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On The Priesthood

Posted by [email protected] on May 19, 2015 at 6:05 PM

Fr. Reginald-Garrigou Lagrange


From Three Ages Of The Interior Life, Volume 1

Perfection And The Religious State; Pages 262-266

by Fr. Reginald-Garrigou Lagrange

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On The Priesthood


May 10, 2015


Fr. Reginald-Garrigou Lagrange


From Three Ages Of The Interior Life, Volume 1

Perfection And The Religious State; Pages 262-266

by Fr. Reginald-Garrigou Lagrange






In addition, the effects of Ordination are the sacerdotal character, an indelible participation in the priesthood of Christ, and sacramental grace, which makes possible the fulfillment of the priestly functions in a holy manner, as should be the case in a worthy minister of Christ. This sacramental grace is like a modality which is added to sanctifying grace, and which gives the right to receive actual helps for the holy, and indeed for the increasingly holy, accomplishment of the acts of the priestly life. This grace is like a feature of the spiritual countenance of the priest, who ought to become a minister ever more conscious of the greatness and the holy exigencies of his priesthood.


Priestly Ordination is certainly superior to religious profession, and the special obligation of tending to perfection which it establishes is surely not less. This is why during the ceremony of Ordination the Bishop tells the candidate for the priesthood that he must henceforth “study to live in a holy and religious manner, and to please God in all things.” If even every one of the faithful, each according to his condition, must, by reason of the supreme precept of the love of God, tend to the perfection of charity, with even greater reason is this true of the priest. We read in St. Matthew: “For he that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall abound.”


Speaking on this subject to the minister of God, the author of The Imitation of Christ says: “Thou art made a priest and art consecrated to celebrate. See now that faithfully and devoutly, in due time, thou offer up sacrifice to God, and that thou show thyself blameless. Thou hast not lightened thy burden, but art now bound by a stricter bound of discipline and obliged to greater perfection of sanctity. A priest ought to be adorned with all virtues and set the example of a good life to others. His conversation should not be with the popular and common ways of man, but with the angels in Heaven, or with perfect men upon earth.”


In relation to Christ present in the Eucharist and to His Mystical Body, the priestly functions show better than even Ordination does, this special obligation to tend to perfection. When the priest celebrates the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he is like the figure of Him in whose name he speaks, the figure of Christ who offered Himself for us. The priest should be a minister conscious of the greatness of his functions, and he ought to strive for an ever closer union in heart and soul with the principal Priest who is at the same time the sacred Victim, sacerdos et hostia. To mount the altar steps without the firm will to grow in charity would be hypocrisy, or at least an indirectly culpable negligence. Daily the minister of Christ ought to say with great sanctity: “Hoc est enim corpus meum…Hic est calix sanguinis mei.” His communion should be substantially more fervent each day by reason of a greater promptness of the will in the service of God, since the Sacrament of the Eucharist ought not only to preserve but to increase charity in us.


Consequently St. Thomas says: “By Holy Orders a man is appointed to the most august ministry of serving Christ Himself in the Sacrament of the altar. For this requires a greater inward holiness than that which is requisite for the religious state.” This is why, as we read in the same article, other things being equal, the priest who places an act contrary to holiness sins more grievously than a religious who is not a priest.


The sanctity becoming to the minister of God at the altar is thus described in The Imitation of Christ: “The priest, clad in sacred vestments, is Christ’s vicegerent that he may suppliantly and humbly pray to God for himself and all the people. He has before and behind him the sign of the cross of our Lord, that he may ever remember the Passion of Christ. . . .Behind him he is marked with the cross, that he may learn to suffer meekly for God’s sake all the evil that men may do him. He wears the cross before him that he may bewail his own sins; and on his back, that through compassion he may lament the sins of others, and know that he is placed as mediator between God and the sinner. . . .When a priest celebrates, he honors God, he edifies the Church, he helps the living, he obtains rest for the departed, and makes himself partaker of all good things.”




