Imitate What You Celebrate

“Woman, behold, your son… Behold, your mother!” / Holy Orders

“Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God.” These beautiful words are spoken by the bishop as he places in the hands of each newly ordained priest a paten (on which rests a host to be consecrated) seated on a chalice (containing a mixture to be consecrated of wine with a little water).  He then continues, “Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross” (Rite of Priestly Ordination). The sacrifice that the priest makes of his own life is tied to the sacrifice that he makes to God on behalf of the people through the Mass. We shall see that the mandate that Jesus gives to his mother and the beloved disciple from the cross dovetails with this mandate the priest receives at his ordination. In reflecting on the connection between this “last word” of Christ and the sacrament of holy orders, a man in a way receives a dual-mandate upon assuming the responsibility and identity of the ministerial priesthood.

Imitate What You Celebrate

The ministerial priesthood—which serves to offer to God sacrifices on behalf of the people, and in turn acts as an instrument of God to sanctify the people—is made fruitful to the extent to which each priest embraces the cross in every aspect of his life, from his fidelity to prayer to his perseverance in penance, from the compassion he exercises in his public relationships to the simplicity of his private life.

We hear in the prayer of ordination: “Through the Holy Spirit he [Jesus] offered himself to you [the Father] as a spotless victim; and he made his Apostles, consecrated in the truth, sharers in his mission” (Rite of Priestly Ordination). He must understand that he is to imitate Christ the High Priest who serves both as priest and victim (Heb 9:11).  At the Last Supper, Jesus established the sacrifice of the Mass as the perpetual offering of his body and blood under the species of bread and wine. He anticipated the offering of himself on the cross whereby, as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” (Jn 1:29) his blood was shed to bring about a new covenant (1 Cor 11:25). During this Passover meal, he instructed his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you,” (Jn 13:34) and developed this commandment explaining, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). The sacrifice of the cross gives the Mass its power and its meaning. What Jesus celebrated in anticipation at the Last Supper, he imitated with his life culminating in giving his life on the cross for the world.

Conform Your Life to the Mystery of the Lord’s Cross

Just as Christ identified the celebration of the Last Supper with the sacrifice to come of himself on the cross, so too the priest must embrace the cross in his life so as to fructify his service as a priest. The bishop’s mandate shows that the cross must be the cypher which authenticates and informs the priest’s ministry. Standing at the cross, the beloved disciple John sees in its fullness, in its incarnation, the mandate he received from Jesus. It is in fact a double-mandate. At the Last Supper, John (as well as the other apostles) is given a priestly commission: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). Then at the cross, Jesus gives him a second priestly mandate: “Behold your mother.”  In response we hear that “from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:27).  As the mother of him into whom every member of the Church is baptized, Mary is the mother of the Mystical Body of Christ. She stands at the foot of the cross as the solitary archetype of the Church, the communion of those who witness to the death and resurrection of the Lord.

In conforming his life to the mystery of the cross, the priest is asked like John to behold his mother, the Church. From the hour of his ordination, he is to spend his life caring for her, spending himself as a holy oblation to renew her and sanctify her. In the contrapuntal mandate given to Mary—“Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19:26) —we see that Mary is to assume a motherly role over all the priests of the Church, all those by whose ordinations become an alter Christus. Every priest is therefore called to assume a Marian character and to entrust his priesthood and ministry to the intercession of the Mother of the Lord.

Sources of Priestly Renewal

Since it is at the foot of the cross with Mary that John gazes on the Lord who imitates in his own body and soul what he celebrates in the sacrifice of the Mass, every priest can return to Calvary in Eucharistic adoration and see again the way in which he is called to offer his own life as a sacrifice, a holy oblation to the Lord for the sanctification of the Church. Let every priest turn and behold Mary as his special intercessor by consecrating himself to her. May the Church in her members, through the recitation of the rosary, constantly bid Mary to behold her sons—to intercede for her priests.

About the Author

Fr. Raymond-Marie Bryce, O.P. is a Dominican Friar of the Central Province of St. Albert the Great.  He currently serves as Associate Pastor of St. Pius V in Chicago, IL.

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