Holy Hour for Priests

Author: Pope Pius XII


Pope Pius XII

April 26, 1935. This Holy Hour was given in Latin in the Basilica of the Rosary at Lourdes, before an imposing assembly of priests, by Cardinal Pacelli, the Papal Legate for the solemn triduum for the jubilee of the Redemption.1

Dearly beloved brethren in the priesthood, during these three days and nights which, with the complete approval of the Roman Pontiff, bring to a conclusion and, as it were, crown the jubilee of the Redemption, the grotto of the Immaculate Virgin, the venerable Mother of the Redeemer, attracts to Lourdes the thoughts and the hearts of the whole Catholic world, east and west; it unites in one spirit, one faith, one prayer and one eucharistic sacrifice, the whole family of christians, whose hands, raised up in prayer to the Redeemer and his most holy Mother and co-redemptrix, implore mercy for the human race, and give tidings of peace and promise of salvation.

A wonderful picture, one that is worthy of heaven, is placed before the eyes of the faithful during these consecrated days, in the town of Lourdes which has been made the destination and the meeting place of numberless pilgrims of every. language and from every nation, and in the miraculous grotto of Massabielle where the jubilee solemnities are being celebrated; as the triumph of the eucharistic King and the praises of the Virgin Mother are intimately blended in one mystic harmony, God and men behold a spectacle which nothing can blot out from our memory and our heart. We shall preserve to our last breath the memory of the consolation and the joys it has brought us, and we have the right to exclaim in joy with the prophet I will extol thee, O God, my King and I will bless thy name forever.2

Yet this personal conversation with you this communication as of brother with brothers within the walls of the home, moves me more deeply when I reflect that nowhere more suitably and more freely than in this assembly of priests can I impart to you the blessing and greetings of the common Father of the whole Church, who though absent in body, is present in spirit, and speak to you, as it were mouth to mouth,3 addressing you, with a view to nourishing our sanctity and by way of mutual exhortation, in words which would appear to be most in keeping with the views of him whose legate I am, words which take cognizance of the seriousness of the times.

There is no one present who does not recall with emotion the moment when, by the mysterious power of the Spirit, the hands of the bishop placed on our heads ordained us priests of Christ, clothing us with a dignity which the angels themselves would hold in awe This dignity, however, gives us a lively assurance that it carries with it the highest pledge of divine friendship; that was made quite clear to us when the words rang out to our ears I will not now call you servants, but . . . friends.4 Of these truly heavenly words of our Saviour we experience the admirable effects, we who are gathered here from different lands, united by the bond of mutual charity, closely linked by the communion which is established by the Body of Christ between us, linked one to another by the priestly dignity; thus are fulfilled the words of Christ to his Father during the Last Supper: That they may be one, as we also are.5

What, then, could be more suitable, or more profitable, than to treat of the grandeur and the dignity of our priestly office? The more lively in our souls the appreciation of our own dignity, of the dread responsibilities that accompany it, and of the account of it which will have to be rendered to the sovereign Judge, the less will be, consequently, the place of laziness in the lives of the clergy, as well as of carelessness and cowardice, and the greater will be our fervour in offering to God all our powers of body and soul to work for the salvation of souls.

Beloved priests, before I begin to speak to you of the dignity of this divine office, which is outside the reach of human powers--since it concerns no less a thing than the administration of the Blood of Christ, the redemption of the human race--may I be permitted first to devote a few words to an outline, though not a full statement, of the great need of divine help in our time In this we shall indeed find a great stimulus to stir us up to carry out our task with greater zeal. For if the prophet felt himself swooning and breathless A fainting hath taken hold of me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law,6 how much more ought not we be animated by zeal for the divine glory, and cry out with the Apostle Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized and I am not on fire?7

Indeed it does not require any deep reflection on the state of Catholicism--for the least attention will suffice--to perceive how great are the trials and the misery of our time Apart altogether from those who lie in the darkness of paganism, or those whom heresy has separated and drawn away from the barque of Peter, or those, finally, whom disobedience has caused to sever themselves from the Catholic Church, let us confine our thoughts to the countless grave wounds in so many of the members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

It is not my purpose to dwell on the corruption of morals; I shall refer rather to a characteristic of our time, which the Vicar of Christ, gloriously reigning, has described in his Encyclical of 3 May 1932,8 and which deserves our careful attention, if we truly wish to be priests who are worthy of our priestly office In our era, indeed, it is not, as was formerly the case, just individuals, "few in number, still isolated and exceptions," who have abandoned their faith, but "what is regrettably true, a really great number of men," especially among those classes who have come to be called the "intellectuals" and the "proletariat." However painful the fact, it must be openly admitted that a large part of those who are looked on as the leaders of modern science have lost the faith and are poisoned with the virus of irreligion.

