A priest must be
a man of faith
Bishop Fellay's sermon
2-4-2013 | DICI
We provide here
the full transcript of Bishop Fellay’s sermon given on January 27th at St.
Nicholas du Chardonnet on the occasion of the priestly ordination of
Fr. Bertran Lundi.
The priest’s union with Christ,
Priest and Victim
Dear Fr. Lundi, dear Fathers, dear Lundi
family, dear faithful in Christ,
Divine Providence allows us, on this
Septuagesima Sunday, to ordain a priest, and the Church gives advice,
counsels to future priests. She considers ordaining a priest to be a
very serious, very grave matter. It can all be summarized in two
sentences - that’s very short, but I think that that says it all.
Usually we say it in the plural for several priests: “Agnoscite
quod agitis, imitamini quod tractatis.” “Recognize, know
what you do, and imitate what you handle.”
What is a priest?
First of all: know, recognize,
realize what you do.
When most people, and today
unfortunately even many Catholics, see a priest, what idea of him do
they have? What is a priest? Almost always they stop short at an
extremely superficial definition or description: he is a man of the
Church, he is the clergyman, he is the one who presides at the
religious ceremonies…. He cares for souls…, and when they talk
about souls they always look on the bright side!
This is one of the great misfortunes
of our time, this ignorance of what a priest is, even before knowing
what he does. The only way to know a priest in his reality is faith.
The only knowledge that it is necessary to have when one approaches a
priest is the knowledge of the faith. Human knowledge, what our senses
tell us, is not enough. Our human experience certainly tells us
something, but if you stop there, I dare say that you run the risk of
being deceived. Deceived? Why? Because you see only a man. Of course,
the priest is still a man, but he becomes another reality. He is
chosen from among men, it is true, but he is also chosen - not by
himself, not by men - but by God. God is the one who chooses him -
Sacred Scripture, in one of the letters of St. Paul, tells us this
(Heb 5:1). God is the one who chooses His priests. And He chooses them
so as to make them His ambassadors, ambassadors of God to men,
ambassadors of men to God. The term that comes to us from Sacred
Scripture is “mediator”. Mediator between men and God (cf.
This choice will be made through the
Church, but the Church really makes it in the name of God. There is a
call - you will hear it - during the course of the ceremony. The
candidate must respond, and you will here this also: “Adsum.”
“I am ready, here I am.” He is a man, yes; he is a man of
God. And when we say “ambassador”, we do not yet say enough. An
ambassador is a representative. Our Lord Jesus Christ willed to make
something even much greater of His priest. He wanted to make of him
The word “instrument” evokes many
things in our minds, it is true, and perhaps we are somewhat mistaken.
The priest is a privileged instrument, a unique instrument, who keeps
his freedom, intellect and will, yet, at the decisive moment, in the
sacraments and in the Mass, is totally seized by Our Lord Jesus
Christ, the Priest, the one High Priest of the New
Testament. And if the priest has this title of “priest”, it is
because of his ineffable union with Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This union was accomplished in the
sacrament [of Holy Orders] by a character, the priestly character,
which is a reality, but not of the corporeal order. It is a reality
that will leave a mark on the soul, which is spiritual. This mark is
indelible, like the other sacramental characters. This mark really
makes him a priest, provides him with powers that infinitely surpass
all the abilities and faculties of men. Our Lord makes him
participate, share intimately [in Himself]; this is truly the
definition of the priestly character: a participation in what is
called the Hypostatic Union. The Hypostatic Union is what makes Jesus,
in other words, the union of two natures, the human nature and the
divine nature, in the person of the Word of God. When the Word of God
became flesh, He became Man, He assumed a human nature. This is what
makes Him a priest, because this is what makes Him the mediator
between men and God. And because He has two natures - He is God and He
is man - He can stand in the middle, between the two. He has titles
from both sides. Moreover, being God, all His actions have an infinite
value. And therefore there can be no more excellent priest, there is
no priest other than Our Lord who serves as the bridge between God and
men. Furthermore, He is the One who makes reparation, because human
beings, unfortunately, from the dawn of history, have offended God. He
is the only One who was able to make reparation for us.
The priest is the instrument
of the Word of God
The priest is therefore truly
associated, united with Our Lord Jesus Christ, in a union that
surpasses understanding. We have no possible example, no comparison in
the order of creatures, to describe the union that Our Lord wishes to
have with His priest. And it is precisely through this union that He
makes of him His instrument, we could say: His priestly instrument. In
the same way in which all the art, all the personality of a writer
passes through his pen, since what is written can be analyzed by
graphology: we can know through what is written something about the
person who wrote it. This means that there is something of the person
that has passed through the instrument, which is the pencil. Well,
then, in the case of the priest, there is something of the Person of
the Word, therefore of Jesus, that passes through this instrument and
thereby accomplishes each and every one of the priest’s works. The
priest has the dignity of an instrument. He is capable of doing
extraordinary things, but never all by himself. Always under the
guidance of and in dependence, in absolute dependence on Our Lord
Jesus Christ. This is what ordination will do.
