by Saint Josemaria Escriva
A homily given on 13 April 1973,
Friday in the first week of Passiontide,
formerly the Commemoration of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady.
When saying Mass a few days ago I paused to reflect on a phrase from
the psalms in the Communion Antiphon: The Lord is my shepherd I shall
not want.  It reminded me of another
psalm which was used in the rite of tonsure: The Lord is my chosen portion
and my cup.  Christ Himself is placed
in the hands of priests who thus become the stewards of the mysteries
- of the wonders - of God 
Next summer some fifty members of Opus Dei will receive Holy Orders.
Since 1944 small groups of members of the Work have been ordained, each
ordination giving witness to the working of God's grace and to service
to the Church. And yet each year some people are surprised. How is it,
they ask, that thirty, forty or fifty men whose lives are so rich in achievement
and so full of promise, are ready to become priests? I should like today
to dwell on this subject - though I run the risk of adding to people's
The sacrament of Holy Orders is going to be conferred on this group
of members of the Work who have had very substantial experience, perhaps
over many years, in medicine, law, engineering, architecture and many other
professional activities. They are men whose work would allow them to aspire
to more or less prominent positions in society.
They are being ordained to serve. They are not being ordained to give
orders or to attract attention, but rather to give themselves to the service
of all souls in a divine and continuous silence. When they become priests,
they will not allow themselves to yield to the temptation to imitate the
occupations of lay people - even though they are well able to do that work
because they have been at it until now, and have acquired a lay outlook
which they will never lose.
Their competence in the various branches of human knowledge such as
history, natural sciences, psychology, law and sociology is a necessary
feature of this lay outlook. But it will not lead them to put themselves
forward as priestpsychologists, priest-biologists or priest-sociologists:
they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders to become nothing other than
priest-priests, priests through and through.
They probably know more about a wide range of secular, human matters
than many lay people. But the moment they are ordained they cheerfully
silence this competence and concentrate on fortifying themselves through
continuous prayer so as to speak only of God, to preach the Gospel and
administer the sacraments. If I can put it this way, I would say that this
is their new professional work. To it they will devote their whole day
and find that they still have not enough time to do all that has to be
done. They have constantly to study theology; they must give spiritual
guidance to very many souls, hear many confessions, preach tirelessly and
pray a great deal; their heart must always be focused on the tabernacle,
where He who has chosen us to be his own is really present. Their life
is a wonderful self-surrender, full of joy, though like everyone they will
meet up with difficulties.
As I said, all this may serve to increase people's surprise. Perhaps
some may still ask themselves: What is the point of this renunciation of
so many good and noble things of the earth? These men could have had a
successful professional career. Through their example they could have exerted
a Christian influence on society, on cultural, educational, financial and
many other aspects of civil life.
Others will remind you that in many places today the idea of the priesthood
is very confused. They keep on saying that you must search for the identity
of the priest and they question the value of giving oneself to God
in the priesthood in present-day society. And then others will ask how
it is that, at a time when vocations to the priesthood are in short supply,
this very vocation should arise among Christians who, thanks to their own
efforts, have already found their place in society.
I can understand this surprise, but it would be insincere of me to say
that I share it. These men become priests of their own free will, because
they want to, and this is a very supernatural reason. They know that they
are not renouncing anything in the normal sense of the word. Through their
vocation to Opus Dei they have been devoted to the service of the Church
and of all souls. This full, divine vocation led them to sanctify their
work, to sanctify themselves in their work and to seek the sanctification
of others in the context of their professional relationships.
The members of Opus Dei whether priests or lay people, are ordinary
Christians, and like all Christians, they are addressed by Saint Peter
in these words:  You are a chosen
race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may
declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called you out of darkness into
his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people;
once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
As Christian faithful, priests and lay people share one and the same
condition, for God our Lord has called us to the fulness of charity which
is holiness: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly
places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy and blameless before him. 
There is no such thing as second-class holiness. Either we put up a
constant fight to stay in the grace of God and imitate Christ, our Model,
or we desert in that divine battle. God invites everyone; each person can
become holy in his own state in life. In Opus Dei this passion for holiness,
in spite of individual errors and failings, does not vary from priests
to lay people; and besides, priests make up a very small part compared
with the total number of members.
So if you look at things with the eyes of faith, there is no question
of renunciation on entering the priesthood; nor does the priesthood imply
a sort of summit of vocation to Opus Dei. Holiness does not depend on your
state in life (married or single, widowed or ordained) but on the way you
personally respond to the grace you receive. This grace teaches us to put
away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light: which is serenity,
peace and joyful service, full of sacrifice to all mankind. 