Even more sad, if that is possible, is the state of the labouring classes and workers, which deeply moves the sovereign Pontiff, as the Encyclical <Caritate Christi Compulsi>, already referred to, shows. No less than in the days of his life on earth, we think we can hear Christ repeating these words: I have compassion on the multitude.9 For so grave is the economic disturbance which shakes the whole world and, naturally, brings distress especially upon the ordinary people and condemns them to the ravages of hunger, that a crisis of such gravity can scarcely be remembered. In addition, the material want, which has united countless battalions of unfortunates, has been exploited by the enemies of religion; it is used to deceive the people by means of false promises, to draw them to the errors of Socialism and Communism and to drive them into contempt and denial not only of the christian religion, but even of God himself. If such insane efforts had been fruitless, our sorrow would be less. But, alas! a countless multitude of workers have suffered shipwreck of the faith. Men regenerated by the waters of baptism live like pagans, especially in big cities, and the crowds who before would follow Jesus to hear him and to be healed of their diseases10 are now separated from him, and follow others who are in truth blind and leaders of the blind.

But enough of difficulties and of sadness! Let us call up more joyful memories, lest by paying attention to the dark spots only, we give a false picture of the Church as it really is--one, catholic and apostolic certainly, but holy as well, and a truly fruitful mother of holiness, who is unceasingly bringing forth a noble, unbroken line of saints. Let us pay attention not merely to those resplendent figures who, in the course of this Holy Year, have been held up before the world as an example and a protection, but also to the sanctity which is to be found diffused throughout the whole human race and is met in all states of life and in all ages; it protects prudent maturity and ripe old age, innocent infancy and all the period of youth, and--something that is almost miraculous--it even protects from the fires of concupiscence the young who are cast into a veritable furnace of Babylon, and it wins from us the exclamation of admiration: O how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory.11

This rising generation, the best bulwark of Catholic Action, remarkable both for its piety and its good works, has been placed under the protection of the Virgin, who without hesitation can be said to be fair as the moon, bright as the sun, but also terrible as an army set in battle array. Do we not see, with our own eyes so to speak, examples being renewed of that holiness which shone in the days of the persecuted Church, in prisons, in amphitheatres and in the shadow of the catacombs? Have they not in recent times, by the witness of their blood, raised a monument to Christ the King more lasting than brass, one that is truly imperishable and beyond all praise, those martyrs who have fallen gloriously in defence of the eternal King with the cry on their lips: "Long live Christ the King?"

Remember above all those men consecrated to God, who, as followers of Christ and of Christ crucified, have chosen the road of the evangelical counsels, and guiding their lives and conduct by the spirit, have by voluntary mortifications broken their bodies with the vices and concupiscences.

Who can count those pure virgins who, awaiting the coming of the heavenly Spouse, have lived in the flesh a life like that of angels?

Who can estimate the numbers of those, known to God rather than men, from amongst the laity, who in their thirst for justice travel zealously the road of the divine commandments and scale the heights of perfection?

It is for this reason, beloved brethren, that when everything has been taken into account--on one side a great multitude of men who are strangers to Christ, and on the other side the wonderful fertility of the Church, watered by the Blood of Christ and producing the fruits of sanctity most abundantly--we should feel ourselves inspired to toil generously to cultivate the field of the Lord in accordance with our ministry, and since our own efforts are not enough for the work of gathering so great a harvest, be moved also to pray insistently the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.12

In the plans of divine providence there is, indeed, a wonderful design. God could have carried out by himself all that pertains to the salvation of the human race. Yet he has willed to use our activity in order that we should provide the labour, and he the grace and the efficacy; for neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase;13 and he never gives the increase without this planting and watering which are the contribution of men.

