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Pope Francis: 'Serve one another in love'

(Vatican Radio) In a gesture of humility and service, and in imitation of Christ, Pope Francis put on an apron and knelt down to wash the feet of 12 patients at a long-term care facility, during the Missa In Coena Domini, or the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, on Thursday evening.

Visibly fatigued and requiring assistance to kneel and stand up again as he came close to the end of the rite, Pope Francis conveyed tenderness and concern for each person, pouring water on each person’s foot, then drying it and kissing it, before offering a loving gaze, sometimes reciprocated, depending on each person’s state of health. The patients ranged in age from 16 to 86, and all suffer from a variety disabilities. All of them are Italian (though three were of a different ethnic origin), including one Muslim man.

The Mass was celebrated in Italian in the chapel of the Santa Maria della Provvidenza Centre, one of more than two dozen healthcare facilities, run by the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation. It reflected the character of the healthcare centre and of the local Christian community, with the centre’s usual Sunday choir, consisting of patients, volunteers and staff, singing popular Italian hymns. Many of the centre’s patients sat in their wheelchairs in the front rows of the assembly.

The Mass, which recalls Christ’s last Passover meal with this Apostles, his washing of their feet in a gesture of service, and the institution of the Eucharist, begins the Easter Triduum.

The Pope’s selection of the location and his gesture of washing the feet of 12 people with disability was intended to underline the forms of fragility, in which the Christian community is called to recognize the suffering Christ and to which it must devote attention, solidarity and charity.
In his brief homily, the Pope recalled that God made himself a servant in Christ and that this is the inheritance of all believers. Christ came to love and his followers, in turn, “need to be servants in love”.

Speaking extemporaneously, he said to wash the feet of another was, in Jesus’ time, the task of the slave or the servant of the house. In executing this gesture, Jesus tells his followers that they are called to be servants to each other.

“Everyone here must think of others… and how we can serve others better,” he said.

At the end of the Mass, the Pope carried the Blessed Sacrament to an Altar of Repose. He remained there in prayer until the end of the Pange Lingue hymn, after which he processed out of the chapel in the usual silence with which the Holy Thursday evening liturgy concludes.

This is the second year the Pope celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper among a group of people usually marginalized by society. Last year, the Pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper at a youth detention centre.

Listen to the report by Laura Ieraci: mp3_icon.gif

Pope Francis: In coena domini homily

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis preached an extemporaneous homily during the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which was held at S. Maria della Provvidenza, a rehabilitation and long-term care facility in the suburbs of Rome. The following is an English translation of Pope Francis’ reflections on the Lord’s loving act of service, an act which the Pope himself imitated later in the mass, kneeling down to wash the feet of twelve patients of the centre.
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We have heard what Jesus did at the Last Supper: It is a gesture of farewell. He is God and he makes himself a servant, our servant. It is like an inheritance. You also must be servants of one another. He crossed this path by love. Also you must love each other and be servants in Love. This is the inheritance that Jesus leaves us. And he makes this gesture of washing feet, which is a symbolic act. The slaves performed this, the servants at the meals for the people who came to dine because at that time the streets were made of dirt and when they entered in a house it was necessary to wash one’s feet. And Jesus made performed this action, a work, a service of a slave, of a servant. And this he leaves like an inheritance amongst us. We must be servants of each other.

And for this, the church, today, commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he also—in the ceremony—performs the action of the washing of the feet, which reminds us that we must be servants of one another. Now I will perform this act, but all of us, in our hearts, let us think of others and think in the love that Jesus tells us that we have to have for the others and let us consider also how we can serve better, other people. Because Jesus wanted it this way amongst us.

Pope Francis at Chrism Mass: the joy of being a priest

(Vatican Radio) “The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest.” At the Chrism Mass in Saint Peter’s, Pope Francis spoke about “priestly joy,” a joy, he said, “which anoints us,” an “imperishable joy,” a “missionary joy.”

The joy which anoints priests, the Pope said, “has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them, and strengthened them sacramentally.” It is a joy that can never be taken away; although it “can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles … deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed.”

Pope Francis focused especially on the third feature of priestly joy: “Priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy.” This joy, he said, “arises only when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock.” There, his joy is “guarded” by the faithful, by “God’s faithful people” who are able to protect and embrace their priests, to help them open their hearts “to find renewed joy.”

Priestly joy, the Holy Father continued, is guarded, not only by the flock, but “by three sisters who surround it, tend it, and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity, and sister obedience.”