The priesthood leads one to serve God in a state which, in itself, is
no better or worse than any other: it is simply different. But the priestly
vocation is invested with a dignity and greatness which has no equal on
earth. Saint Catherine of Siena put these words on Jesus' lips: I do
not wish the respect which priests should be given to be in any way diminished;
for the reverence and respect which is shown them is not referred to them
but to Me, by virtue of the Blood which I have given to them to administer.
Were it not for this, you should render them the same reverence as lay
people, and no more ... You must not offend them; by offending them you
offend Me and not them. Therefore I forbid it and I have laid it down that
you shall not touch my Christs. 
Some people keep searching for what they call the identity of the priest.
How clearly Saint Catherine expresses it! What is the identity of the priest?
That of Christ. All of us Christians can and should be not just other Christs,
alter Christus, but Christ himself: ipse Christus! But in
the priest this happens in a direct way, by virtue of the sacrament.
To accomplish so great a work - the work of redemption - Christ
is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations.
He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his
minister, 'the same now offering through the ministry of priests, who formerly
offered himself on the Cross, but especially under the eucharistic species.
 The sacrament of Orders, in effect,
equips the priest to lend Our Lord his voice, his hands, his whole being.
It is Jesus Christ who, in the Holy Mass, through the words of the consecration,
changes the substance of the bread and wine into his Body, Soul, Blood
This is the source of the priest's incomparable dignity. It is a greatness
which is on loan: it is completely compatible with my own littleness. I
pray to God our Lord to give all of us priests the grace to perform holy
things in a holy way, to reflect in every aspect of our lives the wonders
of the greatness of God. Those of us who celebrate the mysteries of
the Passion of Our Lord must imitate what we perform And then the host
will take our place before God because we render ourselves hosts. 
If you ever come across a priest who apparently does not seem to be
following the teaching of the Gospel - do not judge him, let God judge
him - bear in mind that if he celebrates Mass validly, with the intention
of consecrating, Our Lord will still come down into his hands, however
unworthy they are. Where could you find greater self-surrender and annihilation?
Here it is greater than in Bethlehem or on Calvary. Why? Because Jesus'
heart, filled with a desire to redeem, does not want anyone to be able
to say that he has not been called. He goes out to meet those who do not
That is Love! There is no other explanation for it. When it comes to
speaking of Christ's Love, we are lost for words. He has so abased Himself
that He accepts everything; He exposes Himself to everything - to sacrilege,
to blasphemy and to the cold indifference of so many people - in order
to offer even one man the chance of hearing the beating of his Heart in
his wounded side.
Here we have the priest's identity: he is a direct and daily instrument
of the saving grace which Christ has won for us. If you grasp this, if
you meditate on it in the active silence of prayer, how could you ever
think of the priesthood in terms of renunciation? It is a gain, an incalculable
gain. Our mother Mary, the holiest of creatures - only God is holier -
brought Jesus Christ into the world just once; priests bring him on earth,
to our soul and body, every day: Christ comes to be our food, to give us
life, to be, even now, a pledge of future life.
A priest is no more a man or a Christian than any ordinary lay person.
That is why it is so important for a priest to be deeply humble. He must
understand that these words of Saint Paul also apply to him in a special
way: What have you that you did not receive? 
What he has received . . . is God!
He has received the power to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the Holy
Mass (the principal purpose of priestly ordination) , to forgive sins,
to administer the other sacraments and to preach with authority the Word
of God, governing the rest of the faithful in those matters which refer
to the Kingdom of Heaven.
While it indeed presupposes the sacraments of Christian initiation,
the priesthood of priests is nevertheless conferred by its own special
sacrament. Through that sacrament priests, by the anointing of the Holy
Spirit, are marked with a special character and are so configured to Christ
the Priest that they can act in the person of Christ the Head. 
That is the way the Church is. It does not depend on man's whim but
on the express will of Jesus Christ its founder. Sacrifice and priesthood
are so united by God's ordination, that in both laws - the old and
the new covenant - both have existed. Since therefore the Catholic Church
in the New Testament has received, through the Lord's institution, the
visible sacrifice of the Eucharist, we must also hold that she has a new
priesthood, visible and external, which has taken the place of the old
In those who have been ordained, the ministerial priesthood is added
to the common priesthood of all of the faithful. Therefore, although it
would be a serious error to argue that a priest is more a member of the
faithful than an unordained Christian is, it can, on the other hand, be
said that he is more a priest: like all Christians he belongs to the priestly
people redeemed by Christ, and in addition to this he is marked with a
character of the priestly ministry which differentiates him essentially
and not only in degree  from the
common priesthood of the faithful.
I cannot understand why some priests are so eager to be indistinguishable
from other Christians, forgetting or neglecting their specific mission
in the Church, that for which they have been ordained. They seem to think
that Christians want to see the priest as just another man. That is not
so. They want to find in the priest those virtues proper to every Christian
and, indeed, every honourable man: understanding, justice, a life of work
- priestly work, in this instance - and good manners.
