grace
teaches us to put away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light: which is
serenity, peace and joyful service, full of sacrifice to all mankind. 
The priesthood leads one to serve God in a state which, in
itself, is no better or worse than any other: it is simply different. But the priestly
vocation is invested with a dignity and greatness which has no equal on earth. Saint
Catherine of Sienna put these words on Jesus' lips: I do not wish the respect which
priests should be given to be in any way diminished; for the reverence and respect which
is shown them is not referred to them but to Me, by virtue of the Blood which I have given
to them to administer. Were it not for this, you should render them the same reverence as
lay people, and no more ... You must not offend them; by offending them you offend Me and
not them. Therefore I forbid it and I have laid it down that you shall not touch my
Some people keep searching for what they call the identity of the priest. How clearly
Saint Catherine expresses it! What is the identity of the priest? That of Christ. All of
us Christians can and should be not just other Christs, alter Christus, but Christ
himself: ipse Christus! But in the priest this happens in a direct way, by virtue
of the sacrament.
To accomplish so great a work - the work of redemption - Christ is always
present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the
Sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, 'the same now offering
through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the Cross, but especially
under the eucharistic species.  The sacrament of Orders, in effect, equips the priest to
lend Our Lord his voice, his hands, his whole being. It is Jesus Christ who, in the Holy
Mass, through the words of the consecration, changes the substance of the bread and wine
into his Body, Soul, Blood and Divinity.
This is the source of the priest's incomparable dignity. It is a greatness which is on
loan: it is completely compatible with my own littleness. I pray to God our Lord to give
all of us priests the grace to perform holy things in a holy way, to reflect in every
aspect of our lives the wonders of the greatness of God. Those of us who celebrate the
mysteries of the Passion of Our Lord must imitate what we perform And then the host will
take our place before God because we render ourselves hosts. 
If you ever come across a priest who apparently does not seem to be following the
teaching of the Gospel - do not judge him, let God judge him - bear in mind that if he
celebrates Mass validly, with the intention of consecrating, Our Lord will still come down
into his hands, however unworthy they are. Where could you find greater self-surrender and
annihilation? Here it is greater than in Bethlehem or on Calvary. Why? Because Jesus'
heart, filled with a desire to redeem, does not want anyone to be able to say that he has
not been called. He goes out to meet those who do not seek Him.
That is Love! There is no other explanation for it. When it comes to speaking of
Christ's Love, we are lost for words. He has so abased Himself that He accepts everything;
He exposes Himself to everything - to sacrilege, to blasphemy and to the cold indifference
of so many people - in order to offer even one man the chance of hearing the beating of
his Heart in his wounded side.
Here we have the priest's identity: he is a direct and daily instrument of the saving
grace which Christ has won for us. If you grasp this, if you meditate on it in the active
silence of prayer, how could you ever think of the priesthood in terms of renunciation? It
is a gain, an incalculable gain. Our mother Mary, the holiest of creatures - only God is
holier - brought Jesus Christ into the world just once; priests bring him on earth, to our
soul and body, every day: Christ comes to be our food, to give us life, to be, even now, a
pledge of future life.
A priest is no more a man or a Christian than any ordinary lay
person. That is why it is so important for a priest to be deeply humble. He must
understand that these words of Saint Paul also apply to him in a special way: What have
you that you did not receive?  What he has received . . . is God!
He has received the power to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Mass (the principal
purpose of priestly ordination) , to forgive sins, to administer the other sacraments and
to preach with authority the Word of God, governing the rest of the faithful in those
matters which refer to the Kingdom of Heaven.
While it indeed presupposes the sacraments of Christian initiation, the priesthood
of priests is nevertheless conferred by its own special sacrament. Through that sacrament
priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are marked with a special character and are
so configured to Christ the Priest that they can act in the person of Christ the Head. 
That is the way the Church is. It does not depend on man's whim but on the
express will of Jesus Christ its founder. Sacrifice and priesthood are so united by God's
ordination, that in both laws - the old and the new covenant - both have existed.
Since therefore the Catholic Church in the New Testament has received, through the Lord's
institution, the visible sacrifice of the Eucharist, we must also hold that she has a new
priesthood, visible and external, which has taken the place of the old priesthood. 
In those who have been ordained, the ministerial priesthood is added to the common
priesthood of all of the faithful. Therefore, although it would be a serious error to
argue that a priest is more a member of the faithful than an unordained Christian is, it
can, on the other hand, be said that he is more a priest: like all Christians he belongs
to the priestly people redeemed by Christ, and in addition to this he is marked with a
character of the priestly ministry which differentiates him essentially and not only in
degree  from the common priesthood of the faithful.