Explaining these three “sisters,” the Pope said that because the priest is poor “in terms of purely human joy,” he must seek his joy “from the Lord and from God’s faithful people.” The priest must go out of himself, seeking God and the people of God. “Going out of ourselves,” he said, “presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.”

Priestly joy is also a “sister to fidelity,” Pope Francis said – not, he explained, “in the sense that we [priests] are all ‘immaculate’ (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are all sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church.” Priests will find true joy when they are faithful to their mission, doing “all that he has to do, and letting go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord entrusted to him.”

Finally, priests find joy in “sister obedience,” an obedience not only to the externals of their mission, “but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood.” The Pope continued, “It is also an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always, and as best I can,” following the example of Mary.

“All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world,” Pope Francis said. “It is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus.”

Concluding his homily, Pope Francis prayed that the Lord might “enable many young people to discover the burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.” He prayed, too, for the recently ordained, for priests who have been in ministry for some time, and for elderly priests.

Pope Francis at Chrism Mass: the joy of being a priest

(Vatican Radio) “The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest.” At the Chrism Mass in Saint Peter’s, Pope Francis spoke about “priestly joy,” a joy, he said, “which anoints us,” an “imperishable joy,” a “missionary joy.”

The joy which anoints priests, the Pope said, “has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them, and strengthened them sacramentally.” It is a joy that can never be taken away; although it “can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles … deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed.”

Pope Francis focused especially on the third feature of priestly joy: “Priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy.” This joy, he said, “arises only when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock.” There, his joy is “guarded” by the faithful, by “God’s faithful people” who are able to protect and embrace their priests, to help them open their hearts “to find renewed joy.”

Priestly joy, the Holy Father continued, is guarded, not only by the flock, but “by three sisters who surround it, tend it, and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity, and sister obedience.”

Explaining these three “sisters,” the Pope said that because the priest is poor “in terms of purely human joy,” he must seek his joy “from the Lord and from God’s faithful people.” The priest must go out of himself, seeking God and the people of God. “Going out of ourselves,” he said, “presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.”

Priestly joy is also a “sister to fidelity,” Pope Francis said – not, he explained, “in the sense that we [priests] are all ‘immaculate’ (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are all sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church.” Priests will find true joy when they are faithful to their mission, doing “all that he has to do, and letting go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord entrusted to him.”

Finally, priests find joy in “sister obedience,” an obedience not only to the externals of their mission, “but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood.” The Pope continued, “It is also an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always, and as best I can,” following the example of Mary.

“All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world,” Pope Francis said. “It is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus.”

Concluding his homily, Pope Francis prayed that the Lord might “enable many young people to discover the burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.” He prayed, too, for the recently ordained, for priests who have been in ministry for some time, and for elderly priests.

Listen to Christopher Wells' report: mp3_icon.gif

Pape Francis during Holy Thursday's Chrism Mass commemorates the institution of the priesthood

“Anointed with the oil of gladness”. In a few words Pope Francis was able to capture the mission of a priest. This he did in his homily at Holy Thursday's Chrism Mass, 17 April, in St Peter's Basilica. The following is the English text of the Pope's homily, which was delivered in Italian.

Dear Brother Priests,

In the eternal “today” of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint.

Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy. Joy in our littleness!

For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which “greases” us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.

A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.

An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).

A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.

And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.

A “guarded joy”: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.

The joy of priests is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you “exit” from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all “immaculate” (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists… all these are the “Bride” whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love and to whom he is constantly faithful. It is the living Church, with a first name and a last name, which the priest shepherds in his parish or in the mission entrusted to him. That mission brings him joy whenever he is faithful to it, whenever he does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him: Feed my sheep (cf. Jn 21:16,17).

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.

All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.

On this Holy Thursday, I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.

On this Holy Thursday, I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God's faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.

On this Thursday of the priesthood, I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: “get a second wind”, as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (cf. Neh 8:10).

Finally, on this Thursday of the priesthood, I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know, Lord, the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint. 

Holy Thursday: Pope Francis at the service of the aged and disabled

(Vatican Radio) For the second year in a row Pope Francis has chosen to celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper among people often pushed to the margins of society. He will once again visit the Don Gnocchi centre in Rome’s Casal del Marmo area, close to the Youth Detention Center where the Pope celebrated Mass among young prison inmates last year. This year he will be visiting a sister center for the elderly and disabled.

