Wednesday 9 July 1997
Conference of Mons. Norberto Rivera
Already approaching the celebration of the Third Millennium of the new era, the Church is intensifying her preparation for the encounter with her Lord (1), “Behold, the Bridegroom comes, go out and receive him” (2).
The Holy Father, John Paul II has wished that we as priests participate in a special way in this preparation, manifesting our communion with the one Eternal Pastor. This desire called for certain moments of encounter, of reflection on the gifts of the priesthood, and of prayer.
This is the origin of the International Encounter of Priests, which the Holy Father wishes to bear a profound Marian character, clearly showing forth the Catholic priesthood as inseparable from Mary’s maternal action and presence.
Thus, last year, in 1996, we came together in Fatima (a place representative of Europe), and this year we come together here in the Ivory Coast (a place representing the African continent). Next year, 1998, we will come together in Mexico, where Guadalupe is the symbol of the Marian dimension in the life of the American peoples. For 1999, as we all know, we will be in Jerusalem (a place representing all the rest of Christianity), and then we will finish in the Eternal City, Rome, at the tomb of the Apostles.
I now will begin to present the theme assigned me for this second International Encounter for Priests: the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Priestly life and ministry.
II. UNIVERSAL CALL TO HOLINESS
Spirituality is an attitude, it is the way of conceiving and fulfilling the ideal of the Christian life. It corresponds to an intellectual conception defining a certain style of life, and to a practical choice that specifies the means to attain the one end: union with the Father through Christ, in the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, source of all holiness, inspires in the Church many and various ways of living the Christian ideal.
Thus the plurality of spiritualities is born from the multiplicity of concrete and differentiated realizations of the one essential holiness. This is the direction that, before all else, the Council took in chapter 5 of the Constitution Lumen Gentium on the universal call to holiness in the Church: “The holiness cultivated by those under the guidance of the God’s Spirit and obedient to the Father’s voice is the same regardless of the multiple ways of life and occupations. Adoring Christ in spirit and in truth, they follow him, poor, humble, and bearing the cross, so as to merit being made sharers in his glory. But each one must walk without vacillation along the path of the living faith that produces hope and works of charity, according to the gifts and functions that are his own” (3). After establishing these principles there follows a list of the different forms of life in which each one must attain his own holiness.
III. THE CHRISTOLOGICAL AND MARIOLOGICAL BASIS
Christ is the one way of the Father (4). Christ is the supreme model to which the disciple must conform his own conduct (5), until attaining Christ’s sentiments (6), living his life, and possessing his Spirit (7): this is what the Church has taught in all times, and nothing in pastoral action must obscure this doctrine. But the same Church, guided by the Holy Spirit and taught through her secular experience, also recognizes that piety towards the Virgin, Mother of the Savior, and a connection with her has a great pastoral effectiveness and constitutes a force of renewal in Christian life. The reason for this effectiveness is easily intuited. In effect, Mary’s multifaceted mission for the people of God is a supernatural reality fruitfully at work in the ecclesial organism. And it is gladdening to consider the singular aspects of this mission and to see how they are oriented, each one with its proper role, towards the same goal: to reproduce in the sons the spiritual characteristics of the First Born Son. She, free from every sin, leads her children to this: to conquer sin with energetic determination. This liberation from sin is the necessary condition for every renewal of Christian customs. The exemplary holiness of the Virgin moves the faithful to lift their eyes to Mary, who shines as the model of virtues. These virtues of the Mother will adorn the children, who tenaciously contemplate her example in order to reproduce her virtues in their own lives. And such progress in virtue will appear as a consequence and mature fruit of that pastoral force that springs from true devotion to the Virgin. The Catholic Church, basing itself on its secular experience, recognizes in devotion to the Virgin a powerful aid for man in the pursuit of his fulfillment. The Virgin contemplated in her real condition in the City of God, offers a serene vision and a calming word: the victory of hope over anguish, of communion over loneliness, of peace over unrest, of joy and beauty over tedium and nausea, of eternal perspectives over temporal ones, of life over death (8).