But the faithful also want to be able to recognise clearly the priestly
character: they expect the priest to pray, not to refuse to administer
the sacraments; they expect him to be open to everyone and not set himself
up to take charge of people or become an aggressive leader of human factions,
of whatever shade.  They expect him
to bring love and devotion to the celebration of the Holy Mass, to sit
in the confessional, to console the sick and the troubled; to teach sound
doctrine to children and adults, to preach the Word of God and no mere
human science which - no matter how well he may know it - is not the knowledge
that saves and brings eternal life; they expect him to give counsel and
be charitable to those in need.
In a word: they ask the priest to learn how not to hamper the presence
of Christ in him, especially in those moments when he is offering the Sacrifice
of the Body and Blood and when, in God's name, he forgives sins in secret,
private sacramental confession. The administration of these two sacraments
has so important a part in the priest's mission that everything should
hinge on it. Other priestly tasks, such as preaching and giving instruction
in the faith, would lack solid foundation if they were not aimed at teaching
people to relate to Christ, to meet Him in the loving tribunal of penance
and in the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary, the Mass.
Let me dwell just a little longer on the Holy Sacrifice: for if the
Mass is, for us, the centre and root of our lives as Christians, it must
be so in a special way in the priest's life. A priest who, for no good
reason, does not celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the altar every day, 
would show little love of God. It would be as though he wanted to reproach
Christ by stating that he did not share Christ's desire for redemption,
that he did not understand his impatience to give Himself, defenceless,
as food for the soul.
We must remember that all of us priests, saints or sinners, are not
ourselves when we celebrate Holy Mass. We are Christ, who renews on the
altar his divine sacrifice of Calvary. In the mystery of the eucharistic
sacrifice, in which priests fulfil their principal function, the work of
our redemption is continually carried out. For this reason its daily celebration
is earnestly recommended. This celebration is an act of Christ and the
Church even if it is impossible for the faithful to be present. 
The Council of Trent teaches that in the Mass is performed, contained
and sacrificed, in an unbloody manner, that same Christ who once and for
all offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross . . .
thus the Victim is one and the same; and He who is now offered through
the ministry of priests is the same as He who offered Himself on the Cross;
only the manner of offering is different. 
The fact that the faithful attend or do not attend Holy Mass in no way
changes this truth of faith. When I celebrate Mass surrounded by people
I am very happy; I don't need to think of myself as president of any kind
of assembly. I am, on the one hand, a member of the faithful like the others;
but, above all, I am Christ at the Altar! I am renewing in an unbloody
manner the divine Sacrifice of Calvary and I am consecrating, in persona
Christi, in the person of Christ. I really represent Jesus Christ,
for I am lending him my body, my voice, my hands and my poor heart, so
often stained, which I want Him to purify.
When I celebrate Mass with just one person to serve it, the people are
present also. I feel that there, with me, are all Catholics, all believers,
and also all those who do not believe. All God's creatures are there -
the earth and the sea and the sky, and the animals and plants - the whole
of creation giving glory to the Lord.
And especially I will say, using the words of the Second Vatican Council,
that we are most closely united to the worshipping church in heaven
as we join with and venerate first of all the memory of the glorious ever
Virgin Mary, of Saint Joseph and the blessed apostles and martyrs, and
of all the saints. 
I ask all Christians to pray earnestly for us priests that we learn
to perform the Holy Sacrifice in a holy way. I ask you to show a deep love
for the Holy Mass and in this way to encourage us priests to celebrate
it respectfully, with divine and human dignity: looking after the cleanliness
of the vestments and other things used for worship, devoutly, without rushing.
Why the hurry? Do people in love hurry when they are saying goodbye?
They seem to be going and then they don't go; they turn back once and again;
they repeat quite ordinary words as if they had just discovered their meaning
... please don't take exception to my applying to the things of God the
example of noble and fine human love. If we love God with our heart of
flesh - and we have no other - we will not be in a hurry to finish this
meeting, this loving appointment with Him.
Some priests take it all very coolly. They don't mind stringing out
the readings, announcements and notices until we are tired of them. But
when the main part of the Mass arrives, the Sacrifice proper, they actually
rush. This means that the rest of the faithful do not devoutly adore Christ,
Priest and Victim; nor do they learn to thank Him, calmly and respectfully,
after Mass for his having come among us once again.
In the Holy Mass, all the affections and needs of a Christian's heart
find their best channel: through Christ the Mass leads to the Father in
the Holy Spirit. The priest should make a special effort to ensure that
people know this and put it into practice. No other activity should, normally,
take precedence over this task of teaching people to love and venerate
the Holy Eucharist.