If this were not so, what purpose would it serve to describe the misery of all those who labour under the crushing slavery of sin? We could only imitate Jeremias considering the sad destruction of the Holy City, and shedding tears burst out into lamentations. But it is the result of an all-wise plan that, amongst all the wonderful means which divine omnipotence had at its disposal to restore humanity, it has preferred that one, which under the veil of a greater mystery would cause astonishment, and, as the expression of more generous love, would communicate to us more abundantly the riches of the infinite goodness.

For by the Incarnation God has disclosed to us treasures of the divinity such as the beatific vision itself does not unfold.14 God, therefore, who by the Word had created the world which till then had not existed, has willed to re-create it, after the fall, by the same Word incarnate. That is what St. Augustine tells us in these words: "You have created me by the Word, and you have re-created me by the Word. You have created me by the divine Word which dwells in you, and you have re-created me by the Word made flesh for us."15 Thus, by contact with the divine Word, as by a divine leaven placed within it, the corrupted multitude, by being united to God, has been purified and, to use the term employed by the Greek Fathers, deified.

That divine union, through the Incarnation, of the eternal Word with the human race, is followed by another union that is full of mystery, the association of man with Christ in the very work of Redemption. The Word made flesh has redeemed the world by his Blood, for he alone could worthily offer satisfaction to God. Christ himself has shown us the way to the Father, the way which he alone knew. He has instituted the Church to be the custodian of his Blood and of his doctrine. No creature could share in the institution of these things which are the province of divine power. But when it comes to applying the fruits of his Redemption to individuals, he wills that those same men whom he has redeemed should be associated with his work, and that the salvation of men should be accomplished by men. The power which he received from the Father he handed on, in so far as that can be done, to the men whom he ordered to preach the Gospel and to administer holy Baptism.16

On us, then, the salvation of the world depends in great measure, and our help is needed by the multitude which we have described. Each one of us is in fact another Christ!

A divine power, certainly, but at the same time an awe-inspiring one, seeing that we shall have to render an account of it. What a sad spectacle is the unworthiness and the guilt of a sinful priest who is for others a source of scandal! The representative of Christ, that other Christ, to whom the Redeemer has communicated his omnipotence for the welfare of souls, has become an instrument of Satan, another demon, for their destruction! Dearly beloved brothers in the priesthood, on this solemn occasion when the Sacred Host has brought us together from all parts, let us weep for those desecrated temples, for those violated tabernacles !The Sacred Heart of Jesus clearly revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque the overwhelming sadness caused to him by the ingratitude of those who are consecrated to him most intimately. Let us ask him in earnest prayer to have pity on them at last. May those eucharistic days, devoted to perpetual adoration, be also days of expiation and ardent prayer for sacrilegious priests!

Even among pagans the priests were regarded as separated from common men, and in the Old Law, which pre-figured the sacrifice of the New Law in many ways, although falling infinitely short of the reality, an exceptional purity was demanded from priests, especially when they approached the altar for sacrifice. Is it not evident then that, strive as we will, words would fail us to describe a purity which, even if it were perfect and equal to that of the angels, would make us, not indeed worthy, but only less unworthy to ascend the steps of the eucharistic altar. In this matter, our thoughts always fall short of the truth, as is stated in the flaming words of St. Chrysostom: "How pure should not he be who shares in this sacrifice! More resplendent than the sun must be the hand that divides this Flesh, the mouth which is filled with spiritual fire, the tongue which is reddened by this Blood. Consider the honour to which you have been raised, the table at which you have been seated. What the angels do not see without trembling, what they cannot look on without fear, because of the light which flashes from it, is our nourishment! It becomes united to us, and we become one body and one flesh with Christ. Who will recount the powers of God . . . who will chant his praises?"17

In addition, because the priest is another Christ, his holiness ought to shine with the brightness of that virtue which is, of all virtues, the most christian and the most peculiarly priestly--charity for the neighbour. That is the sign of all the disciples of Christ, and it serves as their distinguishing mark: By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.18 How much more ought not the priest to be an angel of charity to whom no misery is a stranger, who soothes all suffering, who banishes all shadows of sorrow and to whom, in a word, can be applied the saying of the Gospel: The poor have the Gospel preached to them.19

There, then, before our eyes is the sublime picture of the life of the priest. He should live on earth like the angels, having overcome the snares of the world, of Satan and of the flesh; renouncing himself, he should follow Christ; and having put off the old man with his vices and concupiscences, he should put on Christ, be transformed into him, and having become another Christ, go about doing good.20