Following along the lines of Lumen Gentium and of the documents of the postconciliar Magisterium we find John Paul II’s Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, which confirms the Christological and Ecclesiological basis of Mariology. The Holy Father explains the Virgin’s “motherly presence” along the path of faith from two points of view: one theological, the other pastoral and spiritual (9).
IV. THE CHURCH’S SPIRITUALITY IS MARIAN
The Church too, as a body, has a spirituality, that is to say, she has taken on attitudes, made decisions, and adopted a style of life.
The Church’s spirituality is a Marian spirituality because it imitates Mary’s attitudes. The Church strives to form her relationship with God, with the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, after the style of the Blessed Virgin. This is one of the most important conclusions of Conciliar reflection regarding the place of Mary in relation to the Church.
In the documents where the Church points out her own intimate nature (Constitution Lumen Gentium) and her spirituality (Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium) she insists equally on presenting the Virgin as Typus, exemplar et imago of the Church herself.
This relationship (Mary as model for the Church) is a constant encouragement for the Church to reflect on the Mother of the Savior: to look at her, to contemplate her, to exalt her, to admire her, and above all to imitate her (10).
This imitation of Mary by the pilgrim Church which, under the signs of the times moves towards the Heavenly Jerusalem, constitutes the foundation of the Marian character of liturgical spirituality. The imitation takes into account, above all, the exercise of the theological life of the Church, which reaches its greatest height in liturgical life (11).
The imitation and reproduction of the sentiments and attitudes of the Virgin are manifest and given life in the faithful, in seminarians, and in priests, through participation in the liturgywith a spirit of faith, hope, and charity, since the liturgy is Christ’s own prayer to the Heavenly Father, exercised in union with his mystical body, and in a singular way with the Virgin.
In the Eucharist the Virgin Mary’s motherhood in the order of grace has been understood and lived in a special way by the Christian people. There in the sacred Banquet Christ, with his true body, born of the Virgin Mary, is made present. Rightly so, popular Christian piety has always seen a profound link between devotion to the Blessed Virgin and Eucharistic worship, since Mary always guides the faithful to the Eucharist (12).
Reference to the person is essential to motherhood. Motherhood always defines a unique and unrepeatable relationship between two people: that of the mother with her child and that of the child with his mother.
One can affirm that motherhood “in the order of grace” maintains the analogy with “the order of nature” in its characterization of the mother-child union.
“There exists an essential relationship between the Mother of Jesus and the priesthood of the ministers of the Son, which derives from the relationship found between Mary’s divine motherhood and Christ’s priesthood. The Marian spirituality of every priest is rooted in this relationship. Priestly spirituality cannot be considered complete if it does not take into serious consideration the testament of Christ crucified, who wanted to confide his beloved disciple to his Mother and, through him, all priests, who have been called to carry forward the work of redemption” (13).
Mary’s motherhood, which is turned into mankind’s patrimony, is a gift: a gift that Christ himself personally makes to each man.
“Priests, who find themselves among the most beloved disciples of Jesus crucified and risen, must welcome Mary into their lives as their mother: she will therefore be the object of their continual attention and prayer. The ever-Virgin is for priests the mother who leads them to Christ, at the same time that she makes them authentically love the Church and guides them to the Kingdom of Heaven” (14).
V. PRIESTLY LIFE
Where does the Church’s spirituality come from? From the heart of Christ, with which Mary’s heart lovingly beats; in the Heart of Christ, which is the heart of the Church.
The raison d’être of seminaries and houses of priestly formation consists in conforming the lives of those aspiring to Holy Orders to the Heart of the Lord, until the sentiments and attitudes of our Savior Jesus Christ are reproduced in them(15).
The gesture with which Christ confided his disciple to his Mother and his Mother to the disciple (16) has defined an extremely close relationship between Mary and the Church. It is the will of the Lord that a Marian note mark the physiognomy of the Church, her road, her pastoral activity; and into the spiritual life of each disciple a “Marian dimension” is infused (17).
