The priest, who is “Alter Christus“, or “Another Christ”, is the most important figure in the Church. Throughout the centuries, Christ’s mission of salvation has unremittingly extended over all the earth by the priest, who leaves all to gain all. Thus, for the devil and his followers, the Catholic priest is still the representative of God in the world, and for that reason he is hated, despised and persecuted by them as was the Divine Master at the hands of the Pharisees. From the moment the priest consecrates the very body and blood of Christ, he shares, in some way, in the infinite dignity of the Redeemer. The mouth that pronounces the mysterious words: This is My body, this is My blood, the hands that touch the host under which God Himself is hidden, that expose it to the adoration of the faithful and carry it to the dying – are not the mouth or hands of a simple man. They are the mouth and hands of one with whom Jesus Christ has deigned to identify Himself. Sacerdos, alter Christus.
To recover the sacred in our Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Letter Proclaiming a Year for Priests of June 2009, in referencing Saint John Mary Vianney, observed: “This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass…He was convinced that the fervour 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!””
Naturally, to “pay attention”, to devote the best of himself to the Holy Sacrifice, he must accompany it with due preparation and thanksgiving in prayer. In fact, when the faithful see that the priest is careful to celebrate the Divine Sacrifice with attention and devotion, they are themselves penetrated with a sense of the Divine Majesty and are thus easily brought nearer to God!
Thus did the Lord appoint
This sacrifice sublime,
And made His Priests the minister
Through all the bounds of time. (Hymn, Sacris Solemniis)
There was an excellent piece over on the New Liturgical Movement last Monday, entitled: Priestly Preparation Before Mass and Thanksgiving After Mass, by Peter Kwasniewski that throws some deep and beautiful insights into the importance of a worthy and fitting disposition of the priest in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
[Kwasniewski says:] “By the grace of God I’ve been a Catholic all my life, and during these decades, I’ve known and observed many priests going about their duties. One of the most fascinating differences among them is how they bear themselves before and after Mass. It took me a long time to realize how great an impact for good or for ill this can have.
Let us take as our point of departure a marvelous line in the Code of Canon Law. Canon 909 reads: “A priest is not to omit dutifully to prepare himself by prayer before the celebration of the Eucharist, nor afterwards to omit to make thanksgiving to God.”
As if commenting on this canon, Bishop Marc Aillet writes:
Tearing us away from the secular world and thus from the temptation of immanentism, [the liturgical rites] have the power to immerse us suddenly in the Mystery and open us to the Transcendent. In this sense, one can never stress enough the importance of the silence preceding the liturgical celebration, an inner narthex, where we are freed of the concerns, even if legitimate, of the secular world, in order to enter the sacred space and time where God will reveal his Mystery; one can never stress enough the importance of silence in the liturgy to open oneself more readily to the action of God; and one can never stress enough the appropriateness of a period of thanksgiving, whether integrated into the celebration or not, to apprehend the inner extent of the mission that awaits us once we are back in the world.”
(Please read the rest of Peter Kwasniewski’s article here.)
At this time in the life of the Church, when so little reverence, silence and prayer either before or after Holy Mass can be seen in many parishes, a tragic loss of the sense of the sacred has become rampant. Together with our priests, we, the laity, have much to learn in order to recover (and continually deepen) a reverent, loving, grateful attitude for our invitation to this Most Sublime and Saving Sacrifice.