By Father Mauro Gagliardi
VATICAN CITY, 20 NOV. 2009 (ZENIT)
Benedict XVI proclaimed, as
everyone knows, the Year for Priests (June 2009-June 2010), on
the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the "dies natalis" of
the holy Curé d'Ars. The purpose is "to deepen the commitment of
all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and
more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world".
St. John Mary Vianney, besides concretely representing a supreme
model of the priesthood, always proclaimed with clarity and
incomparable emphasis the dignity of the priesthood and the
centrality of the ordained ministry in the heart of the Church.
Drawing from his teachings, the Holy Father re-proposed these
words of the saint: "O, how great is the priest! … If he
realized what he is, he would die. […] God obeys him: He utters
a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to
be contained within a small host."
And again: "Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not
have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest.
Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The
priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its
journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God,
bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The
priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die
[as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its
calm and peace? Again, the priest… After God, the priest is
everything! […] Only in heaven will he fully realize what he
As we see, St. John Mary points to the greatness of the priest
with the privileged reference to the power that he exercises in
the sacraments in the name of the Person of Christ. Benedict XVI
brought this light, citing still other words of the Curé d'Ars,
which refer in particular to the office of celebrating the Holy
Eucharist. The Pope writes that the saint "was convinced that
the fervor of a priest's life depended entirely upon the Mass:
'The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay
attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who
celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!'".
The Year for Priests proposes for our reflection the figure of
the priest and, in a special way, his dignity of ordained
minister who celebrates the sacraments, for the benefit of the
whole Church, in the Person of Christ, high and eternal
In this Year for Priests, which will be celebrated between 2009
and 2010, there are nevertheless also other recurrences that
merit attention because they are intimately connected with the
Eucharistic nature of the priestly dignity. In 1969, Pope Paul
VI proclaimed, with the apostolic constitution "Missale Romanum,"
the new missal prepared after the Second Vatican Council. In the
present year, 2009, then, we celebrate 40 years since this
Next year, 2010, we will celebrate two other anniversaries that
are also directly linked to the celebration of the Eucharist.
The first is the 40th anniversary (1970-2010) of the
promulgation of the definitive "editio typica" (first) of the "Institutio
Generalis Missalis Romani." The second is the 440th anniversary
of the promulgation of the missal that we currently call "Vetus
Ordo" or "Usus antiquor," promulgated by St. Pius V with the
apostolic constitution "Quo primum" of July 14, 1570. This
constitution is recalled, together with Pius V's missal, from
the very first words of Paul VI's above-mentioned apostolic
constitution "Missale Romanum."
The two missals, also united in the celebrations of the
respective anniversaries, are two forms of the one "lex orandi"
(law of prayer) of the Church of the Latin Rite. Benedict XVI
has expressed himself in this manner, teaching that, in relation
to the missal of Paul VI, "the Roman Missal promulgated by St.
Pius V and reissued by Blessed John XXIII is to be considered as
an extraordinary expression of that same 'lex orandi,' and must
be given due honor for its venerable and ancient usage. These
two expressions of the Church’s 'lex orandi' will in no any way
lead to a division in the Church's 'lex credendi' (law of
belief). They are, in fact, two usages of the one Roman rite. It
is, therefore, permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the
Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal
promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an
extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church."
The possibility of a serene and harmonious coexistence of the
two forms of the one Roman Rite also has been indirectly
affirmed by the presence of both "Ordines Missae" (of Bl. John
XXIII and Paul VI) within the very recent "Compendium
Eucharisticum," published by the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
The concurrence of these different anniversaries has likewise
determined the theme that the Spirit of the Liturgy column
proposes to explore this year: The Priest in the Eucharistic
Through these periodic articles by expert theologians,
liturgists and canonists, we will try to present the role and
the task of the priest in the various parts of the Mass in a
clear and accessible way, with respect to both missals. The hope
is that these articles will help priests take advantage of the
opportunity for reflection and conversion offered by the Year
for Priests and move them to a care that is always more
attentive to the "ars celebrandi" (art of celebrating).
We hope, moreover, that the contributions will also help the
men and women religious, seminarians, faithful lay people
to reconsider with greater attention, and venerate with profound
religious respect, the grandeur of the Eucharistic mystery and
the dignity of the sacerdotal office, and rediscover their
centrality in the life and mission of the Church.
* * *
 Benedict XVI, "Letter Proclaiming a Year for Priests," June
 Priests "exercise their sacred function especially in the
Eucharistic worship or the celebration of the Mass by which
acting in the person of Christ ["in persona Christi"] and
proclaiming his mystery they unite the prayers of the faithful
with the sacrifice of their Head and renew and apply in the
sacrifice of the Mass until the coming of the Lord the only
sacrifice of the New Testament namely that of Christ offering
Himself once for all a spotless Victim to the Father." Vatican
Council II, "Lumen Gentium," No. 28: AAS 57 (1965), p. 34. Cf.
also "Presbyterorum Ordinis," Nos. 2; 12; 13.
 Cf. Paul VI, "Missale Romanum," April 3, 1969: AAS 61
(1969), p. 217.
 Benedict XVI, "Summorum Pontificum," July 07, 2007, art.
 Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of
the Sacraments, "Compendium Eucharisticum," LEV, Vatican City,
2009. The preparation of this text was entrusted to the
dicastery directly by the Holy Father, who mentioned it in the
post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," Feb.
22, 2007, No. 93.
* * *
Father Mauro Gagliardi is a consultor of the Office for the
Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.