Let us recall what St. Leo said in a
sermon for the Feast of the Nativity: “Christians, recognize your
dignity…” – this same word, agnoscite – “recognize
your dignity as Christians and live accordingly….” What then
must we say to the priest? Recognize your dignity, know who you are.
This is a great mystery. The Cure of Ars used to say that if someone
ever came to know what a priest is, he would die as a result; he would
die of love to see that grandeur, that infinite mercy of our good God
O priest, where will you find this
knowledge, where will you recognize what you are? Well, chiefly in the
Mass: if Our Lord wants you to be a priest, it is first and foremost
for the Sacrifice.
In order to
renew, to perpetuate the Sacrifice of Calvary. He chooses you so
as to make really present - in other words to re-present - His
Sacrifice. But the word “represent” is perhaps not yet strong
enough. Because the sacrifice is not just an image, is not just a
memorial. It is certainly a memorial, but it is not just that, it
is much more, because every time you open your mouth and carry out
this office of instrument, every time you say “This is My Body,”
it is Our Lord Himself who will take these words from you by force
and make them His own. He is there to pronounce them. He is there
to transmit this power, which is so enormous that it will
“realize”, that it will make real, what these words say. And then,
this host that you are holding in your hands, this bit of bread,
once the words are said, is Jesus, the Word of God. God Almighty,
the Creator, Savior and Redeemer, in your hands, by your mouth:
God who stoops, who obeys His priest.
The priest must have faith in
There is an analogy between the
priest and the Host which is well worth reflecting on. When we see the
Host, we see only the appearances, what we call the “Species”:
what falls under our senses. We see a form, we see a color, in our
mouth we feel it, and everything tells us that it is bread: these are
the appearances, the species, the accidents. But the reality is Jesus.
So too with the priest: we see, we hear a man, but the reality is
It is not entirely the same thing,
because in the Host the substance of bread has disappeared, it is
replaced by the substance of the Body of Christ. Whereas the priest
remains entirely a man. He remains a man, but he is the bearer of a
reality that is accessible only through faith. It is really in the
Mass that you see the height to which God is calling you and is
raising you, even to the point where the angels step aside.
There is a beautiful anecdote about
St. Francis de Sales, who used to see his guardian angel and actually
had a very close relationship with his guardian angel, who led him
everywhere. On the day of his ordination, as he was leaving the
church, his angel stepped aside so as to let the priest go first.
Higher than the angels, that is the priest! Recognize what you do.
The sacraments are like an extension
of the Mass, but the Mass is really where you find what you are. You
are no longer for yourself. You are for God and for souls. You are for
the Church, but above all you are for Jesus. This is your all. And He
calls you to a sacrifice. The Mass is a sacrifice. Maybe we do not say
it enough. Today they tell us over and over again that the Mass is the
gathering of the people of God, of the community which commemorates
the Last Supper - and that is a heretical definition. Then the priest
becomes the presider at this gathering. The Mass is a meal, a
celebration…. To say in this way that the Mass is a meal is
condemned by the Church. Condemned! You see how many errors have
spread concerning this reality. No, the Mass is a sacrifice. It is the
Sacrifice of Our Lord on Calvary. A sacrifice identical to that
Sacrifice. And you are associated with it. Your life now finds its
meaning and has no other meaning than in the Mass, in this Sacrifice.
In saying all this, you see very well
that the priest is a man of faith. This is a man who must have the
faith in his priesthood. He must believe in it. He no longer has the
right to rely on himself. He must of course give all that he has, all
that he can, all his faculties and all the gifts that the Good Lord
has given him; he must make them fruitful, but without ever depending
on himself. Never, because all that you do for souls cannot remain at
the human level. That would be of no use at all for Heaven. Your
action consists in giving grace. Grace is supernatural. And there is
no way that you can produce that by yourself. Only God produces grace,
because grace is a participation in the life and in the nature of God.
This is why, necessarily, your whole
apostolate must be carried out in a faith perspective. The moment you
forget that, you cease to do anything. You busy yourself, and people
may admire you, but it is no longer of any use at all because it lacks
the essential thing that we do not see. And so it is necessary to have
in the first place this faith in your priesthood, so as to apply the
right means, which are and remain supernatural; and then it is
necessary to communicate this faith. If someone does not have faith,
he cannot please God. It is impossible, Sacred Scripture tells us (Heb
11:6). It is God Himself who tells us this: it is impossible to please
the good Lord unless one has faith.
