VATICAN CITY, APRIL 13, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered this morning during the Chrism Mass, over which he presided in St. Peter’s Basilica. In the course of the Mass, after the renewal of priestly promises, the oil of the catechumens, and of the sick, and the chrism were blessed.
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Dear Brothers in the episcopate and priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Maundy Thursday is the day in which the Lord gave the Twelve the priestly duty to celebrate, with bread and wine, the sacrament of his Body and Blood until his return. Replacing the paschal lamb and all sacrifices of the Old Covenant with the gift of his Body and Blood, the gift of himself.
Thus the new worship is based on the fact that, above all, God gives us a gift, and we, filled with this gift, become his: Creation turns to the Creator. So the priesthood also became something new: It is no longer a question of descent, but it is an encountering of oneself in the mystery of Jesus Christ. He is always the One who gives and who draws us to himself. Only he can say: “This is my Body — this is my Blood.”
The mystery of the Church’s priesthood lies in the fact that we, miserable human beings, in virtue of the sacrament are able to speak with his I: “in persona Christi.” He wishes to exercise his priesthood through us. We recall this moving mystery, which touches us again in every celebration of the sacrament, in a very particular way on Maundy Thursday. Because the everyday does not spoil what is great and mysterious, we are in need of a similar specific remembrance, we are in need of a return to that hour in which he placed his hands on us and made us participants of this mystery.
Therefore, let us again reflect on the signs in which the sacrament was given to us. At the center is the very ancient gesture of the imposition of hands, with which he took possession of me saying: “You belong to me.” But along with this, he also said: “You are under the protection of my hands. You are under the protection of my heart. You are kept in the palm of my hand and because of this, you find yourself in the vastness of my love. Remain in the space of my hands and give me yours.”
Let us remember, then that our hands were anointed with oil which is the sign of the Holy Spirit and of his strength. Why precisely the hands? Man’s hand is the instrument of his action, it is the symbol of his capacity to face the world, to the point of “taking it in hand.” The Lord has placed his hands on us and he now wants our hands so that they will become his hands in the world. He wants them to no longer be instruments to take things, men, the world for us, to reduce it to our possession, but that, instead, they transmit his divine touch, being at the service of his love.
He wishes them to be instruments of service and therefore expression of the mission of the whole person that makes himself his guarantor and takes him to men. If man’s hands represent symbolically his faculties and, in general, technology as power to dispose of the world, now the anointed hands must be a sign of his capacity to give, of creativity in molding the world with love — and for this we have need, without a doubt, of the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament anointing is the sign of the assumption of service: The king, prophet, priest does and gives more than that which comes from himself. In a certain sense, he is expropriated from himself in the function of a service, in which he places himself at the disposition of someone greater than himself.
If Jesus appears today in the Gospel as the Anointed One of God, the Christ, this means precisely that he acts by the mission of the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit and that, in this way, he gives the world a new royalty, a new priesthood, a new way of being prophet, who does not seek himself, but lives for him, in view of which the world was created. Let us place our hands again today at his disposition and let us ask him to always take us by the hand and guide us again.
In the sacramental gesture of the imposition of hands by the bishop, the Lord himself was imposing his hands on us. This sacramental sign reassume a whole existential course. On one occasion, like the first disciples, we encountered the Lord and heard his word: “Follow me!” Perhaps initially we followed him in a rather uncertain way, drawing back and wondering if it was really our way.
And at some point of the journey perhaps we had Peter’s experience after the miraculous catch, we were, that is, struck by his grandeur, the greatness of the task and the insufficiency of our poor person, to the point of wanting to go back: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). But then he, with great kindness, took us by the hand, drew us to himself and said: “Fear not! I am with you. I do not leave you, do not you leave me!”
And, more than once, the same thing happened to each of us as happened to Peter when, walking on the water, he encountered the Lord, suddenly he remembered that the water did not support him and that he was about to drown. And, like Peter, we cried out: “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30). Seeing all the raging of the elements, how could we go through the rumbling and foaming waters of the last century and millennium? But then we looked at him … and he took us by the hand and gave us a new “specific weight”: the lightness that comes from faith which attracts us to the on high.