Mary is much more than a model and a figure of the Church. For, “with love she cooperates in the generation and education” of the sons and daughters of Mother Church. The Church’s motherhood is carried forth not only according to the model and figure of the Mother of God, but also with her “cooperation,” which we understand as motherly mediation.
Here we discover the real value of the words spoken by Jesus to his mother when he was on the cross: Woman, behold your son, and to the disciple, Behold you mother. They are words that define Mary’s place in the life of Christ’s disciples and express her new motherhood as mother of the Redeemer: the spiritual motherhood, born from the depths of the paschal mystery of the world’s Redeemer. Giving himself filially to Mary, the Christian, like the Apostle John, “welcomes as one of his own” Christ’s mother and introduces her into the whole space of his interior life. That is to say, into his human and Christian “I”: He took her into his home” (18). This is motherhood in the order of grace, because she implores the gift of the Holy Spirit which gives rise to the new children of God, redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice: that Spirit who, together with the Church, Mary received on the day of Pentecost (19).
a) The need for priestly formation in Mariology
By the coincidence of the data of faith and the facts of the anthropological sciences – when these have been applied to Mary of Nazareth – we have better understood that the Virgin is, at the same time, the highest historical realization of the gospel, and also the woman who, by her self-dominion, her sense of responsibility, her openness to others and spirit of service, her strength, and her love, has fulfilled the human dimension of life more completely than anyone else (20).
It is necessary to draw the men of our times near to the figure of the Virgin, putting into high relief her historical image of the humble Jewish maiden. It is necessary to show Mary’s lasting and universal human qualities, in such a way that studying Mary sheds light on the study of man (21).
Because of her two-fold condition of perfect follower of Christ and the woman who has completely fulfilled herself as a person, she is a perennial source of fruitful inspirations for life.For the disciples of the Lord, the Virgin is the great symbol of the human being who fulfills the deepest longings of her mind, will, and heart, opening herself through Christ and in the Spirit to God’s transcendence in a filial surrender of love, and fixing herself firmly in history by effective service to men (22).
Having considered the importance of the figure of the Virgin in salvation history and in the life of God’s People, and following the indication of Vatican II and the Holy Fathers, one cannot seriously think of discarding today the teaching of Mariology: it is important therefore to give this teaching its proper place in seminaries and in theological faculties (23).
Research and teaching in Mariology and service in pastoral work tend towards the promotion of an authentic Marian piety, which must characterize the life of every Christian and particularly of those who dedicate themselves to theological studies and are preparing themselves for the priesthood (24).
It is necessary to stir up an authentic Marian piety among seminarians. The Code of Canon Law, when treating of the formation of candidates to the priesthood, recommends devotion to the Blessed Virgin, nourished by those acts of piety with which the students acquire the spirit of prayer and strengthen their vocations (25).
In this sense the Congregation for Catholic Education has insisted on the need to give students in all centers of ecclesiastical studies and seminarians an integral Mariological formation that includes study, devotion, and life. They will have to acquire a complete and exact knowledge of the Church’s doctrine concerning the Virgin Mary, nourishing an authentic love for this mother, which expresses itself in genuine methods of veneration and are translated into “imitation of her virtues” (26), and above all, a determined decision to live according to the commandments of God and to do his will (27); they will also have to develop the capacity to communicate that love – by words, writings, and by their own lives – to the Christian people (28). A few advantages of an adequate Marian formation follow (29):
a. In the intellectual realm, because the truth about God and about man, about Christ and about the Church, are known more deeply and more sublimely through knowledge of the “truth about Mary.”
b. In the spiritual realm, because that formation helps the Christian to welcome and introduce the Mother of Jesus “into the whole space of his own interior life.”
c. In the pastoral realm, so that the Mother of the Lord is powerfully felt as a presence of grace for the Christian people.
The acquisition of a solid Marian spirituality is an essential aspect of Christian spirituality.On his road to full maturity in Christ (30), the Lord’s disciple, conscious of the mission that God has entrusted to the Virgin in salvation history and in the life of the Church, takes her as a mother and a teacher in the spiritual life (31); with her and like her, in light of the Incarnation and the Pascal mystery, he stamps his own existence with a decisive orientation towards God through Christ in the Holy Spirit, so as to live out in the Church the radical invitation made by the Good News, and in particular, the commandment of love (32).