Likewise he should says the Divine Office with dignity, attention, and true piety. This great prayer of the Church is like the accompaniment of the Sacrifice of the Mass; it precedes it as a prelude, and it follows it. The Office is the canticle of the spouse of Christ from dawn until dark, and it is a great honor to take part in it. During its recitation the great intentions of the Church (for the example, the pacification of the world through the extension of the kingdom of Christ) should be kept in mind.


Lastly, the priest has a special obligation to tend to perfection that he may accomplish his functions well in relation to the Mystical Body of Christ. For the sanctification of souls, he shares in the office which belongs first of all to the Bishop, whose cooperator he should be. Thus the Council of Trent says: “Nothing leads the faithful more surely to true piety than the good example of the priest. The eyes of men rest on him as on a mirror of perfection to be imitated. So he ought to order his life, his manners, his exterior, his gestures, and his words in such a way that he may always preserve the gravity, moderation, and piety that he should have.” The priest who lives in the midst of the world is not obliged to make the vow of poverty, but he ought to be free from attachment to worldly things, willingly bestowing them upon the poor. He ought also to obey his bishop and to be the servant of the faithful in spite of difficulties and sometimes even calumnies.


The need of this perfection appears especially for the work of preaching, of hearing Confessions, and in the direction of souls. That preaching may be living and fruitful, the priest must speak from the abundance of his heart. St. Thomas even says that preaching should “proceed from the fullness of contemplation,” from the living, penetrating, delightful faith in the mystery of Christ, in the infinite value of the Mass. In the value of sanctifying grace and of eternal life. The priest should preach like a savior of souls, and he should work incessantly for the salvation not only a few, but of many souls. He should not have received the priesthood in vain.


Likewise for the ministry of Confession and direction, the priest must have a burning and luminous soul, a “hunger and thirst for the justice of God”; otherwise his ministry may become a danger to him; instead of saving souls, he himself may fall. If life does not ascend, it descends; and that it may not descend, it must rise like a flame. Especially in the spiritual life, he who does not advance, falls back. Finally, souls of whom the Lord is asking much, at times have recourse to the priest, and they should be able to find in him real help that they may walk truly in the way of sanctity. They should never have to go away without having, so to speak, received something.


We have been particularly impressed with what has been said on this subject by a friend of the Cure of Ars; St. John Vianney; the venerable Father Chevrier, a priest of Lyons, who accomplished immense good in that city. He used to tell the priests whom he trained that they should always keep the Crib, Calvary, and the Tabernacle before their eyes. The Crib, he would say, should remind them of poverty, a priest should be poor in his dwelling, his clothing, and his food. He should be humble of spirit and of heart in his relations with God and man. The greater his poverty in this regard, the more he glorifies God and is useful to his neighbor. The priest is a man who is despoiled.


Calvary should remind him of the necessity of immolation; he ought to die to his body, to his own mind, his will, his reputation, his family, and the world. He ought to immolate himself by silence, prayer, work, penance, suffering, and death. The more a priest dies to himself, the more life he possesses and gives to others. The true priest is a crucified man.


The tabernacle should remind him of the charity he ought to have. He ought to give his body, mind, time, goods, health, and life. He should give others life by his faith, doctrine, words, prayers, powers, and example. The priest should be like a good bread; he is a man who is consumed.


This was the teaching of Father Chevrier, who opened a catechism class in Lyons for the most abandoned children. To gain admission it sufficed “to possess nothing, to know nothing, to be worth nothing.” His supernatural life was such that he made true Christians and often great Christians of many of these children. With a minimum of material resources, he thus reaped a truly exceptional harvest.


Such is the ideal of the priesthood which every priest ought to keep before his eyes, at the same time recalling what St. Paul says: “But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls; although loving you more, I be loved less.” He would do well also to recall the words of Christ: “I have given you an example as I have done to you, so you do also.”


Categories: Holy Men and Women of the Catholic Church

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