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Priests sanctify through the Sacraments

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 5 May 1993 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. In speaking of the evangelizing mission of presbyters, we already saw that in the sacraments and through the sacraments a methodical and effective instruction on the Word of God and the mystery of salvation can be imparted to the faithful. In fact, the priest's evangelizing mission is essentially related to the ministry of sanctification through the sacraments (cf. CCC 893). The ministry of the word cannot be limited merely to the immediate, proper effect of the word. Evangelization is the first of those "apostolic endeavors" which, according to the Council, have as their goal "that all who are made children of God by faith and Baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the sacrifice and to eat the Lord's Supper" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10). And the 1971 Synod of Bishops stated: "The ministry of the word, if rightly understood, leads to the sacraments and to the Christian life, as it is practiced in the visible community of the Church and in the world" (cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1179). Any attempt to reduce the priestly ministry to preaching alone or to teaching would misunderstand an essential aspect of this ministry. The Council of Trent had already rejected the proposal to make the priesthood consist merely of the ministry of preaching the Gospel (cf. DS 1771). Since some, even recently, have too one-sidedly extolled the ministry of the word, the l971 Synod of Bishops stressed the unbreakable covenant between word and sacrament. It said: "The sacraments are celebrated in conjunction with the proclamation of the Word of God and thus develop faith by strengthening it with grace. They cannot be considered of slight importance, since through them the word is brought to fuller effect, namely communion in the mystery of Christ" (cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1180).

2. Regarding this unitary nature of the evangelizing mission and the sacramental ministry, the 1971 Synod did not hesitate to say that a division between evangelization and the celebration of the sacraments "would divide the heart of the Church to the point of imperiling the faith" (cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1181). However, the Synod recognized that for each priest there can be different ways of concretely applying this principle of unity, "for the exercise of the priestly ministry in practice needs to take different forms in order to better meet special or new situations, in which the Gospel is to be proclaimed" (Ench. Vat., IV, 1182). A wise application of the principle of unity must also take into account the charisms each presbyter has received. If some have a particular talent for preaching or teaching they should use it for the good of the Church. It is helpful to recall here the case of St. Paul, who, although convinced of the need for Baptism and even having occasionally administered this sacrament, he thought of himself as having been sent to preach the Gospel and devoted his efforts primarily to this form of ministry (cf. 1 Cor 1:14, 17). In his preaching, however, he did not lose sight of the essential task of building the community (cf. 1 Cor 3:10), which this preaching must serve. This means that today too, as throughout the history of the pastoral ministry, the division of labor can stress preaching or worship and the sacraments, according to the individual's abilities and the assessment of the situation. However, one can never doubt that for presbyters teaching and preaching, even at the highest academic and scholarly level, must always retain their purpose of serving the ministry of sanctification through the Sacraments.

3. In any case, the important mission of sanctification entrusted to priests cannot be called into question. They can exercise this mission above all in the ministry of worship and the sacraments. Doubtless it is a work carried out primarily by Christ, as the 1971 Synod pointed out: "Salvation, which is effected through the sacraments, does not come from us but from God; this demonstrates the primacy of action of Christ, the one priest and mediator, in his body, which is the Church" (cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1187; cf. also the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis 12). In the present economy of salvation, however, Christ uses the presbyters' ministry to sanctify believers (cf. PO 5). Acting in the name of Christ, the priest achieves effective sacramental action through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the principle and source of the holiness of the "new life." The new life that the priest imparts, nurtures, restores and increases through the sacraments is a life of faith, hope and love. Faith is the basic divine gift: "This makes clear the great importance of preparation and of a disposition of faith on the part of the person who receives the sacraments; it also makes clear the necessity for a witness of faith on the part of the ministry in his entire life and especially in the way he values and celebrates the sacraments themselves" (cf. Ench. Vat., IV, 1188). The faith communicated by Christ through the sacraments is unfailingly accompanied by a "living hope" (1 Pet 1:3), which instills in the hearts of the faithful a powerful dynamism of spiritual life, an impulse toward "what is above" (Col 3:1-2). On the other hand, faith "works through love" (Gal 5:6), the love of charity, which springs from the Savior's heart and flows into the Sacraments to spread throughout Christian existence.

4. The sacramental ministry of presbyters is thus endowed with a divine fruitfulness. The Council clearly recalled this. Thus, by Baptism "men are truly brought into the People of God" (PO 5). Therefore priests are responsible not only for worthily celebrating the rite, but also for providing a good preparation for it, by forming adults in the faith, and in regard to children, by educating the family to cooperate in the celebration. Moreover, "In the spirit of Christ the shepherd, they must prompt their people to confess their sins with a contrite heart in the sacrament of Penance...mindful of his words, 'Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand' (Mt 4:17)" (PO 5). For this reason priests too must personally live with the attitude of men who acknowledge their own sins and their own need for forgiveness, in a communion of humility and repentance with the faithful. Thus they can more effectively show the greatness of the divine mercy and give heavenly comfort, as well as forgiveness, to those who feel oppressed by the weight of their guilt. In the sacrament of Matrimony, the presbyter is present as the one responsible for the celebration, testifying to the faith and receiving the consent on behalf of God, whom he represents as the Church's minister. In this way he participates deeply and vitally not only in the rite, but in the deepest dimension of the sacrament. Finally, by the Anointing of the Sick, priests "relieve those who are ill" (PO 5). It is a mission foreseen by St. James, who taught in his letter: "Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord" (Jas 5:14). Knowing then that the sacrament of Anointing is meant to "relieve" and to bring purification and spiritual strength, the presbyter will feel the need to make sure that his presence brings the sick person the effective compassion of Christ and witnesses to Jesus' kindness toward the sick, to whom he devoted such a large part of his evangelical mission.