The combat of faith
living in an age in which this faith is abused, attacked, slashed,
everywhere, outside the Church and inside as well. It will be one
of your duties, after the Mass, to impart this faith, to
communicate it to souls, so as to lift them above human realities
and to lead them toward the reality of God. And this faith will
also have to be defended.
This is our history,
the story of the Society,
and of our founder.
And this history, by dear brothers, continues. I would even say that,
in comparison with this sublime reality, talking about whether or not
to reach an agreement with Rome is something trivial. To defend the
faith, to keep the faith, to die in the faith, this is the essential
thing! We get the impression that the Roman authorities do not
understand us, because they have not understood that we are ready to
lose everything in order to keep this Catholic faith. We absolutely do
not want to let this faith go. Now unfortunately (and this is a fact
that we can observe every day), with the Council, through the Council,
and in the Council, some poisons were introduced that are harmful to
the faith; they lead souls into error and no longer defend them, no
longer defend them in their faith. We denounce this fact, and this is
why they condemn us. Even today, the condition that they want to
impose on us in order to recognize us with the title “Catholic” is
to accept those very same things that demolish the faith. But we
cannot, and that is all, quite simply. In no case do we agree to
diminish what is absolutely essential in order to go to Heaven: the
faith, with all its consequences. That is why this combat is
necessary, an everyday combat.
But it is not just the combat of the
faith. That is the essential thing, but it is not enough. Why? Because
today we have arrived, you might say, at an age of universal combat:
salvation is at stake. It is necessary to have the faith, but it is
also necessary to have charity, it is necessary to have grace and to
live in the state of grace. One can sin against many other virtues
than faith, like those poor people who find themselves in a world that
has become a pit of temptations. There is almost nothing but
temptations in that world. And it is necessary to resist them, it is
necessary to give these people the strength, the courage to resist. Agnosce
quod agis, recognize what you do.
The priest’s place is essential for
the world, in every age, but today still more than ever. Padre Pio
reportedly used to say that the world could more easily do without the
sun than without the priest. The priest is much more important even
than the sun. Imitare quod tractas. Imitate what you handle.
Faith is necessary, but it is not enough.
place is essential for the world, in every age, but today still
more than ever. Padre Pio reportedly used to say that the world
could more easily do without the sun than without the priest. The
priest is much more important even than the sun. Imitare quod
tractas. Imitate what you handle. Faith is necessary, but it
is not enough.
A priest who has faith - that is
important. And if you have a faith that can move mountains, that is
even better, but that is not enough. Imitate what you handle.
And here too, it is again the Mass that tells you that in this sublime
commerce with God, in which you negotiate the salvation of souls, you
must pay with your person - I said that correctly: pay with your
person. The priest is not just a priest; he has a share in the
sacrifice: the share of the victim of the Host. And at every Mass you
are reminded of this in Communion, which for you is first and foremost
the manducation of the Victim [i.e., the Paschal Lamb], in
other words, association, union with the Victim of the Sacrifice, who
is Our Lord. Our Lord who says: “Greater love than this no man
hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn
15:13).Our Lord commands you to love His sheep, to love Him first, and
then all the souls belonging to Him. There is no exception. There is
no limit. All those for whom He gave His Blood. He died for all, for
all souls, and He asks you to embrace that concern. This is the
concern of the priest, I would say, and there is no other: to save
It was for our salvation that He
became man, that He became Jesus. And if you are a priest, it is for
this reason and no other: to save souls, with no limit, without any
restriction. You will never be able to say: “I have to look after
these souls only, this little group that I know, the ones that I love.” No, you will never be able to say either: “Those souls are
enemies, and I will not look after them.” No, Our Lord died for all.
You bear the priestly character, the mark of the priest, and all men,
secretly in their souls, know that you are a priest for them all.
It is hard sometimes, when we see the
enemy, when we feel that we are in a painfully tight spot, to forget
our discomfort and to throw ourselves into Christ’s Passion for
those souls, for them too. “Bless those who curse you” (Lk
6:28); this is the law of the Gospel. Imitate what you handle.
you will shine. You will not need to tell them. Simply, in seeing you
act, souls will know that you are there, for them, that you love them,
that they matter more than you in your life. But, for you, Jesus
Christ your Lord matters even more.
We will ask the Blessed Virgin,
Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Priest, Mother of these sublime
vocations, to cover you [with her mantle], to make you enter much more
profoundly into this faith of the priest, into this love, into the
priestly charity that is given to you. The Pontifical says,
indeed, that God is powerful enough to give you this charity, to give
you this grace, to make you grow in this love.
May Our Lady protect you, help you in
this magnificent vocation, for your sake, for the salvation of souls,
for the glory of God and the honor of the Church. Amen.
Editor's note: In order to preserve the
distinctive character of this sermon, it was translated in a
colloquial style. The title and the subtitles are by
the editor. 1-30-2013 DICI