The faith teaches us that it would be absurd to hope for this by our own resources alone; but the Sacred Host, which we have come here to adore, brings us the surest help to achieve such sanctity. Each sacrament produces effects proper to itself, and the proper effect of the Eucharist, as St. Thomas teaches in agreement with traditional doctrine, is "the union of man with Christ."21 That is the effect of the Eucharist of which St. Paul speaks when he extols the union of the Mystical Body with Christ, its Head: The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the Body of the Lord? Because the bread is one, we though many are one body, for all partake of one bread.22 That is what the Lord himself had clearly declared in announcing his eucharistic union with each of the faithful: He that eateth my Flesh and drinketh my Blood, abideth in me and I in him.23

And, what is most wonderful of all, our union with Christ in the Eucharist is so close and so perfect that Christ himself by a mysterious comparison likens it to the community of life which exists between the Father and the Son: As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me the same also shall live by me.24 As the Father communicates his life to the Son, so the Son transmits his life to those who receive the Eucharist. Such a divine illustration, based on the very life of the most Holy Trinity, far surpasses any other explanation of the nature of our union with Christ in the Eucharist. Thus what St. Paul declares--namely that by his Resurrection Christ has become a vivifying spirit,25 that is to say, the life-giving principle of the whole human race--comes to pass especially in the Eucharist.

Such therefore, in brief, beloved brethren, is what theology teaches of the divine effect of the Eucharist: it is the sacrament of our union, and of our transformation into Christ. Since each one of us desires most ardently to become another Christ, let him come to the pure source from which flows the Blood of the immaculate Lamb. May these eucharistic days produce in us a resolution to live always with Christ hidden in the Eucharist. Our work for the salvation of souls will be useful as long as it proceeds from a truly priestly spirit, which will be acquired, not so much by books and study, as in the sanctuary by the light of its lamp. Where the Heart of Christ beats, there is the school of the true apostolate, effective and transforming; on the breast and the Heart of Jesus John became the well beloved apostle; close to the Heart of Jesus the unbelieving Thomas confirmed his faith.

Out of the tabernacle of the eucharistic King come to us all the gifts of grace that are necessary for our own salvation and that of others.

There dwells the Teacher of the Apostles, the light of confessors, the purity of virgins, the strength of martyrs.

There resides the good Shepherd, who has given his life for his sheep. How then should we dare to become hirelings, when we have before our eyes the example of such a master, the model of suffering and the reward of those who suffer?

There resides Jesus who loves chastity and feedeth among the lilies,26 Does not his eucharistic presence demand of us zeal for that virtue which we must preserve with the most watchful care? For chastity is, as it were, the wedding garment which priests and ministers of God particularly must put on, according to the warning of Scripture: They shall be holy to their God, and shall not profane his name.27

In the tabernacle of the New Law Christ resides, Father of the poor and lover of poverty. What a disgrace for a priest to seek for riches and worldly honours, when his Master, above whom the disciple ought not be raised, has preached the blessedness of the poor and has himself given the most shining example of poverty!

In the tabernacle of the New Law dwells the good Master, who, sparing himself no trouble, ceaselessly sprinkled with the sweat of long journeys the rough and distant roads of Judea and Galilee, in order to break the bread of his doctrine to the starving multitude; so devoted was he to the ministry of the word that he did not allow himself even time for food or rest. Such a shining example urges us to carry out, without slackening or respite and with ardent zeal, our mission of instructing the people and, above all, the children. God grant that no priest will dare neglect such an important part of his duty!

In the tabernacle of the New Law is present he who is rich unto all who call on him,28 and of whose plenitude we have received and shall receive again grace for grace,29 provided that we go to his eucharistic throne with a right intention and a pure heart. How could he, who is rich unto all, not be even more munificent to his priests? How could he fail to give strength to those who struggle, help to those who are in danger, solace to the afflicted, light to those who stray, mercy to those who repent, victory to those who persevere?