I cannot understand why some priests are so eager to be indistinguishable from other
Christians, forgetting or neglecting their specific mission in the Church, that for which
they have been ordained. They seem to think that Christians want to see the priest as just
another man. That is not so. They want to find in the priest those virtues proper to every
Christian and, indeed, every honorable man: understanding, justice, a life of work -
priestly work, in this instance - and good manners.
But the faithful also want to be able to recognize clearly the priestly character: they
expect the priest to pray, not to refuse to administer the sacraments; they expect him to
be open to everyone and not set himself up to take charge of people or become an
aggressive leader of human factions, of whatever shade.  They expect him to
bring love and devotion to the celebration of the Holy Mass, to sit in the confessional,
to console the sick and the troubled; to teach sound doctrine to children and adults, to
preach the Word of God and no mere human science which - no matter how well he may know it
- is not the knowledge that saves and brings eternal life; they expect him to give counsel
and be charitable to those in need.
In a word: they ask the priest to learn how not to hamper the presence of Christ in
him, especially in those moments when he is offering the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood
and when, in God's name, he forgives sins in secret, private sacramental confession. The
administration of these two sacraments has so important a part in the priest's mission
that everything should hinge on it. Other priestly tasks, such as preaching and giving
instruction in the faith, would lack solid foundation if they were not aimed at teaching
people to relate to Christ, to meet Him in the loving tribunal of penance and in the
unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary, the Mass.
Let me dwell just a little longer on the Holy Sacrifice: for if the Mass is, for us,
the center and root of our lives as Christians, it must be so in a special way in the
priest's life. A priest who, for no good reason, does not celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of
the altar every day,  would show little love of God. It would be as though
he wanted to reproach Christ by stating that he did not share Christ's desire for
redemption, that he did not understand his impatience to give Himself, defenseless, as
food for the soul.
We must remember that all of us priests, saints or sinners, are
not ourselves when we celebrate Holy Mass. We are Christ, who renews on the altar his
divine sacrifice of Calvary. In the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice, in which
priests fulfil their principal function, the work of our redemption is continually carried
out. For this reason its daily celebration is earnestly recommended. This celebration is
an act of Christ and the Church even if it is impossible for the faithful to be present. 
The Council of Trent teaches that in the Mass is performed, contained and
sacrificed, in an unbloody manner, that same Christ who once and for all offered Himself
in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross . . . thus the Victim is one and the same;
and He who is now offered through the ministry of priests is the same as He who offered
Himself on the Cross; only the manner of offering is different. 
The fact that the faithful attend or do not attend Holy Mass in no way changes this
truth of faith. When I celebrate Mass surrounded by people I am very happy; I don't need
to think of myself as president of any kind of assembly. I am, on the one hand, a member
of the faithful like the others; but, above all, I am Christ at the Altar! I am renewing
in an unbloody manner the divine Sacrifice of Calvary and I am consecrating, in persona
Christi, in the person of Christ. I really represent Jesus Christ, for I am lending
him my body, my voice, my hands and my poor heart, so often stained, which I want Him to
When I celebrate Mass with just one person to serve it, the people are present also. I
feel that there, with me, are all Catholics, all believers, and also all those who do not
believe. All God's creatures are there - the earth and the sea and the sky, and the
animals and plants - the whole of creation giving glory to the Lord.
And especially I will say, using the words of the Second Vatican Council, that we
are most closely united to the worshipping church in heaven as we join with and venerate
first of all the memory of the glorious ever Virgin Mary, of Saint Joseph and the blessed
apostles and martyrs, and of all the saints. 
I ask all Christians to pray earnestly for us priests that we learn to perform the Holy
Sacrifice in a holy way. I ask you to show a deep love for the Holy Mass and in this way
to encourage us priests to celebrate it respectfully, with divine and human dignity:
looking after the cleanliness of the vestments and other things used for worship,
devoutly, without rushing.
Why the hurry? Do people in love hurry when they are saying goodbye? They seem to be
going and then they don't go; they turn back once and again; they repeat quite ordinary
words as if they had just discovered their meaning ... please don't take exception to my
applying to the things of God the example of noble and fine human love. If we love God
with our heart of flesh - and we have no other - we will not be in a hurry to finish this
meeting, this loving appointment with Him.
Some priests take it all very coolly. They don't mind stringing out the readings,
announcements and notices until we are tired of them. But when the main part of the Mass
arrives, the Sacrifice proper, they actually rush. This means that the rest of the
faithful do not devoutly adore Christ, Priest and Victim; nor do they learn to thank Him,
calmly and respectfully, after Mass for his having come among us once again.
In the Holy Mass, all the affections and needs of a Christian's heart find their best
channel: through Christ the Mass leads to the Father in the Holy Spirit. The priest should
make a special effort to ensure that people know this and put it into practice. No other
activity should, normally, take precedence over this task of teaching people to love and
venerate the Holy Eucharist.
