S A NEWLY ORDAINED priest, I am sometimes questioned why priests care so much for the liturgy and sacred music and, especially among the newly ordained, have such a desire for liturgical and musical elements that are authentically Catholic and deeply rooted in tradition. It can be difficult to answer these questions to the fullest extent when they are asked after Mass or in the sacristy. Many people, it would seem, though coming to the priest with goodwill, think that such desires are old-fashioned or nit-picky.
The Second Vatican Council states in its document Presbyterorum Ordinis (the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests) that “priests will acquire holiness in their own distinctive way by exercising their functions sincerely and tirelessly in the Spirit of Christ” (no. 13). Here it can be seen that priests (1) have a distinctive way of acquiring holiness and (2) it is obtained by the exercise of their functions. This does not, in any way, reduce the priesthood to mere functionalism. In fact, just the opposite is stated by the council. It is indeed in the exercise of the priest’s function where he can acquire holiness, but not just in his function, but in the sincere and tireless exercise of that function in the Spirit of Christ. This is an important aspect of how the priest can acquire holiness. It must be in the spirit of Christ. Thus, any acquisition of holiness is not for one’s personal gain but rather done in the spirit of Christ which means it is done in charity, humility, etc.
The council fathers also describe that the priest is the one who offers sacrifice. The decree states, “in the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice, in which priests fulfill their principal function, the work of our redemption is continually carried out” (no. 13). The document then stresses that this is why the daily celebration of the Mass is recommended. As it has been seen above, the acquisition of priestly holiness is obtained through the exercise of the priest’s function. Now if the priest’s principal function is the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, it would seem logical that the principal way that a priest would obtain perfection is through its celebration. Thus, when looking at priestly spirituality, the Eucharistic celebration is fundamental: perhaps the most fundamental element of all the elements of a priestly spirituality and the desire, therefore, for the worthy and beautiful celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy shows how important this element is to the priest.
In the Eucharist, a priest finds pastoral charity which is the bond of priestly perfection, that is, priestly holiness. Hence, it can be easily stated that the Eucharist is truly the center and source of the life of the priest. The council fathers urge priests then to penetrate ever more intimately through prayer into the mystery of Christ. Thus, from all of this, it can be said that the spirituality of the diocesan priest is first and foremost a Eucharistic spirituality.
ERHAPS BY NOW you have been able to see what I am getting at: the way that priests acquire holiness is by exercising their functions, and exercising them sincerely and tirelessly in the Spirit of Christ. The function of the priest is to offer sacrifice and the principal sacrifice of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Holy Mass. In this sacrifice, the priest not only acquires holiness but also finds pastoral charity. Thus, why would a priest care so much about the liturgy and sacred music? It is because these are elements of the priest’s principal function and his way of acquiring both holiness and pastoral charity. In caring so much for elements of liturgy and sacred music that are authentically Catholic and deeply rooted in tradition, a priest is doing nothing else but carrying out his principal function in the best way possible: a function that will ultimately help him get to Heaven and to bring others to Heaven, as well.
Finally, the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests (2013) states that in today’s world, with the proliferation of new sects and cults, there is “an eminently pastoral necessity for the priest to be a man of God and a master of prayer” (no. 47). The 1994 English edition of the Directory stated ‘teacher’ in place of ‘master.’ The Italian translation of the 2013 edition uses the word maestro which can mean master, but also teacher, guide, or leader. This document sets out clearly that it is part of the priest’s pastoral ministry to be able to teach and guide people how to pray. Priests are called to imitate Christ; hence, just as the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, the priest is called to imitate Jesus and teach those entrusted to his care how to pray. Thus for the priest, becoming a teacher of prayer is closely bound to his spirituality, which is first and foremost a Eucharistic spirituality. By being a teacher of prayer, his spirituality becomes something that is not simply within himself or even simply between him and God, but it is missionary, apostolic―it sends him out. The priest, therefore, must daily teach people how to pray: through the scriptures, through the liturgy and preaching, and through his life.
In conclusion, the answer to the question of why do priests care so much about the liturgy and sacred music is firstly because they are the main elements of his function (to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice) and it is through his function that the priest acquires holiness and pastoral charity. Furthermore, part of the priest’s pastoral charity is to teach and lead people in prayer, especially through the worthy and beautiful celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life.
We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Fr. Alan M. Guanella.