The piety related to Mary of Nazareth must constitute a permanent task, since the value of the Virgin’s example and her mission are effectively permanent. The mother of the Lord is a fact of divine revelation and constitutes a motherly presence always at work in the life of the Church(33).
Marian formation in the priestly life is a determining factor for the Church’s future. The priesthood is something that develops from the very beginning of one’s Christian life, but it also develops in a very intense way during the seminary period. “No one gives what he doesn’t have,” our people say: “operatur sequitur esse,” they used to teach us in philosophy; with this in mind I want to share with you, brothers in the priesthood, in the light and the embrace of the our Lady and Mother the Virgin Mary, some points that the Church has always made in her various Magisterial documents regarding the formation of her priests, ever faithful to the designs and sentiments of Christ.
Every priest knows that Mary, because she is a mother, is the eminent formator of the priesthood, since she is the one who knows how to shape the priestly heart; the Virgin, therefore, knows and wants to protect priests from dangers, exhaustion, and discouragement: with motherly solicitude she watches over the priest so that he may grow in wisdom, age, and grace before God and before men (34).
Those who do not know how to imitate the virtues of their mother are not devoted sons. The priest, therefore, must look to Mary if he wants to be a humble, obedient, and chaste minister who can give witness to charity through total donation to the Lord and to the Church (35).
The masterpiece of Christ’s priestly sacrifice, the Virgin represents the Church in the most pure manner, “without stain or wrinkle,” totally “holy and immaculate” (36). The contemplation of the Blessed Virgin keeps ever in sight the ideal that the priest must always pursue in his ministry of caring for his own flock, so that this flock also may be “the wholly glorious Church” through the priestly gift of his own life (37).
The spirituality that the Church wants in her priests is inspired in the spirituality of Mary. Let us see these aspects and attitudes of the Virgin, and may she herself take charge of forming in them in the hearts of her consecrated ones.
b) Mary, the attentive Virgin
The importance given to God’s Word in the Liturgy is well-known. The Sacred Scriptures guarantee Christ’s effective presence in the Liturgy. The Church listens, welcomes, meditates, and celebrates the word that the Lord continues speaking in the Liturgical gathering (38). We can say that the Church does not even know how to gather together in assembly without giving itself the task of listening to God’s word.
The attitude of listening, before the proclamation of the word, is also typical of the Virgin. The first time that the gospel speaks about Mary (39) it presents her to us in the posture of listening to and welcoming the word. And we know how essential this welcoming of the Divine Word has been for salvation history (40), seeing as we today, priests from the five continents, are celebrating 2000 years of the Word Incarnate in Mary’s womb.
From the information that the gospel gives us we can conclude that the “listening-welcoming” of the word constitutes a characteristic mark of Mary’s spirituality.
Welcoming the first word she becomes the mother of God; welcoming the second and last word, she becomes the mother of Christians.
This characteristic is inculcated by the Church in the life of the seminarian and the priest so as to awaken due appreciation
and love for the Sacred Scriptures and the Liturgy.
c) Mary, the praying Virgin
In addition to the Church that listens to the word, there is the Church that prays. It goes without saying that prayer constitutes an essential element of the Church’s spirituality (41).
Mary consecrated herself totally, as the handmaid of the Lord, to the work of her Son, diligently serving the mystery of the redemption with him and under him, with the grace of almighty God (42).
Full of faith in the promise of her Son (43), the Virgin constitutes a praying presence in the midst of the community of disciples: persevering with them in unity and in prayer (44), imploring “with her prayers the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her at the Annunciation” (45).
Mary is the “praying Virgin.” Thus she appears in her visit to the Precursor’s mother (46), and thus she appears in the last biographical sketch we have of her: in prayer together with the Apostles on Pentecost. And she, having been assumed into Heaven, has not abandoned her mission of intercession and salvation. The “praying Virgin” is also the Church, which daily presents to the Father her children’s needs, incessantly praises the Lord and intercedes for the world’s salvation (47).
