I would say it is really beautiful and I would say amazing to see how this great ideal of the priesthood is still attracting young people. It is impossible to explain this on a natural basis. It is clear that Our Lord is behind, attracting through His grace, young people. And He will do the same until the end of time, because He wanted to entrust all the treasures of His Redemption to the priest and not to anybody else. We can’t change this rule. We can’t change this law, which is the law of the economy of the sacraments. But we have to be faithful to this law. That is the mission of the Society of St. Pius X.
The priest has a power to do things which in his human nature he shouldn't have the power to do.
The priest is one united intimately to Christ, the second person the Blessed Trinity.
The priesthood is a gift from Our Lord to show mercy to souls. The priest is meant to be an imitator of the Sacred Heart.
Really a mystery of God's infinite mercy, infinite Love - His eternal Love for a soul.
The priest is the man of sacrifice; he is the man of the Mass…
...who reflects God, the holiness of God among people.
He has the power to make God present on the altar. He says the words, “This is My Body” and it becomes the Body of Jesus Christ. “This is My Body”; this is not Jesus's Body: “This is My Body”. He acts in the Person of Christ.
The priesthood is a mystery because it's a transformation of a man in such a way that he now has Divine powers.
Who Is the Priest?
The priest, for Archbishop Lefebvre, is more than anything, a man of the Mass, a man who offers the sacrifice of the Mass.
There is a link, a union between the priest and his Mass, and the Mass and the priest, that cannot be broken. And if you try to separate a priest from the Mass, he will lose his priesthood. Just like if you try to have a Mass without a priest, it’s impossible.
[Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatæ Mariæ semper Virgini, beato Michaeli Archangelo…]
Archbishop Lefebvre talks about the priest being a man of sacrifice because he was ordained for the Mass. The Archbishop says that the Mass is both contemplative and active, but essentially active. It's the giving of self for the salvation of souls.
The Mass is the center of Catholic life. It's the graces that our Lord won on the Cross applied to us here and now. So in fact, any of the graces we receive from the sacraments, be it Matrimony or Extreme Unction or Baptism, all of those graces come to us through the Mass. And the Mass, of course, is the great source of all grace. And that's why the priest is so important, because he offers the Sacrifice of the Mass; he applies the graces of the Mass to us here and now.
When the priest can lift that host, there at the beginning of the Offertory, he's not just lifting a pure Victim – he can put everything on that paten. He puts every soul that he knows, he puts every confession that he hears, he puts every direction that he gives, he puts every class that he teaches – we can put all of that on the paten, and then, at that moment we don't have to be any sort of superhuman to be able to save the world, because Christ has already saved it.
The priest is called ‘father’ because a father gives life; a father brings life into the world.
The priest is not like a Protestant minister. He's not there just to preach the gospel truth and then go back to his family. The priest, as a celibate man, has one family and it's all the souls given to him in his parish.
To be between those souls that are standing behind you looking expectantly to their God, and on the other hand, God the Father looking back at them, paternally with His solicitude, and then receiving that kiss from the altar which is Christ, and then turning and passing that greeting to the faithful – that really strikes home as simply the role of the priest.
There, really being a father in the distribution of Holy Communion, so beautiful for the priest because he's a father to souls. He gives not only life, but Eternal Life to each soul that comes to the Communion rail. If he were to lay down his life for that soul, it wouldn't be more than he gives the soul in Holy Communion.
A mystery is something that we don’t fully comprehend. And when you think of the priesthood, that the man, the human being, has to be like Christ associated with His Priesthood. We don’t fully comprehend it. And that is why you can say that the priesthood is truly a mystery. It is not fully comprehended by the man.
So, the priest is taken from amongst the ranks of men. The priest, who himself is a man, he's a sinner, he knows he's a sinner. And yet he has the power to forgive sins. He has the power to say to his fellow man, “I forgive you of your sins, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”.
When I looked at a priest, one of the first things that draws me is the kindness, which is, I think what drew most souls to our Lord Jesus Christ. And they are simply a reflection of our Lord, so that kindness, that meekness which doesn't push away any soul, no matter where they're coming from or what sins they may have committed.
Father Mateo says it so beautifully. He reminds us that “We priests should never forget that our vocation is an act of mercy, shown to us by our Lord. Let it always be a canal through which floods of mercy pour out on souls entrusted to our care. We are proofs that the master never abandons the sinner, the prodigal son, the lost sheep, but rather seeks him out wherever he may be.”
St. Norbert has a beautiful definition of the priest. “Who are you, o priest?”, he asks. And he answers his own question, “You are everything and nothing.” Nothing because finally the priest is just a creature – he’s a man with a fallen human nature, as the rest of men. But the priest is also everything, because there really is no way for souls to go to God except through the priest.
