Celebrating the Birthday of the Priesthood

Today is Holy Thursday, when we remember the Last Supper and celebrate the institution of the Eucharist. But it is also a day when we celebrate the institution of the priesthood. During the Mass of the Lord’s Supper tonight, many parishes around the world will have twelve (or more) parishioners come up to have their feet washed by the priest, in imitation of Jesus washing the feet of His apostles at the Last Supper.

Monsignor James P. Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND stopped by Morning Air® to share his perspective on celebrating the institution of the priesthood as a priest himself.

“Today, Christians all over the world celebrate these great gifts which God gave us,” Msgr. Shea said. “And for us as Catholics, in particular, we draw near to these mysteries because Jesus, on the night before He died, gave us the gift of the Eucharist. He gave us the gift of the priesthood. He instituted the priesthood by which we are given the Eucharist.”

Msgr. Shea explained that during the day on Holy Thursday (or perhaps another day in Holy Week) the Chrism Mass is celebrated, in which the bishop and all the priests in his diocese come together to bless the holy oils that are used in the sacraments throughout the year.

“There’s the significance of the Chrism Mass for the whole Church, and then there’s a special significance to the Chrism Mass for those of us who are priests,” he said. “So, for all Christians, for all Catholics, when the oils are consecrated at the Chrism Mass these are the oils which are used for the institution of the sacraments. … And so these oils are of tremendous significance because they are part of the institution of these visible signs of invisible realities.”

Msgr. Shea pointed out that, on the birthday of the priesthood, the Chrism Mass is a particularly moving and powerful experience for priests.

“There is a special significance for priests, who on the day of the Chrism Mass gather around the bishop,” he said. “And so on this day … when priests gather around the bishop at the Chrism Mass, it is a moment of profound communion. We renew our vows that we made on the day of our ordination, we stand before all the people who are gathered there in the cathedral, and we stand before our bishop and we recommit ourselves, to lay our lives down in service to the people of God. To serve the kingdom with all that we’ve got, to strive for a life of both visible and invisible, both public and hidden, holiness. And to dedicate ourselves to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross, which has marked our life.”

After a year in which the Church has been once again rocked by abuse scandals, Msgr. Shea shared that this year’s Chrism Mass is particularly meaningful.

“I have to say, within this past year in which we’ve seen so much pain and difficulty, anger and heartbreak around the question of holiness in the Church, holiness in the priesthood, and the lack, sometimes, thereof,” he said. “This is a really important thing for those of us who are priests, on this birthday of the priesthood, to remember that Jesus instituted the priesthood for the sanctification of the world. Not simply for the priest’s own life, but so that we might serve.”

“That’s why it is so important that in instituting the priesthood Jesus gets down on His knees and washes the feet of His apostles, to show that leadership, in that sense, really is service. And that we can have friendship with Jesus in that way, too. That we join with Him in this great gesture of service, and we’re meant to be washing feet all year long.”

Listen to the full conversation with Msgr. James P. Shea below:

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