The priest carries out two acts: the principal one is an action on
the true Body of Christ; the secondary one affects the Mystical Body of
Christ. The second act or ministry depends on the first, but the reverse
is not the case. 
Therefore the most important part of the priestly ministry consists
in trying to get Catholics to approach the Holy Sacrifice with growing
purity, humility and devotion. If a priest strives to do this, he will
not be cheated, nor will he defraud the consciences of his fellow Christians.
In the Holy Mass what we do is adore: we fulfil lovingly the first duty
of a creature to his Creator: You shall worship the Lord your
God and Him only shall you serve. 
Not the cold, external adoration of a servant, but an intimate esteem and
attachment that befits the tender love of a son.
In the Holy Mass we find the perfect opportunity to atone for our sins
and the sins of all men, so as to be able to say with Saint Paul that we
are completing in our flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.
 No one is an isolated individual in
this world; no one can consider himself completely free from blame for
the evil that is done on earth, which is the result of original sin and
the sum total of many personal sins. Let us love sacrifice; let us seek
atonement. How? By uniting ourselves in the Mass to Christ, who is Priest
and Victim. He is always the one who bears the tremendous weight of the
infidelities of men - your infidelities and mine.
The Sacrifice of Calvary is an infinite expression of Christ's generosity.
It is true that each of us is very much out for himself; but God our Lord
does not mind if we lay all our needs before Him at Mass. Who doesn't have
things to ask for? Lord, this illness ... Lord, this sorrow ... Lord, that
humiliation which I don't seem to be able to bear out of love for You ...
We desire the welfare, joy and happiness of the people in our own home;
we are saddened by the condition of those who hunger and thirst for bread
and for justice, of those who experience the bitterness of loneliness and
of those who end their days without an affectionate smile or a helping
But what really makes us suffer, the greatest human failure we want
to remedy, is sin, separation from God, the danger that souls may be lost
for all eternity. Our overriding desire when we celebrate Mass is the same
as Christ's when he offered Himself on Calvary: to bring men to eternal
glory in the Love of God.
Let us get used to speaking sincerely to our Lord when he comes down
to the altar, an innocent Victim in the hands of the priest. Confidence
in the help of God will give us a sensitivity of soul which is expressed
in good works: charity, understanding, tender sympathy for those who suffer
and for those who pretend to be happy enjoying false and empty joys, which
soon turn to sadness.
Finally, we give thanks to God our Lord for the wonderful way He has
given Himself up for us. Imagine, the Word made flesh has come to us as
our food! ... Inside us, inside our littleness, lies the Creator of heaven
and earth! . . . The Virgin Mary was conceived without sin to prepare her
to receive Christ in her womb. If our thanksgiving were in proportion to
the difference between the gift and our desserts, should we not turn the
whole day into a continuous Eucharist, a continuous thanksgiving? Do not
leave the church almost immediately after receiving the Sacrament. Surely
you have nothing so important on that you cannot give Our Lord ten minutes
to say thanks . Let's not be mean. Love is repaid with love.
A priest who says the Mass in this way - adoring, atoning, pleading,
giving thanks, identifying himself with Christ and who teaches others to
make the Sacrifice of the altar the centre and root of the Christian life
really will show the incomparable value of his vocation, the value of that
character with which he has been stamped and which he will never lose.
I know that you will understand what I mean when I say that, compared
with a priest like that, those who behave as if they wanted to apologise
for being ministers of God are nothing less than a failure - a human and
Christian failure. It is most unfortunate because it leads them to give
up the ministry, to ape lay people and to look for a second job which gradually
takes over from the task which is proper to their vocation and their mission.
Often when they flee from giving spiritual attention to souls, they tend
to replace this with another occupation (moving into those areas which
belong to lay people - social action and politics) and we get the phenomenon
of clericalism, the true priestly mission gone wrong.
I do not wish to conclude on a sombre note which might sound pessimistic.
The genuine Christian priesthood has not disappeared from God's Church.
The teaching which we have received from the divine lips of Jesus has not
changed. There are many thousands of priests throughout the world who really
do respond to their vocation, quietly, undramatically. They have not fallen
into the temptation to throw overboard a treasure of holiness and grace
which has existed in the Church from the very beginning.
It warms my heart to think of the quiet human and supernatural dignity
of those brothers of mine, scattered throughout the world. It is only right
that they should now feel themselves surrounded by the friendship, help
and affection of many Christians. And when the moment comes for them to
enter God's presence, Jesus will go out to meet them. He will glorify forever
those who have acted on earth in his Person and in his name. He will shower
them with that grace of which they have been ministers.
Let us return again to those members of Opus Dei who are being ordained next summer. Do please pray for them, so that they will always be faithful, devout, learned, committed and happy priests. Commend them especially to our Lady. Ask her to take special care of those who will spend their lives serving her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Priest.