To pray well, to pray with the Church, to pray like the Church is the ideal of prayer that everyone currently agrees must be attained: and this ideal is verified in Liturgical prayer. Its form is as splendid as it is, for all the rest, well-known in its highest degree: to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, expressing itself, in as much as is possible, with the very words of revelation.
This style of prayer was not created by the Church, but it was taken from the Virgin of the Magnificat. She, in this canticle so full of Biblical reminiscences, intoned under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, having in her womb the Incarnate Word, directing her words towards glorifying the Father for the wonders that had taken place in her and putting into relief some moments of salvation history, allows us to pray as one ought, with inspired words present in the Holy Scriptures and in the Tradition of our Church.
Therefore, each day the Ecclesia orans, in her service of petition during vespers, repeats the Magnificat, canticle of praise that resounded for the first time in the little town of Ain-Karim. Mary is the one who prays and her prayer is the prayer of the whole Church.
The Virgin’s prayer is made present in the prayer of the Church herself: and that presence leads to imitation: the prayer of the Church is the infinite expansion of that humble canticle of grace which, one day and for ever, burst forth from Mary’s heart.
The prayer of the priest must not neglect the lesson in style and attitude that is found with the “praying Virgin.” To want to pray with the Virgin is equivalent to inserting oneself into the most solemn prayer of the Church.
d) Mary, the Virgin Mother
Listening to God’s word tends to engender life: only the word heard and put into practice bears fruit. This happened in Mary and is constantly renewed in the Church and in each one of the faithful.
Mary is the “Virgin-Mother,” the one who through faith and obedience engendered on earth the very Son of the Father, without contact with man, but by being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit: prodigious motherhood, constituted by God as the “type” and “exemplar” of the fecundity of the Virgin-Church, which “is herself converted into Mother, because with preaching and baptism she engenders a new and immortal life in her children conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit and born of God” (48).
Considering that the exercise of motherhood constitutes a “service” provides a very interesting perspective. Mary, Mother of the Head and of the members, in the exercise of her motherhood at the foot of the cross, is placed by God’s will at the “service” of her children – and even more, of all men.
This motherhood, this fecundity, is participated in by the priest, who, listening to the Word and welcoming it with faith in his heart, engenders life and places himself at the service of life. This fecundity is the hidden aspect, fruit of the “Virgin mother” in the priestly soul.
The celibate’s total donation to God “for the Kingdom of Heaven,” that is, virginity consecrated to God (49), following the example of Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth, is the source of a special spiritual fecundity: it is the source of motherhood in the Holy Spirit. It is the mysterious path along which we are invited to live our priestly being and doing (50).
e) Mary, the offering Virgin
Finally, Mary is the “offering Virgin.” The Church has perceived in the heart of the Virgin who carried the Child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, a willing oblation that transcended the ordinary meaning of the rite (51). “You offer your Son, Holy Virgin, and you present to the Lord the blessed fruit of your womb. You offer the holy victim, pleasing to God, for the reconciliation of us all” (St Bernard).
This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of redemption reaches its culmination at Calvary, where Christ “offered himself, immaculate, to God” (52) and where Mary was beside the cross (53) suffering deeply with her Only Son and associating herself with motherly courage to his sacrifice, adhering lovingly to the immolation of the Victim engendered by her and offering herself as well to the Eternal Father. To perpetuate throughout the centuries the Sacrifice of the Cross, the Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice, memorial of his death and resurrection, and he confided it to his Spouse, the Church… who accomplishes it in union with the Saints in Heaven and, in the first place, with the blessed Virgin, whose ardent charity and unshakable faith she imitates (54).
