O God, who didst set thy blessed Bishop Saint Ambrose in thy Church as a Doctor and defender of the Catholic faith
and an example of apostolic fortitude: grant, we beseech thee; that aided by his intercession,
we may escape the dangers of error, and never be ashamed to confess thy truth; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Divine Worship: The Missal
‘[N]ever forget that the principal form of Eucharistic prayer is contained in the holy Sacrifice of the Altar. It is Our opinion that this point ought to be considered more carefully, Venerable Brethren, for it touches on a particularly important aspect of priestly life.
…We… hope to say something worthwhile in this matter by showing the principal reason why the holy Cure of Ars, who, as befits a hero, was most careful in fulfilling his priestly duties, really deserves to be proposed to those who have the care of souls as a model of outstanding virtue and to be honoured by them as their heavenly patron. If it is obviously true that a priest receives his priesthood so as to serve at the altar and that he enters upon this office by offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, then it is equally true that for as long as he lives as God’s minister, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will be the source and origin of the holiness that he attains and of the apostolic activity to which he devotes himself. All of these things came to pass in the fullest possible way in the case of St John Vianney.
For, if you give careful consideration to all of the activity of a priest, what is the main point of his apostolate if not seeing to it that wherever the Church lives, a people who are joined by the bonds of faith, regenerated by holy Baptism and cleansed of their faults will be gathered together around the sacred altar? It is then that the priest, using the sacred power he has received, offers the divine Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ renews the unique immolation which He completed on Calvary for the redemption of mankind and for the glory of His heavenly Father. It is then that the Christians who have gathered together, acting through the ministry of the priest, present the divine Victim and offer themselves to the supreme and eternal God as a “sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God”. There it is that the people of God are taught the doctrines and precepts of faith and are nourished with the Body of Christ, and there it is that they find a means to gain supernatural life, to grow in it, and if need be to regain unity. And there besides, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, grows with spiritual increase throughout the world down to the end of time.
It is only right and fitting to call the life of St John Vianney a priestly and pastoral one in an outstanding way, because he spent more and more time in preaching the truths of religion and cleansing souls of the stain of sin as the years went by, and because he was mindful of the altar of God in each and every act of his sacred ministry!
It is true of course that the holy Cure’s fame made great crowds of sinners flock to Ars, while many priests experience great difficulty in getting the people committed to their care to come to them at all, and then find that they have to teach them the most elementary truths of Christian doctrine just as if they were working in a missionary land. But as important and sometimes as trying as these apostolic labours may be, they should never be permitted to make men of God forget the great importance of the goal which they must always keep in view and which St John Vianney attained through dedicating himself completely to the main works of the apostolic life in a tiny country church.
This should be kept in mind, in particular: whatever a priest may plan, resolve, or do to become holy, he will have to draw, for example and for heavenly strength, upon the Eucharistic Sacrifice which he offers, just as the Roman Pontifical urges: “Be aware of what you are doing; imitate what you hold in your hands”’.
from his encyclical Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, 1 August 1959, by Pope St John XXIII, 1881-1963
‘For the third time this year, Holy Church comes claiming from her children the tribute of Penance which, from the earliest ages of Christianity, was looked upon as a solemn consecration of the Seasons.
The beginnings of the Winter, Spring, and Autumn quarters were sanctified by abstinence and fasting, and each of them, in turn, has witnessed heaven’s blessing falling upon their respective three months; and now, Autumn is harvesting the fruits which, divine mercy, appeased by the satisfactions made by sinful man, has vouchsafed to bring forth from the bosom of the earth, notwithstanding the curse that still hangs over her. The precious seed of wheat, on which man’s life mainly depends, was confided to the soil in the season of the yearly frosts, and with the first fine days, peeped above the ground; at the approach of glorious Easter, it carpeted our fields with its velvet of green, making them ready to share in the universal joy of Jesus’ resurrection; then, turning into a lovely image of what our souls ought to have been in the season of Pentecost, its stem grew up under the action of the hot sun; the golden ear promised a hundredfold to its master; the harvest made the reapers glad; and now that September has come, it calls on man to fix his heart on that good God, who gave him all this store. Let him not think of saying, as that rich man of the Gospel did, after a plentiful harvest of fruits: My soul! thou hast much goods laid up for many years! take thy rest! eat! drink! make good cheer! And God said to that man: Thou fool! this night, do they require thy soul of thee! and whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? Surely, there is too much of the Christian among us to allow us to be senseless in that way. If we would be truly rich with God, if we would draw down his blessing on the preservation, as well as on the production, of the fruits of the earth, let us, at the beginning of this last quarter of the year, have recourse to those penitential exercises, whose beneficial effects we have always experienced in the past. The Church gives us the commandment to do so, by obliging us, under penalty of grievous sin, to abstain and fast on these three days, unless we be lawfully dispensed.