In the Heart of the eucharistic King are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,30 not of that vain and empty knowledge which puffs up and which seeks its own interests instead of those of Christ; but rather of the knowledge which edifies, which alone can be both the ornament of the priestly life and the supernatural unction of pastoral duty, as St. Bernard says: "There are some who seek learning merely for the sake of knowledge, and that is shameful curiosity; there are some who seek knowledge in order to win fame for learning and that is shameful vanity; . . . there are some who seek to learn in order to sell their knowledge . . . and that is filthy desire for gain; but there are others who seek to learn in order to edify, and that is charity."31 The Heart of the eucharistic King is "a burning furnace of charity" whose flames will set alight in our souls, tepid and given over to the pleasures of human life, the truly priestly fire, which he came to bring on earth, desiring that it should be kindled. By the aid of his grace we shall scale to the heights of the charity of which St. Albert the Great has so well written: "Charity has its beginnings in hatred of evil, on account of the loved one; as it progresses, it does good on account of the loved one; when it is perfect, it loves nothing else than the loved one."32 There, dearly beloved brethren, is the truly royal and priestly road: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . and he will teach us his ways.33 It is good for us to be on this mountain; let us make here tents,34 beside the tabernacle of the Lamb who has been slain, who is worthy to receive power, divinity, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and benediction.35

If then, beloved brethren, we wish to obtain the grace that is so necessary of a truly priestly life and a close union with Christ, "there is no better means," to use the words of St. Bonaventure, "than to go to her who is called, with perfect right, full of grace, and for that reason, throne of grace,"36 Let us go, therefore, with confidence to that throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace in timely aid.37 She who was the first tabernacle of God among men, the Mother of Jesus Christ the eternal Priest, she who on Calvary took an intimate part in the bloody sacrifice, and thereby became Queen of martyrs as well as of priests-- in whose favour could she employ her mercy and her all-powerful patronage more readily and more generously than for sacred ministers who ask her for the graces of the priestly life? If then we wish to become worthy tabernacles of the eucharistic King, let us go to her with confidence; according to St. Bonaventure, she purifies, she illuminates and perfects;38 let us say to her, borrowing the words of the seraphic Doctor: "O Blessed Virgin who hast found grace, who bringest forth life, Mother of salvation, through you we have access to your Son, so that through you he may receive us, who through you was given to us. May your purity excuse, before him, our corruption. May your humility, acceptable to God, O blessed Lady, win pardon for our vanity. O blessed one, by the grace you have found, by the privilege you have merited, by the mercy you have brought forth, obtain that he, who through thee deigned to partake of our weakness and our misery, may grant us to share, by your intercession, in his glory and his blessedness."39

May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.


1  Eugenio Pacelli Secretary of State of his Holiness. Discorsi e Panegirici (1931-1938). Milan, Societa Editrice "Vita e Pensiero," 2nd Ed. 1939, p. 403-17.

2  Ps. 144:1.

3  Num. 12:8.

4  Jn. 15:15.

5  Jn. 17:11.

6  Ps. 118:53.

7  II Cor. 11:29.

8  Enc. Caritate Christi Compulsi (AAS XXIV (1932) p. 180-182),

9  Mk. 8:2.

10  Lk. 6:18.

11  Wisd. 4:1.

12  Mat. 9:38.

13  I Cor. 3:7.

14  Cf. Cajetan, in 3 Part. q. I a. 1.

15  Enarr in Ps. 143.

16  Cf. Mt. 28: 18-19.

17  Hom. LXXXII in Matth. (PG LVIII, 743).

18  Jn. 13:35.

19  Mt. 11:5.

20  Acts 10:38.

21  Opusc.XV, De articulis fidei et sacramentis Ecclesiae.

22  I Cor. 10:16-17.

23  Jn. 6:56.

24  Jn. 6:57.

25  I Cor. 15:45.

26  Cant. 2:16.

27  Lev. 21:6.

28  Cf. Rom. 10:12.

29  Cf. Jn. 1:16.

30  Cf. Col. 2:3.

31  In Cant. XXXVI, 3 (PB CLXXXIII, 968). Cf. I, n. 378.

32  In Evang. Joan., c. XV.

33  Is. 2:3.

34  Mt. 17:4.

35  Apoc. 5:12

36  Serm. III, De Nativ. B.M.V.

37  Cf. Hebr. 4:16.

38  Serm. I, De Purif. B.V.M.

39  St. Bonaventure, loc. cit., T. VIII, 38. Soliloquium, c. 1, par. 3, n. 28.