Therefore the Church, with this same oblationary fervor and spirit lived by Mary, continually exhorts the priest to prepare himself and celebrate the Eucharist, center and summit of his interior life and apostolate. May his priestly hands elevate the consecrated bread and wine, Body and Blood of the Lord, just as Mary offered him as a child in the Temple, and having consummated the redemption at the foot of the cross, may he return it to the Father as an expiatory offering for our sins.
f) Mary, Teacher of the spiritual life
Mary is the example of the spiritual attitude with which the Church celebrates and lives the divine mysteries. The example of the Blessed Virgin in this field arises from her being recognized as the extraordinary model of the Church in the order of faith, of charity, and of perfect union with Christ, that is, of that interior disposition with which the Church, the most beloved Spouse, tightly bound to her Lord, invokes him and through him gives worship to the Eternal Father (55).
In the exercise of divine worship Mary is also teacher of the spiritual life for every Christian.Thus have the faithful seen her: they look to Mary to make, like her, their own lives into worship of God, and to make from this worship a commitment for life. Mary is above all the model of that kind of worship that consists in making one’s own life into an offering to God: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word” (56). And Mary’s “yes” is for all Christians a lesson and an example to be converted into obedience to the Father’s will along the way of and amid one’s own sanctification, and in a special way for priests (57).
The many relationships that unite Mary with every Christian are translated into different and effective cultural attitudes: profound veneration, ardent love, confident invocation, loving service, operative imitation of her virtues, moving wonder, and attentive study. Therefore, in a special way priests must first learn from Mary, then live her example, and finally teach the members of the Church to live it (58).
IV. THE PRIESTLY MINISTRY
Priestly formation, finally, has an active dimension oriented to pastoral action. The figure of Mary, her operative presence in the life of the Church, is recognized as the soul of every apostolic or pastoral work. Her spirit of service inspires the priestly ministry as an expression of love and as a response to a received gift. The pastoral challenges of our times demand action inspired by Mary’s life.
a) Pastoral value of Mariology
The Virgin, who was actively present in the life of the Church at her beginning, her foundation, and her manifestation, is an “operative presence” throughout history; even more, she is found in the “center of the pilgrim Church,” where she performs a multiple function: cooperating with the birth of the faithful into the life of grace, giving example in how to follow Christ, and providing “motherly mediation” (59).
As do all theological disciplines, Mariology offers precious aid to pastoral work. In this sense the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus underlines that “piety towards the Blessed Virgin, subordinated to and in connection with piety towards the Divine Savior, has a great pastoral value and constitutes a renewing force for Christian life” (60). This Marian piety is also called to make its contribution in the vast field of evangelization (61).
Thus it is that the Liturgy, with a rich doctrinal content, possesses an incomparable pastoral effectiveness: the General Roman Calendar, with an intense and balanced presence of celebrations organized around the mysteries of the Lord in the person of the Virgin; the canons of the Mass, the readings of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours (62).
Devotion to the Virgin has a special pastoral effectiveness for renewing Christian customs, as the history of the Church in different times and places shows. The Church’s piety towards the Blessed Virgin is an intrinsic element of Christian worship. The veneration that the Church has given to the Mother of the Lord in every time and place constitutes a solid witness of her “lex orandi” and an invitation to revive in consciences her “lex credendi” (63).
A fundamental aspect in the life of the Church is her pastoral dimension, carried out principally through the priestly ministry of the sacraments. The motherly expression is lived in the Church, and, therefore, in her priests when the faithful welcoming of God’s word given “through preaching and baptism engenders into new and immortal life the children who were conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God” (64). This “motherly” characteristic of the Church has been expressed in a particularly vigorous way by the Apostle to the gentiles, when he writes: “My children, for whom I suffer once more the pangs of giving birth, until Christ is formed in you” (65). These words of St Paul contain an interesting indication of the motherly consciousness of the primitive Church, united to the apostolic service among men.
Mary keeps on repeating to all men, and with greater tenderness to her priestly sons: “Do whatever he tells you” (66), which, in fact, summarizes all pastoral action at any level: docility to the will of the Son, which is the manifestation of the Father’s will.
b) The spirit of service in Mary
A better knowledge of Mary’s mission has been transformed into joyful veneration of her and adoring respect for the wise plan of God, who has placed in his family – the Church – as if in a domestic home, the figure of a Woman, who silently and in the spirit of service watches over it and “lovingly protects its journey to the homeland, until the glorious day of the Lord arrives” (67).