The Mass of Our Lords Supper commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and Christ’s mandate to the Apostles – the first ordained bishops and priests- to be at the service of God’s people. A moment that symbolizes this service is the Mandatum – or washing of the feet of twelve people.


Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi has confirmed that this year the chosen twelve will include nine Italians, one Muslim from Libya, a young man from Cape Verde and an Ethiopian woman. All of whom have received help and support from the Don Gnocchi Foundation to overcome the difficulties, marginalization and isolation they often face on account of their age or a disability.


But why does Pope Francis seem to have a particular preference for the Don Gnocchi Foundation?

To find out more Linda Bordoni spoke to expert physicist Dr. Furio Grammatica*, who is the Chair of the Centre for Innovation and Technology Transfer (CITT) at the Don Gnocchi Foundation. She found out that with a chain of 30 healthcare and research centres specialized in rehabilitation throughout Italy, the Foundation embodies what Pope Francis has termed “moving out to the margins” in search and support of those people society has forgotten or discarded.

Listen: mp3_icon.gif

“What are the expectations of your guests and your operators, getting close to the meeting with the Pope ?”

It has been a big surprise for all of us. We all knew how Pope Francis likes the concrete service to the most frail people, and we all felt him as a “supporter” of our mission, like his predecessors showed us to be. On the other hand, when we realised that, thanks to a request of our President – Monsignor Angelo Bazzari – the Pope really decided to visit us in a so important and symbolic occasion – we all thought “too fantastic to be true”!
Concerning our guests, one could guess that most of them cannot fully catch the meaning of this visit, but this is definitively not true, even for the most critical cases: what I learned first, when I joined Don Gnocchi Foundation 10 years ago, is that our guests all developed a clear “sixth sense” on how much they are loved, and – in a definitively more straight way than us – they fully rely on people closer to them, who represent the fondness they feel. Pope Francis is not only a Pope, but a icon of the tenderness and strength at the same time, so they are really excited in view of meeting the Pope.
We, as Don Gnocchi Foundation operators, really expect a familiar, easy, true presence of the Pope at our Centre, bringing-in a wave of hope and strength in our daily care towards our guests. These are not easy days, for anyone. By the way, the Lent period reminds us the meaning of solitude, weakness, doubts, being tired or confused. Let me say, to see the Pope coming at our workplace means anticipating a bit the Easter for us !

“What does Pope Francis' decision to visit your Foundation represent for you ?”

Our Founder, Don Carlo Gnocchi, has been defined as “a charity entrepreneur”, putting together two terms that are sometimes felt as opposite. Actually he demonstrated in his life, and left us as an heritage, that these terms are not only compatible, but synergic. For those like us, willing to continue on this track, the secret not to be overcome by pure management logic is to stay stuck on the reality of the sufferance, with humility, feeling our limits, but - on the other hand – “combating the battle against the invasion of death”, as Don Carlo used to say, by all means: charity together with science, patience together with innovation, closeness together with technology. We feel that Pope Francis message – so far – has been very clear and is very encouraging for us to go on in this track: staying close to neighbour, first, somehow witnessing the caress of God through all our available means. If the Pope comes and washes the feet to our guests, we can only be more and more determined to offer them all that we can.

“Can you tell us something about your structure and activities ?”

