This year, the United States Council of Serra International has designated Sunday, September 27, as Priesthood Sunday. We are familiar with and grateful to the members of Serra within our Diocese who promote, foster, and pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Serra’s promotion of Priesthood Sunday is in keeping with its love for priests and its encouragement of vocations.
Priesthood Sunday is set aside to honor priests in the United States. It affirms the unique role of the priest in the Church. We are blessed in the Diocese of Palm Beach with faith filled and dedicated priests to whom I express my deep gratitude for all they do in so many ways in carrying out their ministry. They are a great support to me, and I am always so pleased to hear the frequent words of praise, gratitude and love the people of the parishes express for their priests.
The closure of our churches as part of the safety measures taken during the coronavirus pandemic certainly offered the context in which we are able to appreciate our priests and their ministry even more. During the phased reopening of churches our priests continue to be generous in offering live stream Masses for which we are very grateful. Nevertheless, we all continue to miss the ability to be personally present with our priests and each other at Mass and the many other church events.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, recently issued an important letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences around the world. It is a letter pertaining to the limitations imposed upon Church life during the pandemic but more a reflection on the importance and centrality of Church life, especially in regard to the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments. The letter reflects upon the need to prepare to return fully to church when the dangers of contagion are safely over. It is entitled, Let us return to the Eucharist with joy! The letter has been published with the approval of Pope Francis.
Cardinal Sarah stresses that, while the virtual celebration of Masses have been spiritually supportive, they do not take the place of being at the celebration of the Eucharist in church. He enumerates that, “we cannot live as Christians without participating in the sacrifice of the Cross; we cannot be without the banquet of the Eucharist, the table of the Lord; we cannot be without the Christian community, the family of the Lord; we cannot be without the house of the Lord, which is our home; and we cannot be without the Lord’s day, without Sunday. The Cardinal stresses that, “As soon as circumstances permit, (however,) it is necessary and urgent to return to the normality of Christian life, which has the church building as its home and the celebration of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as the ‘summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10).’”
As we celebrate Priesthood Sunday, we honor the unique identity of the priest who draws us together around the altar and feeds us with the Body and Blood of the Lord. The priest is the one of our community who helps us to discern the unique role we each have in building up the Body of Christ in our individual parishes. The priest is a witness to Jesus Christ and is configured to Him in such a unique manner in his ordination that he is able to act in His Person, especially in the Mass. The priest is a brother and father and his role is so well articulated in his title, “Father.”
It his Apostolic Exhortation on the Amazon Synod, Pope Francis made a very strong affirmation of the identity of the priest, especially in regard to his being the ordained celebrant of the Eucharist. The Pope articulated how the priest is a sign of Christ as the wellspring of grace when he celebrates the Eucharist. He emphasized that, “It is important to determine what is most specific to a priest, which cannot be delegated. The answer lies in the Sacrament of Holy Orders which configures him to Christ the Priest. The first conclusion, then, is that exclusive character received in Holy Orders which qualifies a priest alone to preside at the Eucharist. … For this reason, only the priest can say ‘this is My Body.’”
As we joyfully look forward to fully returning to the Eucharist, we do so with much gratitude to the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist and for our priests who celebrate it in His Name.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 25, 2020