The fundamental aspect of Marian spirituality is service. In this way one can synthesize the different spiritualities, the different charisms with which the Holy Spirit adorns his Church. Likewise, this overcomes the unfortunate situation wherein Marian piety seems to appear only as a patrimony for women. It is obvious that, in the light of service, this piety acquires a character in itself more virile and communal, without running the risk of favoring an easygoing sentimentalism, as at times happens in Marian spirituality anchored exclusively in the “filial” aspect, typical of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The posture of “service” can be converted into the spiritual expression that harmonizes well the reverence due to the Lady with the confidence inspired by the Mother, since the Virgin is “she who, after Christ, occupies in the holy Church the highest place, and at the same time the place nearest to us” (68).
The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the formation of priests in current times, Pastores Dabo Vobis, offers us a key text for understanding service as an expression of the configuration to Christ the Head and Pastor (69):
Through sacramental consecration, the priest is configured to Jesus Christ, as head and Pastor of the Church, and receives as a gift a “spiritual power,” which is participation in the authority with which Jesus Christ, through his Spirit, guides his Church.
Thanks to this consecration brought about by the Holy Spirit in the sacramental effusion of Orders, the spiritual life of the priest is characterized, infused, and defined by those attitudes and behaviors which belong to Jesus Christ, Head and Pastor of the Church, and which are brought together in his pastoral charity.
Jesus Christ is Head of the Church, his Body. He is “Head” in the new and original sense of being “servant,” according to his own words: “The Son of man has not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). The service of Jesus reaches its fullness with his death on the cross, that is, with his total gift of self, in humility and love: “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and becoming like men… he humiliated himself, obedient unto death, and death on a cross…” (Phil 2:7-8). The authority of Jesus Christ the Head coincides therefore with his service, with his gift, with his total, humble, and loving surrender to the Church. And this in perfect obedience to the Father: he is the only and true Suffering Servant of the Lord, both Priest and Victim.
This concrete type of service, that is, service to the Church, must animate and enliven the spiritual existence of every priest, precisely because of the demands of his configuration with Jesus Christ, Head and Servant of the Church. St Augustine exhorted a bishop on day of his ordination along these lines: “He who is head of the people must, before all else, realize that he is the servant of many. And he must not disdain being so, I repeat, he must not disdain being the servant of many, because the Lord of lords did not disdain making himself our servant.”
The spiritual life of the New Testament’s ministers will have to be characterized, then, by this essential attitude of service to the People of God (cf Mt 20:24ff; Mk 10:43-44), far from all presumption and thoughts of “tyrannizing” the entrusted flock (cf 1Pet 5:2-3). A service carried out as God expects and with a good spirit. In this way all ministers, the “elders” of the community, that is, the presbyters, will be able to be a “model” for the Lord’s flock, a flock which in turn is called to take on this priestly attitude of service before the whole world, leading mankind to fullness of life and to its integral liberation.
Every aspect of priestly formation can be referred to Mary as to the human being who better than anyone has corresponded to the vocation of God; who has become the servant and disciple of the Word up until conceiving in her heart and in her flesh the Word made man in order to give him to humanity; who has been called to educate the unique and eternal Priest, docile and submissive to her motherly authority. With her example and through her intercession, the Blessed Virgin continues watching over the development of vocations and of the priestly life of the Church (71).
To her, the Mother of the Eternal High Priest, we want to entrust our priestly vocation, received with the imposition of hands on the day of our ordination, with which we are given the unmerited gift of being Alter Christus.
To her, who keeps her priests in her heart and in the Church, we want to entrust our pastoral work and the abundant harvest of the Lord.
To her, who welcomed us from the beginning, who protected us in our formation, we raise our petition, that she may accompany us in our priestly lives and ministries.
I filially implore the loving protection of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, our sweet and holy Mother, to build up our priestly lives and ministries and grant us all to meet next year in our Encounter in Mexico, in her little house of Tepeyac.
NORBERTO RIVERA C.
Archbishop, Primate of Mexico