“During Mass the priest becomes identified with Christ. He is really Ipse Christus, Christ Himself.”
Cardinal Robert Sarah marked the 50th anniversary of his ordination yesterday, and at a Mass in St. Peter’s offered some thoughts on the priesthood in his homily — translated here by Joan Lewis:
What I have become I also owe to my parents: Alexandre and Marie Claire. The priest – here is the most magnificent work, the most generous gift that God has given to humanity – is the most precious and inconceivable treasure that exists on earth: the Curé of Ars, Saint John-Mary Vianney was deeply convinced of it.
He said: “If we had faith, we would see God hidden in the priest like a light behind the glass, like wine mixed with water. How great is the priest! If he really understood (this), he would die. … God obeys him: he says two words and Our Lord descends from heaven at hearing this voice and closes himself in a small host.” The priest is “a man who stands in the place of God, a man who is clothed with all the powers of God. …Look at the power of the priest! His tongue makes God of a piece of bread!”
However, this happens only if we priests agree to be crucified with Christ, if each of us is ready to say, like Saint Paul, in the concrete web of our existence: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (cf .Gal 2.19-20). Christ, the Son of God, only through the Cross and at the end of an extraordinary descent into an abyss of humiliation, comes to confer on priests the divine power to celebrate the Eucharist and to tear men, his earthly brothers, from the slavery of sin and death, to make them partakers of his divinity.
The Eucharist takes place only if our life is marked by the Cross. According to St. Josemaría Escrivà, the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the vital motivation of the priest, the pillar on which his priestly existence is built. In his motto he wrote it this way: “in laetitia nulla dies sine cruce: in joy, no day without the Cross”. The priest lives joy in its fullness in the Holy Mass, which is the raison d’être of his existence, what gives meaning to his life.
During the Mass, on the paten and in the chalice, the priest is close to the Host, he is truly before and together with our Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus looks at him and he looks at Jesus. Are we really fully aware of what the real presence of Christ himself really means before our eyes, under the Eucharistic species? During daily Mass the priest comes face to face with Jesus Christ and at that precise moment, he is identified, he becomes identified with Christ, becoming not only an Alter Christus, another Christ, but he is really Ipse Christus, Christ Himself. He is conscious of being invested by the Person of Christ himself, configured in a specific sacramental identification with the High Priest of the eternal Covenant (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.29).