Don Gnocchi Foundation is more than 60 years old. Don Carlo Gnocchi was a chaplain of the alpine troops during the second world war, and there he saw – as everyone – horrific situations and the fear of dying soldiers especially to leave their families alone; but – with the typical vision of the saints – don Carlo also saw a perspective to be trained by this desperation and to offer a vision of hope, starting from there. In 60 years the Foundation evolved together with the frailties of its guests, passing from the little war victims to the wider target of rehabilitation, but keeping the holistic approach of the Founder: the human being has to be restored as a whole, as a masterpiece, taking into account body and soul at the same time and using all means available. So we passed from crutches to nanotechnologies, from blood analysis to genomics, from bare visual inspection to advanced neuroimaging, from the pilot centre to a chain of 29 centres in 9 Italian regions, in which we see 3,5 million patients a year, and more than 5.000 operators work in the field of clinics, rehabilitation, assistance to elderly, to disabled people, to terminally ill patients; education; scientific and technological research (the Foundation is recognised by the Italian Ministry of Health as a Research Hospital excellence centre in the field of rehabilitation medicine); innovative models of territorial care, also using ICT advanced techniques; presence in developing countries to export the value of being rehabilitated even where desperation of everyday life is the rule. This is the declination of the Foundation mission slogan “Accanto alla vita, sempre”, that is “Always aside life”. “Always” means from the childhood to the death and from hospital to home. It is important for us what Pope Francis repeatedly says: be magnanimous, let’s stretch our hearth. We hope he will remind to all of us this encouragement next Thursday, confirming he will support us with his guide.
* Furio Gramatica, physicist, was born in Milano in 1964. He is the Chair of the Centre for Innovation and Technology Transfer (CITT) at Don Gnocchi Foundation – an Italian chain of 30 healthcare and research centres specialized in rehabilitation – where he also leads the Nanomedicine and Clinical Biophotonics Laboratory (LABION). For five years he served as Director of the Biomedical Technology Department “Polo Tecnologico” in the same Foundation. Formerly, he spent several years at CERN (Geneva), at Italian Institute of Nuclear Physics and in high-technology companies, with R&D management roles. Dr. Gramatica is a member of the Executive Board of the European Technology Platform of Nanomedicine (ETPN) and Chair of the ETPN Clinical Interface Group; member of the board of experts, evaluators and reviewers of the European Commission and of Wellcome Trust; nanomedicine Scientific Advisor of the Italian Ministry of Health; national representative of Italy at ETPN Mirror Group; member of Nanotechnology Commissions of Assobiotec and of Milano Engineers Association; fellow professor of physics at Milan University Medical School.

Pope Francis: Chrism Mass homily

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis delivered the homily at the Chrism Mass of the Rome diocese on Holy Thursday morning, in St. Peter's Basilica. The Chrism Mass is the traditional liturgy, during the course of which the oils to be used in the sacraments of initiation, Holy Orders and healing throughout the coming year are blessed. It is also a particularly profound moment of unity among the clergy of the diocese together with the bishop. The theme of the Holy Father's homily was the joy of priestly service. Below, please find the official English translation of the Holy Father's prepared remarks.

*******************************************************

“Anointed with the oil of gladness”

Dear Brother Priests,

In the eternal “today” of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint.

Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy.

For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which “greases” us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.

A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.

An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).

A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.

And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy.

A “guarded joy”: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments. Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity – and consequently joy of life – without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful people (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 268). The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is, and they will make you rejoice in that hundredfold which the Lord has promised to those who serve him. Unless you “exit” from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful. Going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all “immaculate” (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped on their way, the sick he has comforted, the young people he catechizes and helps to grow, the poor he assists… all these are the “Bride” whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love and to whom he is constantly faithful. It is the living Church, with a first name and a last name, which the priest shepherds in his parish or in the mission entrusted to him. That mission brings him joy whenever he is faithful to it, whenever he does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him: Feed my sheep (cf. Jn 21:16,17).

Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out. The availability of her priests makes the Church a house with open doors, a refuge for sinners, a home for people living on the streets, a place of loving care for the sick, a camp for the young, a classroom for catechizing children about to make their First Communion… Wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen (ob-audire) and feels a loving mandate from Christ who sends him to relieve that need with mercy or to encourage those good desires with resourceful charity.

All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who, with deep compassion for all the little ones and the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, wants to associate many others to his ministry, so as himself to remain with us and to work, in the person of his priests, for the good of his people.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to enable many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God's faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.

On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: “get a second wind”, as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (cf. Neh 8:10).

Finally, on this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.

In Coena Domini explained

(Vatican Radio) I Missa in Coena Domini, or Mass of Our Lord’s Supper, the second of Holy Thursday’s liturgies, with which the universal Church enters the Holy Triduum.

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“The Holy Triduum are those final days when we follow Our Lord from the celebration of the Passover meal and the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room, in Jerusalem, towards his death the following day on Good Friday. Then we rest with him in the tomb on Holy Saturday until we celebrate we great joy looking back through all the scriptures, the wonderful workings of God to this moment when the Resurrection takes place. Three days but effectively one celebration.

“It begins on Holy Thursday night with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper…when we celebrate the first Eucharist, when we commemorate Our Lord’s ordination of his first priests, the Apostles, and when we remember that coupled with the Eucharist, when we receive the Eucharist we are receiving nourishment not only for ourselves but we are receiving something that makes us like Christ. And for that we recall the washing of the feet of others, because this is the act of charity, this is the act that makes us Christians different in everything we do. We take our worship into the streets by converting it into a revelation in action, a revelation of God’s love for the whole world”.

Produced by Emer McCarthy

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