My ideal of the priest is that of a man who, before anything else, gives up his own use of his qualities and talents so that they can be spent in the service of souls.
The Catholic Church, ever since the Council of Trent, has insisted that a young man who wants to become a priest must go to a seminary to receive a formation before being ordained. There's no doubt that the seminary, in its makeup, in its structure, forms the future ‘Man of the Mass’.
The Path to the Priesthood
A seminary is a place of formation, it's where a young man goes, again, to be pulled outside of the world and placed in a place where he can direct his thoughts, his aspirations to God.
So the seminary is really essential in the formation of a priest because it's there that a man is taught to truly seek God, seek God alone in everything.
Before entering the seminary, I saw seminarians as almost angelic - in that none of their vices or defects ever showed. But when you get to the seminary and you're exposed to them in community life, you realize that they're human beings like everyone else and they still have to work to grow towards virtue.
It's really encouraging to see that God calls you to the seminary not to become some superman, some angel, but he calls you as you are and he wants you as you are but he wants to refine you.
If I was to give an analogy of the formation of the priesthood I'd best describe it as a pilgrimage. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. That is what the seminary formation is like. You enter the seminary, you make your way through the seminary through its ups and downs, and at the end ultimately ordination to the priesthood – all of course, through God's grace.
[In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Introibo ad altare Dei…]
The training that a seminarian begins with upon entering the seminary begins with those things closer to home to the seminarian. He just came from the world, he might have had a previous education, so we begin with refining the Liberal Arts really. Because these liberal arts, Logic, Grammar, History, Religion in general are a necessary foundation before we can develop abstract thinking of the next years’ Philosophy, Cosmology, Psychology which are the handmaidens of Theology.
Here the young man is supposed to study Our Lord Jesus Christ. To see things as Our Lord Jesus Christ sees them. Therefore the main object of his studies is to know Our Lord: His mission, His life.
Archbishop Lefebvre loved the priesthood. He saw that the priesthood was the means to save the Church in the coming crisis, but he knew that the priest – more than anything – is a man of prayer. That's what a priest is, he is first and foremost a man of prayer.
The seminary is meant to be a place not only of formation but also a place of sanctification. The seminarian will be a man of prayer. He must learn how to be a man of prayer. And so in a very real sense the seminary is a school of prayer.
The seminarian will spend a large part of his seminary in prayer because he's developing and he's perfecting that friendship with Christ, that desire to be another Christ, and that that desire to imitate his friend, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The formation that the Seminary gives in the atmosphere of silence and prayer is twofold: an intellectual formation on the one hand, through the classes and the study time; and a formation of the will, through obedience to superiors and to the Seminary Rule.
The life of a priest is a life of obedience. So as one enters the seminary one enters into a society, into a community that is hierarchical: there are superiors, there are subjects. And a superior who exercises full authority, an authority that has to be respected. We have to learn obedience.
If a young man shows up at the seminary and generously submits himself to this rule of life, then he will be molded interiorly, and he will acquire the virtues necessary to make his priestly ministry fruitful.
So, as soon as we enter the seminary, everything is orientated towards that final goal, towards being a priest.
And we can say that every aspect of the seminary life, whether it's the Liturgy, whether it's community life, whether it's the classes, the intellectual life, whether it's the recreation time, meal time, the friendships with other seminarians - all of these things are directed to that end of making the seminarian more and more a man of God.
There are all sorts of steps leading up to that final goal and with those steps the Church keeps giving particular graces And so, the very first step that a seminarian takes is receiving his cassock, and then the clerical tonsure.
By the tonsure, a seminarian becomes a cleric. He enters into the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He is, so to speak, set apart from the rest of men by the tonsure. That is the first preliminary step after which there are six steps: the four minor orders and the two major orders. And all of them are new steps, new progressions towards the priesthood, and every single step brings the seminarian closer and closer to the altar.
The second step that the seminarian takes is the first minor order of porter, and on the practical side, as a seminarian, the porter locks and unlocks the church doors and rings the bells for the ceremonies. The next step is the minor order of Lector.
The lector not only allows souls into the church, the worthy souls into the church, but he now teaches them the Catechism. He now prepares their minds, so to speak, for the worship of God. After the lector, we have the minor order of exorcist.
And the exorcist is given the power by the Church, even before he is in major orders, to drive out the devil from souls.
After Exorcist, we have the last of the minor orders, which is that of acolyte. He now has a more direct participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass because he presents the wine and the water, which are the matter that will be consecrated into the Blood of Christ. After the four minor orders we have the two major orders of the subdiaconate and the diaconate.
