The priest’s union with Christ, Priest and Victim
Sermon by Bishop Bernard Fellay for the priestly ordination of Father Bertrand Lundi, on January 27, 2013, at the Church of Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet
Dear Father Lundi, dear Fathers, dear Lundi family, dear faithful in Christ,
Divine Providence allows us, on this Septuagesima Sunday, to ordain a priest, and the Church gives advice, counsels to future priests. She considers ordaining a priest to be a very serious, very grave matter. It can all be summarized in two sentences—that’s very short, but I think that that says it all. Usually we say it in the plural for several priests: “Agnoscite quod agitis, imitamini quod tractatis.” “Recognize, know what you do, and imitate what you handle.”
What is a priest?
First of all: know, recognize, realize what you do.
When most people, and today unfortunately even many Catholics, see a priest, what idea of him do they have? What is a priest? Almost always they stop short at an extremely superficial definition or description: he is a man of the Church, he is the clergyman, he is the one who presides at the religious ceremonies…. He cares for souls…, and when they talk about souls they always look on the bright side!
This is one of the great misfortunes of our time, this ignorance of what a priest is, even before knowing what he does. The only way to know a priest in his reality is faith. The only knowledge that it is necessary to have when one approaches a priest is the knowledge of the faith. Human knowledge, what our senses tell us, is not enough. Our human experience certainly tells us something, but if you stop there, I dare say that you run the risk of being deceived. Deceived? Why? Because you see only a man. Of course, the priest is still a man, but he becomes another reality. He is chosen from among men, it is true, but he is also chosen—not by himself, not by men—but by God. God is the one who chooses him—Sacred Scripture, in one of the letters of Saint Paul, tells us this (Heb 5:1). God is the one who chooses His priests. And He chooses them so as to make them His ambassadors, ambassadors of God to men, ambassadors of men to God. The term that comes to us from Sacred Scripture is “mediator”. Mediator between men and God (cf. Heb 9:15).
This choice will be made through the Church, but the Church really makes it in the name of God. There is a call—you will hear it—during the course of the ceremony. The candidate must respond, and you will here this also: “Adsum.” “I am ready, here I am.” He is a man, yes; he is a man of God. And when we say “ambassador”, we do not yet say enough. An ambassador is a representative. Our Lord Jesus Christ willed to make something even much greater of His priest. He wanted to make of him His instrument.
The word “instrument” evokes many things in our minds, it is true, and perhaps we are somewhat mistaken. The priest is a privileged instrument, a unique instrument, who keeps his freedom, intellect and will, yet, at the decisive moment, in the sacraments and in the Mass, is totally seized by Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Priest, the one High Priest of the New Testament. And if the priest has this title of “priest”, it is because of his ineffable union with Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This union was accomplished in the sacrament [of Holy Orders] by a character, the priestly character, which is a reality, but not of the corporeal order. It is a reality that will leave a mark on the soul, which is spiritual. This mark is indelible, like the other sacramental characters. This mark really makes him a priest, provides him with powers that infinitely surpass all the abilities and faculties of men. Our Lord makes him participate, share intimately [in Himself]; this is truly the definition of the priestly character: a participation in what is called the Hypostatic Union. The Hypostatic Union is what makes Jesus, in other words, the union of two natures, the human nature and the divine nature, in the person of the Word of God. When the Word of God became flesh, He became Man, He assumed a human nature. This is what makes Him a priest, because this is what makes Him the mediator between men and God. And because He has two natures—He is God and He is man—He can stand in the middle, between the two. He has titles from both sides. Moreover, being God, all His actions have an infinite value. And therefore there can be no more excellent priest, there is no priest other than Our Lord who serves as the bridge between God and men. Furthermore, He is the One who makes reparation, because human beings, unfortunately, from the dawn of history, have offended God. He is the only One who was able to make reparation for us.
The priest is the instrument of the Word of God
The priest is therefore truly associated, united with Our Lord Jesus Christ, in a union that surpasses understanding. We have no possible example, no comparison in the order of creatures, to describe the union that Our Lord wishes to have with His priest. And it is precisely through this union that He makes of him His instrument, we could say: His priestly instrument. In the same way in which all the art, all the personality of a writer passes through his pen, since what is written can be analyzed by graphology: we can know through what is written something about the person who wrote it. This means that there is something of the person that has passed through the instrument, which is the pencil. Well, then, in the case of the priest, there is something of the Person of the Word, therefore of Jesus, that passes through this instrument and thereby accomplishes each and every one of the priest’s works. The priest has the dignity of an instrument. He is capable of doing extraordinary things, but never all by himself. Always under the guidance of and in dependence, in absolute dependence on Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what ordination will do.