And then he gives us the hand that supports and carries. He holds us up. Let us always fix our gaze on him and extend our hands to him. Let us allow him to take us by the hand, and we will not drown, but will serve life which is stronger than death, and love which is stronger than hatred. Faith in Jesus, Son of the living God, is the means thanks to which he takes us by the hand and guides us. One of my favorite prayers is the prayer that the liturgy places on our lips before Communion: “[N]ever let me be parted from you.” Let us pray that we never fall away from communion with his Body, with Christ himself, that we never fall away from the Eucharistic mystery. Let us pray that he will never let go of our hand …
The Lord has placed his hand on us. He expressed the meaning of such a gesture in the words: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15). I no longer call you servants, but friends: In these words one might even see the institution of the priesthood. The Lord makes us his friends: he entrusts everything to us; he entrusts himself, so that we can speak with his I, “in persona Christi capitis.” What trust! He truly delivered himself into our hands.
The essential signs of priestly ordination are all deep down manifestations of that word: the imposition of hands; the handing over of the book — of his word that he entrusts to us; the handing over of the cup with which he transmits his most profound and personal mystery. Also part of all this is the power to absolve: He also makes us participate in his awareness of the misery of sin and all the darkness of the world and gives us the key in our hands to reopen the door to the Father’s House. No longer do I call you servants but friends. This is the profound meaning of being a priest: to become a friend of Jesus Christ. We should commit ourselves again to this friendship every day.
Friendship means to share in thinking and willing. We must exercise ourselves in this communion of thought with Jesus, St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians (cf. 2:2-5). And this communion of thought is not just something intellectual, but is a sharing of sentiments and will and therefore also of action.
This means that we must know Jesus in an ever more personal way, listening to him, living together with him, spending time with him. To listen to him — in “lectio divina,” that is, in reading Holy Scripture not in an academic but in a spiritual way; thus we learn to encounter Jesus who is present and speaks to us. We should reason and reflect on his words and on his action before him and with him.
The reading of sacred Scripture is prayer, it must be prayer — it must emerge from prayer and lead to prayer. The evangelists tell us that the Lord repeatedly — for entire nights — withdrew to the mountain to pray alone. We also have need of this “mountain”: It is the interior height we must scale, the mountain of prayer. Only in this way is friendship developed. Only in this way can we carry out our priestly service, only in this way can we take Christ and his Gospel to men. Simple activism may even be heroic. But external action, in the end, remains without fruit and loses effectiveness, if it is not born from a profound intimate communion with Christ.
The time we dedicate to this is truly time of pastoral activity, of an authentically pastoral activity. A priest must be above all a man of prayer. In its frenetic activism the world often loses its direction. Its action and capacities become destructive, if the strength of prayer fails, from which spring the waters of life capable of making the arid earth fruitful.
No longer do I call you servants, but friends. The essence of the priesthood is to be friend of Jesus Christ. Only in this way can we really speak “in persona Christi,” even if our interior withdrawal from Christ cannot compromise the validity of the sacrament. To be a friend of Jesus, to be a priest means to be a man of prayer. So we recognize it and come out of the ignorance of simple servants. So we learn to live, to suffer and to act with him and for him.
Friendship with Jesus is always par excellence friendship with his own. We can be friends of Christ only in communion with the whole Christ, with the head and the body, in the exuberant life of the Church animated by her Lord. Only in her, thanks to the Lord, is sacred Scripture living and timely Word. Without the living subject of the Church that embraces the ages, the Bible breaks up in writings that are often heterogeneous and thus becomes a book of the past. It is eloquent in the present only where the “Presence” is — where Christ remains permanently contemporaneous to us: in the body of his Church.
To be a priest means to become a friend of Jesus Christ, and this ever more with the whole of our existence. The world has need of God — not of any god, but of the God of Jesus Christ, of the God who became flesh and blood, who has loved us to the point of dying for us, who rose and has created in himself a space for man. This God must live in us and we in him. This is our priestly call: Only in this way can our action of priests bear fruits.
I would like to end this homily with a word of Andres Santoro, the priest of the Diocese of Rome who was killed in Trebisonda while he was praying; Cardinal Cé communicated it to us during the Spiritual Exercises. The word says: “I am here to dwell in the midst of these people and allow Jesus to do so presenting my flesh. … One becomes capable of salvation only by offering one’s own flesh. The evil of the world is borne and pain is shared, absorbing it in the end in one’s own flesh as Jesus did.” Jesus assumed our flesh. Let us give him ours, so that in this way he can come into the world and transform it. Amen!
[Translation by ZENIT]