Deepening Formation

Without the Priesthood, There Is No Eucharist: The Privilege of Supporting our Priests

“There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist.” (Pope St. John Paul II, Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination, New York, 1996, pp. 77–78)

“... in the person of Christ (in persona Christi), [the ordained priest] effects the Eucharistic Sacrifice and offers it to God in the name of all the people.” (Lumen Gentium, no. 10)

Fr. Stephen Gadberry, in an article published on the Word on Fire website this past Holy Thursday, observed, “It is through the Eucharist and the priesthood that Jesus continues to love and serve his flock, as these go hand in hand, and the consequences of this dynamic relationship are pivotal for our salvation.” As we offer thanks and praise to God for the gift of the priesthood in our Church, we, the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, have a critical role to play in the life of our priests, including our future priests.

Young priests lying prostrate at their ordination

“Without Priests, There Is No Eucharist”

Echoing the Fathers of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II affirmed that the priesthood is derived from the Eucharist and exists for it (Dominicae Cenae, no. 2). During the 2023 Paschal Triduum, readers of the Heart of the Revival newsletter were invited to spend an hour (or more) in Eucharistic adoration for the intentions of our bishops, priests and seminarians. The response—with over 450 Holy Hours prayed—was inspiring, as were the comments offering encouragement, support, and prayer for these men who have dedicated their lives to Christ and his Church. One religious sister shared, “Each year we keep a Solemn Vigil for three hours before the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday. I will pray for our Bishops and priests that they lead us to a deeper love of Christ in the Eucharist.” Another reader reflected, “Without priests there is no Eucharist. Thank you for your ‘fiat’ to God, thank you for saying yes to the priesthood!” A message conveyed by several others was, “Stay strong, continue to lead, be fearless.”

On each Holy Thursday during his pontificate (1979–2005), Pope St. John Paul II wrote a letter to priests around the world. He identified with them as a brother priest, while providing catechesis and encouragement as their spiritual father. His first letter in 1979 emphasized the essence and importance of priestly ministry. “Think of the places where people anxiously await a Priest, and where for many years, feeling the lack of such a Priest, they do not cease to hope for his presence. And sometimes it happens that they meet in an abandoned shrine, and place on the altar a stole which they still keep, and recite all the prayers of the Eucharistic liturgy; and then, at the moment that corresponds to the transubstantiation a deep silence comes down upon them, a silence sometimes broken by a sob... so ardently do they desire to hear the words that only the lips of a Priest can efficaciously utter, so much do they desire Eucharistic Communion, in which they can share only through the ministry of a priest.”

A religious sister praying in church at Mass

In this passage Pope St. John Paul II was, no doubt, speaking from his own experience growing up in Poland during the time of religious suppression and persecution. In Eastern Europe in the years during and following WWII, the faithful were often deprived of the ministry of a priest and denied access to the Eucharist. One such instance occurred in the Nowogródek Voivodeship, Byelorussia (modern-day Belarus), during the latter years of the war. It was necessary for the parish priest to go into hiding for his own safety. A member of my religious congregation, Sister Małgorzata Banaś, CSFN (recently proclaimed Venerable), lived in the tiny sacristy of the village church where she kept protective vigil over the reserved Blessed Sacrament. Locating priests to celebrate Mass “undercover” while avoiding the watchful gaze of the atheistic authorities, Sr. Małgorzata was instrumental in keeping the Real Presence available in the tabernacle for adoration by the faithful, because she humbly prayed for and served the priests who courageously risked their mortal lives for the sake of their peoples’ spiritual lives.

The Role of the Priesthood in the Eucharistic Revival

How does all this relate to the Eucharistic Revival? The mission of the Revival is to renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Without priests, this is impossible.

In addition to the celebration of Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Eucharistic Processions, 40 Hours Devotions, and Eucharistic Congresses are powerful means of drawing us into closer communion with Our Eucharistic Lord through the ministry of the priesthood. Not only do our priests make the Eucharist possible for us, but they deeply love the Eucharist. In a recent survey, 94% of priests in the United States reported that the Eucharist is the “center of their lives.”

A young priest raising the consecrated host at Mass

As a religious Sister, I have the daily privilege of participating with my local community in Mass. One of my sisters recently shared with me that, during each Mass at the consecration, she shares with Jesus her personal gratitude, struggles, and needs. She calls this her special time with her Spouse. In my own relationship with Jesus, I look forward to that sacred time of receiving communion when he is present to me and I receive him in a most intimate way: This is Jesus! This is his loving, Real Presence! It is a time of grace-filled closeness with Jesus, sometimes with words and at other times without.

Jesus knew that priests would face opposition, persecution, and even personal challenges in remaining faithful to their vocation, and so he prayed to his Father, “Keep them in your name... and keep them from the evil one” (Jn 17:11, 15). So too, we must pray for our priests.

Young men today are faced with the noble task of discerning their personal vocation. Priestly role models and the Eucharist are instrumental in planting the seeds of a priestly vocation. A former student of mine, now a professed religious and currently completing his theological studies in Washington, DC, in preparation for priestly ordination, cited the influence of the campus minister (a priest in this young man’s religious congregation) and Eucharistic Adoration in bringing him back to his “Catholic World.” Indeed, in a letter to seminarians, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “At the heart of our relationship with God and our way of life is the Eucharist. Celebrating it devoutly and thus encountering Christ personally, should be the center of all our days” (Published in L’Osservatore Romano, October 20, 2010).

Priests gathered together in prayer with stained glass in the background

Our Role as Intercessors for the Priesthood

The number of young men preparing for the priesthood in the United States is gradually increasing. The USCCB reports that there are 4,856 seminarians enrolled in the United States with 3,596 enrolled in diocesan seminaries and 1,260 enrolled in religious order seminaries. In a recent interview with Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ on EWTN, Fr. John Trigilio, Director of Pastoral Formation at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and Fr. Ken Brighenti, Vice-Rector at the Josephinum, described the increased devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in the lives of priestly candidates at both seminaries. “... it is inspiring to see young men kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament [when going into the chapel],” Fr. Brighenti noted.

We need to encourage young men to answer the call to the priesthood. When God calls a man to the priesthood, it is very hard to hear and say “yes” to the whisper of the Lord in our noisy, broken world. Our role as members of the Body of Christ is to pray for and foster priestly vocations, as well as intercede for the ministry and personal well-being—physical, spiritual, psychological, and emotional—of our priests and bishops, especially at Mass and during Eucharistic Adoration. We have a special call to be agents of prayer, support, and encouragement. This call is rooted in our Baptism, the sacrament that binds all of us, priests and laity, as the Body of Christ.

“To receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself” (CCC 1336). Only in the Catholic Church can we literally receive the Lord himself—his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Holy Eucharist. “[The] Eucharist is no mere symbol but is in fact the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, which has the ability to transform our hearts and minds to be more like him... and transforms our life into a gift to God” (Pope Francis, Angelus Address, August 16, 2015). Without the priesthood, the mission of the Eucharistic Revival is impossible. Through the self-sacrificial love and generous service of our priests, we have the privilege to daily encounter the living Jesus Christ. Today, let us renew our commitment to daily prayer and personal sacrifices—small and great—for the intentions of our priests and for vocations to the holy priesthood in our country. Together, with our priests, we not only receive the Body of Christ, but we become more and more united as the Body of Christ.