5. This discussion of the dispositions which are necessary when one approaches the sacraments, celebrating them with awareness and a spirit of faith, will be completed in the catecheses that, please God, we shall devote to the sacraments. In the next catechesis we will discuss another aspect of the priest's mission in the sacramental ministry: the worship of God, which is carried out especially in the Eucharist.

For now let us say that this is the most important element of his role in the Church, the principal reason for his ordination, the purpose that gives meaning and joy to his life."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich Euch alle sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Eltern, Angehörigen, Freunden und Bekannten der Päpstlichen Schweizergarde, die zur feierlichen Vereidigung der Rekruten nach Rom gekommen sind. Der Dienst, den die Gardisten dem Papst über Jahrhunderte hin in Treue erwiesen haben, ist ein beredtes Zeichen der engen und freundschaftlichen Beziehung zwischen der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft und dem Heiligen Stuhl. Möge der Herr allen reich vergelten, was sie in selbstlosem Einsatz dem Nachfolger Petri Gutes erwiesen haben.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience; en particulier, des anciens et des nouveaux membres de la garde suisse, leurs familles et leurs amis. J’adresse mes vœux cordiaux aux délégués de la Confédération nationale de la Mutualité agricole, qui sont au service du monde rural éprouvé par la crise économique mondiale. J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins de l’île Maurice et les groupes de jeunes qui sont l’espérance de l’Église. Que leur séjour à Rome soit l’occasion de raviver leur foi pour devenir davantage disciples du Ressuscité et pour être ses témoins joyeux par toute leur vie! À tous, je donne bien volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors, in particular to the Marist Brothers, whom I encourage in their religious consecration and dedicated service to the Church.

A special greeting goes to the students from Kuopio and the Lutheran visitors from Helsinki. I recall my visit to Finland in 1989 and the significant moment of the ecumenical service in Turku. We must continue to pray and work together for the great gift of unity among all Christ’s followers.

Upon the visitors from Mauritius, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Australia and North America I invoke an abundance of divine blessings.

Ad alcuni fedeli giapponesi 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Carissimi pellegrini della parrocchia Iwakuni di Hiroshima.

Ho sentito dire che vi impegnate notevolmente e con buona volontà per la diffusione del Regno di Dio, attraverso “ il gruppo catecumenale ”.

Ora, carissimi, auspico che il vostro sforzo sia proficuo e vada avanti sempre sotto la guida della Madonna.

Con questo augurio vi benedico di cuore con la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Mi cordial bienvenida a esta audiencia a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de los distintos Países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, a las religiosas clarisas de Villarrubia y a la peregrinación procedente de Argentina.

Con el gozo de la Pascua invito a todos a dar testimonio de Cristo Resucitado en la propia vida, mientras imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Nesta comunhão com Cristo, é–me grato dar as boas–vindas aos visitantes de língua portuguesa, com menção particular para o grupo de peregrinos brasileiros do Rio de Janeiro e de São Paulo. Saúdo–vos cordialmente e exorto a melhor conhecer e seguir o exemplo de Nossa Senhora neste mês, que Lhe é especialmente dedicado e, como tal, o sabereis viver numa prece quotidiana mais intensa e fiel, em particular pela reza do terço, conforme recomendação da Santa Igreja e desejo repetidamente expresso pela Virgem Maria. A esta exortação, o Papa junta os seus melhores votos de bem para vós, para as vossas famílias e vossas terras, com uma propiciadora Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana 

Desidero ora rivolgere un cordiale saluto ai numerosi pellegrini di lingua italiana; in particolare al folto gruppo di fedeli della Parrocchia di Santa Maria del Carmine in Frasso Telesino, guidati dal loro Parroco. Carissimi, sono lieto di benedire l’antica statua lignea della Madonna di Campanile; vi invito ad invocare la Madre di Dio con la preghiera del Rosario, soprattutto in questo mese di maggio a Lei dedicato.

Saluto, poi, i membri del Comitato per il restauro del Monumento ai Caduti, situato a Firenze in Via Ugnano, e le Autorità convenute. Possa il ricordo dei caduti di tutte le guerre, avvalorato dalla preghiera, essere auspicio di pace, bene supremo per l’intera umanità.

Manifesto, poi, un pensiero augurale a tutti gli atleti partecipanti al Campionato Internazionale d’Italia di Tennis ed esprimo la speranza che questa interessante competizione sportiva serva a rafforzare l’amicizia fra i popoli. Il mio benvenuto si rivolge, inoltre, ai militari della Scuola di Carrismo di Lecce. Saluto il Generale Giancarlo Santini, gli Ufficiali, i Sottufficiali, il Cappellano, gli Allievi e i Familiari. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Ed ora rivolgo un pensiero ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli.

Invito ciascuno di voi, cari giovani, all’inizio di questo mese mariano, a venerare la Madre di Gesù. Guardate a Lei come maestra di preghiera e di vita spirituale.

Voi, cari ammalati, unitevi intimamente a Maria che, sotto la Croce, ha ricevuto in dono una maternità universale.

Voi, sposi novelli, custodite e accrescete nella vita quotidiana la grazia che vi ha uniti per sempre nel sacramento del matrimonio. A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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