Let us not, in our prayers and fasts, forget the new Priests and other Ministers of the Church who... are to receive the imposition of hands. The September ordination is not usually the most numerous of those given by the Bishop during the year. The sublime function to which the Faithful owe their Fathers and Guides in the spiritual life has, however, a special interest at this period of the year, which, more than any other, is in keeping with the present state of the world, which is one of rapid decline towards ruin. Our Year, too, is on the fall, as we say. The sun, which beheld rising at Christmas, as a giant who would burst the bonds of frost asunder and restrain the tyranny of darkness - now, as though he had grown wearied, is drooping towards the horizon; each day we see him gradually leaving that glorious zenith, where we admired his dazzling splendour, on the day of our Emmanuel’s Ascension; his fire has lost its might; and though he still holds half the day as his, his disc is growing pale, which tells us of the coming on of those long nights when Nature, stripped of all her loveliness by angry storms, seems as though she would bury herself forever in the frozen shroud which is to bind her. So it is with our world. Illumined as it was by the light of Christ and glowing with the fire of the Holy Ghost, it sees in these our days that charity is growing cold, and that the light and glow it had from the Sun of Justice are on the wane. Each revolution takes from the Church some jewel or other, which does not come back to her when the storm is over; tempests are so frequent that tumult is becoming the natural state of the times. Error predominates and lays down the law. Iniquity abounds. It is our Lord himself who said: When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find, think ye, Faith on earth?
Lift up, then, your heads, ye children of God! for your redemption is at hand. But from now until that time shall come, when heaven and earth are to be made new for the reign that is to be eternal, and shall bloom in the light of the Lamb, the Conqueror, days far worse than these must dawn upon this world of ours, when the elect themselves would be deceived, if that were possible! How important is it not, in these miserable times, that the Pastors of the flock of Christ be equal to their perilous and sublime vocation; let us then fast and pray; and how numerous soever may be the losses sustained in the Christian ranks of those who once were faithful in the practices of penance, let us not lose courage. Few as we may be, let us group ourselves closely round the Church, and implore of that Jesus, who is her Spouse, that he vouchsafe to multiply his gifts in those whom he is calling to the - now more than ever - dread honour of the Priesthood; that he infuse into them his divine prudence, whereby they may be able to disconcert the plans of the impious; his untiring zeal for the conversion of ungrateful souls; his perseverance even unto death in maintaining, without reticence or compromise, the plenitude of that truth which he has destined for the world, and the unviolated custody of which is to be, on the last Day, the solemn testimony of the Bride’s fidelity’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Today is the memorial of the Cure d'Ars, Saint John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. The statue below, carved in the late 19th century, is from my own collection, given to me by my wife in 2009. It occupies pride of place in my study; the good pastor looking down upon me as I strive to live out the vocation God has given me in his sacred priesthood. Please pray for all priests today, asking St John Vianney for his intercession, that we may ever strive to live by his example of evangelical zeal in the exercise of our pastoral and sacramental ministry, to the glory of God and for the salvation of many souls.
'The Cure of Ars is a model of priestly zeal for all pastors. The secret of his generosity is to be found without doubt in his love for God, lived without limits, in constant response to the love made manifest in Christ crucified. This is where he bases his desire to do everything to save the souls ransomed by Christ at such a great price, and to bring them back to the love of God. Let us recall one of those pithy sayings which he had the knack of uttering: "The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus." In his sermons and catechesis he continually returned to that love: "O my God, I prefer to die loving you than to live a single instant without loving you... I love you, my divine Saviour, because you were crucified for us... because you have me crucified for you." For the sake of Christ, he seeks to conform himself exactly to the radical demands that Jesus in the Gospels puts before the disciples whom he sends out: prayer, poverty, humility, self-denial, voluntary penance. And, like Christ, he has a love for his flock that leads him to extreme pastoral commitment and self-sacrifice. Rarely has a pastor been so acutely aware of his responsibilities, so consumed by a desire to wrest his people from the sins of their luke-warmness. "O my God, grant me the conversion of my parish: I consent to suffer whatever you wish, for as long as I live." Dear brother priests, nourished by the Second Vatican Council which has felicitously placed the priest's consecration within the framework of his pastoral mission, let us join Saint John Mary Vianney and seek the dynamism of our pastoral zeal in the Heart of Jesus, in his love for souls. If we do not draw from the same source, our ministry risks bearing little fruit!'
from a letter to all priests, Maundy Thursday, 1986, by Pope St John Paul II, 1920-2005
Almighty and merciful God, who didst wonderfully endue Saint John Vianney with pastoral zeal
and a continual desire for prayer and penance: grant, we beseech thee; that by his example and intercession,
we may win the souls of brethren for Christ, and with them attain glory everlasting; through the same Jesus Christ
thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Divine Worship: The Missal
Fr Lee Kenyon
Priest, Husband, Father, Lancastrian, Mancunian