The priest carries out two acts: the principal one is an action on the true Body of
Christ; the secondary one affects the Mystical Body of Christ. The second act or ministry
depends on the first, but the reverse is not the case. 
Therefore the most important part of the priestly ministry consists in trying to get
Catholics to approach the Holy Sacrifice with growing purity, humility and devotion. If a
priest strives to do this, he will not be cheated, nor will he defraud the consciences of
his fellow Christians.
In the Holy Mass what we do is adore: we fulfil lovingly the first duty of a creature
to his Creator: You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you
serve.  Not the cold, external adoration of a servant, but
an intimate esteem and attachment that befits the tender love of a son.
In the Holy Mass we find the perfect opportunity to atone for our sins and the sins of
all men, so as to be able to say with Saint Paul that we are completing in our flesh what
is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.  No one is an isolated individual in this world; no
one can consider himself completely free from blame for the evil that is done on earth,
which is the result of original sin and the sum total of many personal sins. Let us love
sacrifice; let us seek atonement. How? By uniting ourselves in the Mass to Christ, who is
Priest and Victim. He is always the one who bears the tremendous weight of the
infidelities of men - your infidelities and mine.
The Sacrifice of Calvary is an infinite expression of Christ's generosity. It is true
that each of us is very much out for himself; but God our Lord does not mind if we lay all
our needs before Him at Mass. Who doesn't have things to ask for? Lord, this illness ...
Lord, this sorrow ... Lord, that humiliation which I don't seem to be able to bear out of
love for You ... We desire the welfare, joy and happiness of the people in our own home;
we are saddened by the condition of those who hunger and thirst for bread and for justice,
of those who experience the bitterness of loneliness and of those who end their days
without an affectionate smile or a helping hand.
But what really makes us suffer, the greatest human failure we want to remedy, is sin,
separation from God, the danger that souls may be lost for all eternity. Our overriding
desire when we celebrate Mass is the same as Christ's when he offered Himself on Calvary:
to bring men to eternal glory in the Love of God.
Let us get used to speaking sincerely to our Lord when he comes down to the altar, an
innocent Victim in the hands of the priest. Confidence in the help of God will give us a
sensitivity of soul which is expressed in good works: charity, understanding, tender
sympathy for those who suffer and for those who pretend to be happy enjoying false and
empty joys, which soon turn to sadness.
Finally, we give thanks to God our Lord for the wonderful way He has given Himself up
for us. Imagine, the Word made flesh has come to us as our food! ... Inside us, inside our
littleness, lies the Creator of heaven and earth! . . . The Virgin Mary was conceived
without sin to prepare her to receive Christ in her womb. If our thanksgiving were in
proportion to the difference between the gift and our desserts, should we not turn the
whole day into a continuous Eucharist, a continuous thanksgiving? Do not leave the church
almost immediately after receiving the Sacrament. Surely you have nothing so important on
that you cannot give Our Lord ten minutes to say thanks . Let's not be mean. Love
is repaid with love.
A priest who says the Mass in this way - adoring, atoning,
pleading, giving thanks, identifying himself with Christ and who teaches others to make
the Sacrifice of the altar the center and root of the Christian life really will show the
incomparable value of his vocation, the value of that character with which he has been
stamped and which he will never lose.
I know that you will understand what I mean when I say that, compared with a priest
like that, those who behave as if they wanted to apologize for being ministers of God are
nothing less than a failure - a human and Christian failure. It is most unfortunate
because it leads them to give up the ministry, to ape lay people and to look for a second
job which gradually takes over from the task which is proper to their vocation and their
mission. Often when they flee from giving spiritual attention to souls, they tend to
replace this with another occupation (moving into those areas which belong to lay people -
social action and politics) and we get the phenomenon of clericalism, the true
priestly mission gone wrong.
I do not wish to conclude on a somber note which might sound pessimistic. The genuine
Christian priesthood has not disappeared from God's Church. The teaching which we have
received from the divine lips of Jesus has not changed. There are many thousands of
priests throughout the world who really do respond to their vocation, quietly,
undramatically. They have not fallen into the temptation to throw overboard a treasure of
holiness and grace which has existed in the Church from the very beginning.
It warms my heart to think of the quiet human and supernatural dignity of those
brothers of mine, scattered throughout the world. It is only right that they should now
feel themselves surrounded by the friendship, help and affection of many Christians. And
when the moment comes for them to enter God's presence, Jesus will go out to meet them. He
will glorify forever those who have acted on earth in his Person and in his name. He will
shower them with that grace of which they have been ministers.
Let us return again to those members of Opus Dei who are being ordained next summer. Do please pray for them, so that they will always be faithful, devout, learned, committed and happy priests. Commend them especially to our Lady. Ask her to take special care of those who will spend their lives serving her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Priest.