The next step of the seminarian is literally “a step”.
The step that the Subdeacon takes during the Subdeaconite ceremony represents the Subdeacon offering himself entirely to God in order to be an instrument of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls.
At that point the bishop says, if you so choose that, come forward freely – and then the candidates take one large step forward in the sanctuary to show their will to receive the subdiaconate.
The role of the subdeacon is to sing the epistles, to pour the drop of water into the Chalice for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and to clean the chalice linens.
And then lastly, we have the major order of the diaconate, the last step before the priesthood. And the deacon is simply the minister to the priest: he is at his right hand almost throughout the entire Sacrifice.
And so all those steps, starting at the very beginning – the separation from the world and all the different graces that the seminarian receives – they all build up and sort of join together until they're ready for that final grace which is the sacred character of the priesthood.
Our Lord Himself said, “No greater love has a man than that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And sometimes we hear that quote and we think somehow this refers only to the martyrs, but this quote applies equally to the young man who goes to the seminary - who says, looking at Our Lord, I want to be a priest - or at least, I want to give my life.
The Call to the Priesthood
A vocation in the strict sense is really a call by the Church to a young man on the day of his ordination.
The priestly vocation is really the call of the church on the day of ordination. How does a man receive that calling, how does a man get the priestly vocation. He presents himself at the seminary to be formed by the classes, by the spiritual life of the seminary, so as to be in a position to be judged worthy to be called by the Church.
And as long as a young man has a supernatural intention in going to the seminary - so that means a supernatural intention: anything from wanting to save his soul, wanting to save the souls of others, being desirous of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – as long as he has a supernatural intention and he has the necessary aptitudes for the priesthood, there's nothing keeping him, preventing him from going to the seminary.
Sometimes we’re asked what are we looking for in a candidate for the priesthood? One, he has to have a certain intellectual ability to pursue the studies that are fairly rigorous. Secondly, has to have a strong moral character which means that he's already seeking to grow up in a life of virtue, a life of holiness. We look for a certain natural health because the priesthood is somewhat rigorous, there's going to be much required of the priest and so he has to have a certain physical stamina, a certain physical health. And then of course we look for generosity for someone that is willing to give themselves to the church – so a generous gift of self.
A young man who is entering into the seminary is expected to have a will. To say: “Okay, at any price, I will give myself to God and I will see what God wants for me.”
What God is looking for from a young person is that he asks himself honestly, “What is my life really about?” Life is a profoundly serious thing in fact. The significance of a life is far reaching all the way into eternity, for the soul itself, and for the countless souls that that person will touch in his life.
To be able to look outside of ourselves is a gift, it's a grace. A young man should consider the souls around him, should consider the fact that a priest can save one immortal soul - and in fact, as some priests have done - can save many, many immortal souls.
Any man will want to find fulfillment in the job that he does, but there can't be any greater fulfillment than leading souls to heaven - because it's simply what we're created for, and there's no one that's an exception to that. And if we're given the chance to be that instrument, there's absolutely nothing more fulfilling.
The life of a priest is not a practical life in the eyes of the world. The life of a priest is only practical in the eyes of God and it's there that we need to search.
I’ve been in the priesthood for 14 and a half years now, and the harvest indeed is great and the laborers indeed are few. And we really need priests that are holy. We need priests that are really willing to be apostles, to give up all else, to save souls.
What’s the value of one soul? Can I save that soul by becoming a priest? This is something that a young man has to consider.
Without the priest, there would be no baptism. Without the priest, there would be no confession. Without the priest, there would be no Mass, no Real Presence, no Communion, no grace, no supernatural life. And so God is waiting for souls to realize this, and then freely to offer themselves.
Vocations are the hope of our world. People with the faith and the love and trust of God to give life to Him. That’s what is going to turn our world around.
The impact that the Ordination has in the world of large is really something deep and very profound, because one ordination will change the face of the world.
Our Lord Jesus Christ came on this earth and died for the human race. He ascended to His Father in heaven. He could have said that my work is done. He could have saved all the human race at that point but He didn't. What did He do? He ordained men who would stand in His place, who would have the power to use words in His name: “This is My Body”, “This is My Blood”, “I absolve you of your sins”.
We read that in the old testament, that God asks who will I send? And Isaias steps forward and says, “Here I am, send me.” Send me to be the instrument of grace. Send me to share in the redemption of the world – for the salvation of souls and for the Glory of His Father.
If there's something that has been left unsaid, it's the importance of a profound devotion to Our Lady. She is the Mother of priests. It's Our Lady who fosters every vocation.