been chosen from among men by Jesus Christ, and we remember this
as we pray in the Preface of the Chrism Mass: "He appointed them
to renew in his name the sacrifice of redemption as they set before
your family his paschal meal. He calls them to lead your holy people
in love, nourish them by your word and strengthen them through the
As the one
who offers the sacrifice, the priest has an indispensable role within
the Mass. Elements of the Mass help us see and remember this role.
We don't ever want to diminish the importance of the priest because
doing so only undermines the faithful's real participation in the
When the bishop
or priest begins Mass, he wears special garments. No other minister
will wear the priestly stole and chasuble. The stole signifies his
authority to lead the people of God in worship. The loose-fitting
garment over the stole is a chasuble and it has a long history.
When the priest approaches the altar, the very first thing he does
is kiss the altar. In keeping with an ancient tradition, kissing
an object shows a reverence for what or whom it represents. The
altar symbolizes Christ; it is also the place where the sacrifice
of Calvary takes place anew. So in kissing the altar, the priest
greets his friend and Lord, for whom he has given over his life
and for whose service he has been ordained. At the same time, presiding
over the assembly, he acts for all believers in showing the Church's
love for her spouse, Jesus Christ.
then goes to the celebrant's chair. The chair has a long tradition
of being a sign of the "teacher" and "leader." The priest's chair
is always set apart from the assembly to note this distinction.
The priest's role in leading his people is manifested as he stands,
prays and speaks from the chair. While the local bishop -- who is
the principal teacher of the diocese -- may sit and preach from
the chair, the priest stands to manifest his collaboration in service
to the bishop.
In the Mass,
the priest prays inaudibly three times. After reading the Gospel,
at the washing of hands, and just before his reception of holy Communion,
he prays in humility that he be prepared interiorly to be a worthy
minister of the sacred mysteries.
At the presentation
of the gifts, the priest will say, "Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice
may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father..." The perfect sacrifice
of Christ, freely made in obedience to his Father, is made present
by the priest as he offers the bread and wine. According to each
one's disposition, the assembled faithful are given the opportunity
to unite the sacrifice of their own lives, both their joys and sorrows,
with that perfect sacrifice.
As the celebrant
of the Mass, the bishop or priest makes Jesus Christ most present
to us by his person, his actions and especially his speaking the
words of Jesus. The priest "resembles Christ" most clearly in the
Eucharistic Prayer when he repeats the words of Jesus, in the first
person, "This is my body, This is my blood. Do this in remembrance
which occur at the altar, on the corporal -- the square white
linen centered on the altar cloth -- are all actions which belong
to the priest. You'll notice that when a deacon is present, after
he prepares the chalice, he hands it to the celebrant and
does not simply place it on the corporal. It is the priest who offers
the sacrifice and speaks the words of consecration.
It is the priest
alone who speaks the Eucharistic Prayer. It is he who speaks for
and unites the people of God in asking for the coming of the Holy
Spirit who will transform the gifts of bread and wine into the body
and blood of Christ. After the consecration, he asks that the assembled
faithful also may be united and become the body of Christ.
At the time
of holy Communion, it is the priest (who may be assisted by the
deacon) who leads the breaking of the bread, which is now the body
of the Lord, and who pours the precious blood if necessary into
additional chalices and then hands these vessels with the sacred
body or precious blood to the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion
from the table of sacrifice.
gesture of "handing over" enables all of us to see that it is the
ordained minister who is responsible for the presence of the Lord
among us in holy Communion. That's why it is also appropriate that
it is the priest (and secondly, the deacon) to repose the Eucharist
in the tabernacle if an amount of the precious body remains after
distribution of Communion.
The very last
thing the celebrant (and deacon) does before leaving the sanctuary
is to kiss the altar. As we began, so we finish -- with a sign of
love for the privilege that we have participated in through the
hands of the priest.
virtues or sins, hopes or sufferings, every priest is called by
God to be a precious gift to His people. How well he succeeds depends
first on how deeply he loves God. But it also depends on us. The
task of every Catholic is to support, encourage and guide our priests
with the witness of our own lives - and power of our prayers.