The dictionary defines the word “gift” as “a thing given willingly to someone without payment: a present. These gifts are usually associated with joyful occasions like Christmas, birthdays or other special events. They often bring us joy and hold significant value in our lives. As the dictionary indicates, we experience joy, excitement and enthusiasm when we think of a gift. Additionally, that excitement is multiplied by the willingness and joy of the person giving the gift to us and the conditions surrounding the event of giving. The joy is magnified by the knowledge and the esteem the receiver has for the giver. This knowledge helps us reflect upon how good God is in our lives of Faith. Gifts from God are simply astonishing. God is so good, and His gifts awaken in us a sense of gratitude beyond any other we could receive from any other benefactor or friend.
“There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist”
Along with our brothers and sisters in Faith, we share the great gift of the priesthood in these late summer days among our friends, families, parishioners and other people we may know who have recently celebrated ordinations to the priesthood. Now, there’s a gift worth talking about in so many ways. The Church has such joyful excitement and enthusiasm about the priesthood. With plenty of good reasons!
Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote letters to the priests of the Church on many Holy Thursday celebrations during his papacy. On one such occasion, he wrote concerning the Eucharist. I call it to your attention:
At dusk I see you entering the Upper Room for the beginning of the Easter Triduum. It is precisely to that “large room upstairs” (Lk 22:12) that Jesus invites us to return each Holy Thursday, and it is there above all that I most cherish meeting you, my dear brothers in the priesthood. At the Last Supper, we were born as priests: for this reason, it is both a pleasure and a duty to gather once again in the Upper Room and to remind one another with heartfelt gratitude of the lofty mission which we share.
We were born from the Eucharist. If we can truly say that the whole Church lives from the Eucharist (“Ecclesia de Eucharistia vivit”), as I reaffirmed in my recent encyclical, we can say the same thing about the ministerial priesthood: it is born, lives, works and bears fruit “de Eucharistia.” (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, canon 2: DS 1752) “There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist.” (cf. Gift and Mystery. On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination, New York, 1996, pp.77-78)
Pope St. John Paul the Great calls us to consider and reflect upon the reality of the Eucharist as the true gift and mystery of the Savior Himself, to us, in and through the Church. The Church was founded from His open side as His sacred body was pierced, and His precious blood flowed from the open wound for the sake of our redemption and unity with Him for eternity in heaven.
Our Blessed Lord brings us to great awareness of this tremendous gift and mystery each and every day as we celebrate the holy Mass. We remind ourselves: no Priest, no Eucharist—a gift truly given freely, Love beyond all measure, beyond all exception. As we celebrate the priesthood, we truly need to be aware of the astonishing dynamic and connection between God and man in the gift and mystery of the priesthood—we cannot have one without the other. Praise be Jesus Christ.
And I’ll see you at Sunday Mass!
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
Published in the September/October 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine