Return to the ‘Upper Room’: World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests

June 12, 2023 at 11:31 p.m.
Return to the ‘Upper Room’:  World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests
Return to the ‘Upper Room’: World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests

By Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

 One of the greatest privileges and most humbling graces in the life and ministry of a bishop is the opportunity to ordain priests, to hand on to them a share in the very priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which he first gave to his own apostles in the Upper Room on the night before he died for us.  And, consequently, one of the most important responsibilities the bishop has is to care for them, as a father cares for his sons. That, too, is a privilege and a grace.

This Friday, June 16, is the Solemn Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, when the Church celebrates the Divine and human love of the Lord Jesus Christ which moved him to give his life for us on the Cross. It is fitting, then, that the Church invites all Catholics on this feast to join in her “World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests,” established by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002. “That day was chosen because the feast of the Sacred Heart celebrates God's merciful love, that becomes tangible for priests in the Eucharistic Mystery, which they celebrate daily, and in the sacramental pardon which they administer and receive (Congregation, now Dicastery, for the Clergy, May 8, 2002).”

In his “March 23, 2000, Holy Thursday Letter to Priests,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote:

"'Do this in memory of me' (Lk 22:19): although addressed to the whole Church, the words of Christ are entrusted as a particular task to those who carry on the ministry of the first Apostles. It is to them that Jesus hands on the action which he has just performed—changing bread into his Body and wine into his Blood—the action in which he appears as Priest and Victim. It is the will of Christ that henceforth his action should also become sacramentally the action of the Church through the hands of priests. In saying 'Do this', he refers not only to the action, but also to the one who is called to act; in other words, he institutes the ministerial priesthood, which thus becomes one of the essential elements of the Church."

This year, as the Church in the United States continues its Eucharistic Revival in the parishes of all its dioceses, prayer for the sanctification of priests takes on an even greater inspiration and motivation. Again, we look to Pope St. John Paul II who reminded the Church: “There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood and no priesthood without the Eucharist" (2004 Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, March 28, 2004). His successor, the late Pope Benedict XVI, also observed, “Without the Eucharist, the Church simply does not exist" (Angelus remarks, June 26, 2011).

On the Solemn Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, all priests — indeed, all the Catholic faithful — should return to the “Upper Room” to thank God for the “gift and mystery” of the Eucharist and for the priesthood that enables Christ’s presence in this Sacrament to continue to nourish and strengthen the Church, especially at this time of the national Eucharistic Revival and the worldwide Synod.

In my priesthood Ordination homily this year, I told the congregation “We need the priest to be a ‘man of God’: his first and most important responsibility is holiness of life (Homily, June 3, 2023).” The priest, however, cannot achieve that holiness, that “sanctification” alone. God takes the initiative for sure, but the priest must cooperate with his grace, and depends upon the prayer and encouragement of the faithful he has “come to serve” after the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

At the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome this year, Pope Francis exhorted priests, especially in times of discouragement, to remember the power of the anointing they have received from the Holy Spirit at Ordination:

An anointing that penetrates to the depths of our reality, where the Spirit anoints our weaknesses, our weariness, our inner poverty. An anointing that brings a new fragrance: that of the Spirit, not of ourselves. At this very moment, inwardly, I am thinking of some of you who are in crisis – let’s say – who are disoriented and do not know how to find their way, how to get back on the road of this second anointing of the Spirit. To these brothers – of whom I am thinking – I simply say: courage, the Lord is greater than your weaknesses, your sins. Trust the Lord and let yourself be called a second time, this time with the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Homily, April 6, 2023).

Sadly, we live at a time in the history of the Church, when the reputation of priests has been sullied by the sinful actions of a few over the past several decades, resulting in a diminution of respect for and appreciation of the worthiness of the priestly vocation. This experience has made the need to pray for the sanctification of priests more urgent and compelling than ever. But it is not, by any measure, the only reason to pray for priests.

Good and faithful priests need the Church’s prayer to support the true dignity of their vocation and to be renewed in their priestly commitment to serve Christ and his Church. Yes, holiness of life and personal sanctification are the primary and most important elements of their call to priesthood. Priests must strive for this holiness with humility and zeal every day of their priestly life and ministry, both in times of joy and moments of challenge. Return to the “Upper Room!” We all need to pray for our priests, that they may heed the words of the apostle, “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15-16).”

The Solemn Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is, indeed, a perfect occasion to pray for the sanctification of priests, as is this time of Eucharistic Revival. As Bishop, I ask you to pray for all priests but especially for the diocesan and religious priests who serve us in the four counties of the Diocese of Trenton.

May Mary, the Mother of Priests, intercede for all priests so that they may be ever more conformed, in the daily sacrifice of their lives, to the Person of Her Son, Jesus Christ, Victim, and Priest. Amen.


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 One of the greatest privileges and most humbling graces in the life and ministry of a bishop is the opportunity to ordain priests, to hand on to them a share in the very priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which he first gave to his own apostles in the Upper Room on the night before he died for us.  And, consequently, one of the most important responsibilities the bishop has is to care for them, as a father cares for his sons. That, too, is a privilege and a grace.

This Friday, June 16, is the Solemn Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, when the Church celebrates the Divine and human love of the Lord Jesus Christ which moved him to give his life for us on the Cross. It is fitting, then, that the Church invites all Catholics on this feast to join in her “World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests,” established by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002. “That day was chosen because the feast of the Sacred Heart celebrates God's merciful love, that becomes tangible for priests in the Eucharistic Mystery, which they celebrate daily, and in the sacramental pardon which they administer and receive (Congregation, now Dicastery, for the Clergy, May 8, 2002).”

In his “March 23, 2000, Holy Thursday Letter to Priests,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote:

"'Do this in memory of me' (Lk 22:19): although addressed to the whole Church, the words of Christ are entrusted as a particular task to those who carry on the ministry of the first Apostles. It is to them that Jesus hands on the action which he has just performed—changing bread into his Body and wine into his Blood—the action in which he appears as Priest and Victim. It is the will of Christ that henceforth his action should also become sacramentally the action of the Church through the hands of priests. In saying 'Do this', he refers not only to the action, but also to the one who is called to act; in other words, he institutes the ministerial priesthood, which thus becomes one of the essential elements of the Church."

This year, as the Church in the United States continues its Eucharistic Revival in the parishes of all its dioceses, prayer for the sanctification of priests takes on an even greater inspiration and motivation. Again, we look to Pope St. John Paul II who reminded the Church: “There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood and no priesthood without the Eucharist" (2004 Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, March 28, 2004). His successor, the late Pope Benedict XVI, also observed, “Without the Eucharist, the Church simply does not exist" (Angelus remarks, June 26, 2011).

On the Solemn Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, all priests — indeed, all the Catholic faithful — should return to the “Upper Room” to thank God for the “gift and mystery” of the Eucharist and for the priesthood that enables Christ’s presence in this Sacrament to continue to nourish and strengthen the Church, especially at this time of the national Eucharistic Revival and the worldwide Synod.

In my priesthood Ordination homily this year, I told the congregation “We need the priest to be a ‘man of God’: his first and most important responsibility is holiness of life (Homily, June 3, 2023).” The priest, however, cannot achieve that holiness, that “sanctification” alone. God takes the initiative for sure, but the priest must cooperate with his grace, and depends upon the prayer and encouragement of the faithful he has “come to serve” after the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

At the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome this year, Pope Francis exhorted priests, especially in times of discouragement, to remember the power of the anointing they have received from the Holy Spirit at Ordination:

An anointing that penetrates to the depths of our reality, where the Spirit anoints our weaknesses, our weariness, our inner poverty. An anointing that brings a new fragrance: that of the Spirit, not of ourselves. At this very moment, inwardly, I am thinking of some of you who are in crisis – let’s say – who are disoriented and do not know how to find their way, how to get back on the road of this second anointing of the Spirit. To these brothers – of whom I am thinking – I simply say: courage, the Lord is greater than your weaknesses, your sins. Trust the Lord and let yourself be called a second time, this time with the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Homily, April 6, 2023).

Sadly, we live at a time in the history of the Church, when the reputation of priests has been sullied by the sinful actions of a few over the past several decades, resulting in a diminution of respect for and appreciation of the worthiness of the priestly vocation. This experience has made the need to pray for the sanctification of priests more urgent and compelling than ever. But it is not, by any measure, the only reason to pray for priests.

Good and faithful priests need the Church’s prayer to support the true dignity of their vocation and to be renewed in their priestly commitment to serve Christ and his Church. Yes, holiness of life and personal sanctification are the primary and most important elements of their call to priesthood. Priests must strive for this holiness with humility and zeal every day of their priestly life and ministry, both in times of joy and moments of challenge. Return to the “Upper Room!” We all need to pray for our priests, that they may heed the words of the apostle, “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15-16).”

The Solemn Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is, indeed, a perfect occasion to pray for the sanctification of priests, as is this time of Eucharistic Revival. As Bishop, I ask you to pray for all priests but especially for the diocesan and religious priests who serve us in the four counties of the Diocese of Trenton.

May Mary, the Mother of Priests, intercede for all priests so that they may be ever more conformed, in the daily sacrifice of their lives, to the Person of Her Son, Jesus Christ, Victim, and Priest. Amen.

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