Let us recall what Saint Leo said in a sermon for the Feast of the Nativity: “Christians, recognize your dignity…” – this same word, agnoscite – “recognize your dignity as Christians and live accordingly….” What then must we say to the priest? Recognize your dignity, know who you are. This is a great mystery. The Curé of Ars used to say that if someone ever came to know what a priest is, he would die as a result; he would die of love to see that grandeur, that infinite mercy of our good God for mankind.
O priest, where will you find this knowledge, where will you recognize what you are? Well, chiefly in the Mass: if Our Lord wants you to be a priest, it is first and foremost for the Sacrifice. In order to renew, to perpetuate the Sacrifice of Calvary. He chooses you so as to make really present—in other words to re-present—His Sacrifice. But the word “represent” is perhaps not yet strong enough. Because the sacrifice is not just an image, is not just a memorial. It is certainly a memorial, but it is not just that, it is much more, because every time you open your mouth and carry out this office of instrument, every time you say “This is My Body,” it is Our Lord Himself who will take these words from you by force and make them His own. He is there to pronounce them. He is there to transmit this power, which is so enormous that it will “realize”, that it will make real, what these words say. And then, this Host that you are holding in your hands, this bit of bread, once the words are said, is Jesus, the Word of God. God Almighty, the Creator, Savior and Redeemer, in your hands, by your mouth: God who stoops, who obeys His priest.
The priest must have faith in his priesthood
There is an analogy between the priest and the Host which is well worth reflecting on. When we see the Host, we see only the appearances, what we call the “Species”: what falls under our senses. We see a form, we see a color, in our mouth we feel it, and everything tells us that it is bread: these are the appearances, the species, the accidents. But the reality is Jesus. So too with the priest: we see, we hear a man, but the reality is Jesus.
It is not entirely the same thing, because in the Host the substance of bread has disappeared, it is replaced by the substance of the Body of Christ. Whereas the priest remains entirely a man. He remains a man, but he is the bearer of a reality that is accessible only through faith. It is really in the Mass that you see the height to which God is calling you and is raising you, even to the point where the angels step aside.
There is a beautiful anecdote about Saint Francis de Sales, who used to see his guardian angel and actually had a very close relationship with his guardian angel, who led him everywhere. On the day of his ordination, as he was leaving the church, his angel stepped aside so as to let the priest go first. Higher than the angels, that is the priest! Recognize what you do.
The sacraments are like an extension of the Mass, but the Mass is really where you find what you are. You are no longer for yourself. You are for God and for souls. You are for the Church, but above all you are for Jesus. This is your all. And He calls you to a sacrifice. The Mass is a sacrifice. Maybe we do not say it enough. Today they tell us over and over again that the Mass is the gathering of the people of God, of the community which commemorates the Last Supper—and that is a heretical definition. Then the priest becomes the presider at this gathering. The Mass is a meal, a celebration…. To say in this way that the Mass is a meal is condemned by the Church. Condemned! You see how many errors have spread concerning this reality. No, the Mass is a sacrifice. It is the Sacrifice of Our Lord on Calvary. A sacrifice identical to that Sacrifice. And you are associated with it. Your life now finds its meaning and has no other meaning than in the Mass, in this Sacrifice.
In saying all this, you see very well that the priest is a man of faith. This is a man who must have the faith in his priesthood. He must believe in it. He no longer has the right to rely on himself. He must of course give all that he has, all that he can, all his faculties and all the gifts that the Good Lord has given him; he must make them fruitful, but without ever depending on himself. Never, because all that you do for souls cannot remain at the human level. That would be of no use at all for Heaven. Your action consists in giving grace. Grace is supernatural. And there is no way that you can produce that by yourself. Only God produces grace, because grace is a participation in the life and in the nature of God.
This is why, necessarily, your whole apostolate must be carried out in a faith perspective. The moment you forget that, you cease to do anything. You busy yourself, and people may admire you, but it is no longer of any use at all because it lacks the essential thing that we do not see. And so it is necessary to have in the first place this faith in your priesthood, so as to apply the right means, which are and remain supernatural; and then it is necessary to communicate this faith. If someone does not have faith, he cannot please God. It is impossible, Sacred Scripture tells us (Heb 11:6). It is God Himself who tells us this: it is impossible to please the good Lord unless one has faith.
The combat of faith
We are living in an age in which this faith is abused, attacked, slashed, everywhere, outside the Church and inside as well. It will be one of your duties, after the Mass, to impart this faith, to communicate it to souls, so as to lift them above human realities and to lead them toward the reality of God. And this faith will also have to be defended.
This is our history, the story of the Society, and of our founder. And this history, by dear brothers, continues. I would even say that, in comparison with this sublime reality, talking about whether or not to reach an agreement with Rome is something trivial. To defend the faith, to keep the faith, to die in the faith, this is the essential thing! We get the impression that the Roman authorities do not understand us, because they have not understood that we are ready to lose everything in order to keep this Catholic faith. We absolutely do not want to let this faith go. Now unfortunately (and this is a fact that we can observe every day), with the Council, through the Council, and in the Council, some poisons were introduced that are harmful to the faith; they lead souls into error and no longer defend them, no longer defend them in their faith. We denounce this fact, and this is why they condemn us. Even today, the condition that they want to impose on us in order to recognize us with the title “Catholic” is to accept those very same things that demolish the faith. But we cannot, and that is all, quite simply. In no case do we agree to diminish what is absolutely essential in order to go to Heaven: the faith, with all its consequences. That is why this combat is necessary, an everyday combat.
But it is not just the combat of the faith. That is the essential thing, but it is not enough. Why? Because today we have arrived, you might say, at an age of universal combat: salvation is at stake. It is necessary to have the faith, but it is also necessary to have charity, it is necessary to have grace and to live in the state of grace. One can sin against many other virtues than faith, like those poor people who find themselves in a world that has become a pit of temptations. There is almost nothing but temptations in that world. And it is necessary to resist them, it is necessary to give these people the strength, the courage to resist. Agnosce quod agis, recognize what you do.
The priest’s place is essential for the world, in every age, but today still more than ever. Padre Pio reportedly used to say that the world could more easily do without the sun than without the priest. The priest is much more important even than the sun. Imitare quod tractas. Imitate what you handle. Faith is necessary, but it is not enough.
A priest who has faith—that is important. And if you have a faith that can move mountains, that is even better, but that is not enough. Imitate what you handle. And here too, it is again the Mass that tells you that in this sublime commerce with God, in which you negotiate the salvation of souls, you must pay with your person—I said that correctly: pay with your person. The priest is not just a priest; he has a share in the sacrifice: the share of the victim of the Host. And at every Mass you are reminded of this in Communion, which for you is first and foremost the manducation of the Victim [i.e. the Paschal Lamb], in other words, association, union with the Victim of the Sacrifice, who is Our Lord. Our Lord who says: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Our Lord commands you to love His sheep, to love Him first, and then all the souls belonging to Him. There is no exception. There is no limit. All those for whom He gave His Blood. He died for all, for all souls, and He asks you to embrace that concern. This is the concern of the priest, I would say, and there is no other: to save souls.
It was for our salvation that He became man, that He became Jesus. And if you are a priest, it is for this reason and no other: to save souls, with no limit, without any restriction. You will never be able to say: “I have to look after these souls only, this little group that I know, the ones that I love.” No, you will never be able to say either: “Those souls are enemies, and I will not look after them.” No, Our Lord died for all. You bear the priestly character, the mark of the priest, and all men, secretly in their souls, know that you are a priest for them all.
It is hard sometimes, when we see the enemy, when we feel that we are in a painfully tight spot, to forget our discomfort and to throw ourselves into Christ’s Passion for those souls, for them too. “Bless those who curse you” (Lk 6:28); this is the law of the Gospel. Imitate what you handle. Then you will shine. You will not need to tell them. Simply, in seeing you act, souls will know that you are there, for them, that you love them, that they matter more than you in your life. But, for you, Jesus Christ your Lord matters even more.
We will ask the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Priest, Mother of these sublime vocations, to cover you [with her mantle], to make you enter much more profoundly into this faith of the priest, into this love, into the priestly charity that is given to you. The Pontifical says, indeed, that God is powerful enough to give you this charity, to give you this grace, to make you grow in this love.
May Our Lady protect you, help you in this magnificent vocation, for your sake, for the salvation of souls, for the glory of God and the honor of the Church. Amen.
In order to preserve the distinctive character of this sermon, it was translated in a colloquial style.
The title and the subtitles are by the editor. DICI, January 30, 2013.