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Attend to the words

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A Remedy for Distractions

A priest whom I know well shared with me an experience that has brought him much peace after suffering for many years from the plague of distractions during Holy Mass. Father X. had very nearly abandoned all hope of being able to get through the Canon of the Mass without being assailed with a sandstorm of distractions. Then, quite unexpectedly, one day in the middle of the Canon of the Mass, he heard a voice saying to him inwardly, "Attend to the words." How simple. How utterly obvious. Instantly, he began attending to the sacred words of the Canon, giving himself to each word with a gentle application of his mind and heart.

The Words of the Missal

As a result of his obedience to this mysterious inspiration, Father X. now celebrates Holy Mass in peace of mind. His soul, in some way, enters the words of the Missal, and the words of the Missal enter his soul. So impressed was I by his experience that I thought it worth sharing with the readers of Vultus Christi, especially with my brother priests.

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The Ancient Order of Hibernians evolved from a need in the early 1600s to protect the lives of Catholic priests who, by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, risked death to keep the Holy Faith alive in occupied Ireland after the reign of England's King Henry VIII. When England Implemented its dreaded Penal Laws in Ireland, various societies were formed across the country to assist Catholic priests in ministering to the spiritual needs of the faithful. These groups worked to aid and comfort the people by whatever means available. Similarly, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was founded on May 4th, 1836 at Saint James Church in New York City, to protect Catholic clergy and church property from the machinations of anti-Catholic bigotry, cloaked in the guise of American patriotism, and from the nativist prejudice against immigrants.

Homily at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock
Pilgrimage of the Ancient Order of Hibernians
In Thanksgiving for the Gift of the Priesthood
Saturday, 13 October 2012

When John Byrne rang me a few days ago, inviting me to join you here in Knock today, I could not refuse him. Like my father and my great-grandfather before me, I am a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Father McKeon Nº 7, in New Haven, Connecticut. More significantly, Our Lady of Knock herself has played a decisive role in my life since I first offered Holy Mass here, as a young priest from America over 25 years ago.


The Icon of Knock

Knock is a kind of life-size icon, that is to say, a message deployed in images. An icon is an image through which heavenly realities are made visible on earth, and through which we, pilgrims who go mourning and weeping in this vale of tears, are given a glimpse of the radiant joys of heaven.

To Be Read from Left to Right

Knock must be read, as one would read a text, from left to right, beginning with Saint Joseph. Consider well Saint Joseph -- humble Joseph, silent Joseph, strong and brave Joseph -- and in him you will see the model of the original mission of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, that is, the protection and safeguard of priests.

Saint Joseph, Protector of Christ, Lamb and Priest

To Saint Joseph was entrusted not only the tender Lamb born of the Virgin Mary, the Lamb who, upon the altar of the Cross, would become the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim, but also the Eternal High Priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews (10:7) tells us that the priesthood of Christ began at the very instant of His conception, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in His Virgin Mother's womb.

Priest From Conception

Coming into this world, that is, coming into the sanctuary of His Mother's womb, the Son, the Eternal Word made flesh, presented Himself to the Father as Priest and Victim, saying, Ecce, venio, "A body Thou has fitted to me; behold, I come to do Thy will" (Hebrews 10:5-7). There was not a moment when Christ Jesus was not a Priest: the Priest for whom all the world waited in anticipation; the desire of the everlasting hills; the Mediator who would, by His own Body, as Saint Catherine of Siena says, bridge the great chasm between earth and heaven; the Redeemer who would give back to God what belonged to God, and give to men what God had, from all eternity, prepared for them.

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Saint Joseph, Guardian of Priests

Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, was placed, from the first instant of His conception, in the care and under the protection of Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph is the guardian of priests; he is the father of every man called to represent the fatherhood of God by being a living sacramental image of Him who said, "He that seeth Me seeth the Father" (John 14:9). Saint Joseph's mission has not ended. It is, I daresay, more necessary today than in those dark hours long past of Ireland's history, when the men of the Ancient Order of Hibernians took it upon themselves to be other Josephs for other priests in whom the one priesthood of Christ is prolonged through the ages, and will be prolonged until the end of time. Just as Saint Joseph cannot be understood apart from his relationship to Jesus, the Lamb of Sacrifice and the Priest who offers the Sacrifice, the Ancient Order of Hibernians cannot be understood apart from its historical relationship to the priesthood.

Mary, the Temple Fashioned by God for God

Here at Knock, Saint Joseph appeared bowing in reverence and in awe towards his Virgin Bride -- the love of his life, the joy of his heart, the light of his eyes: Mary. Our Lady appeared at Knock as the image of the Ecclesia Orans, the Church-in-Prayer. The position of her hands, the raising of her eyes, her whole being is liturgical. Mary is the living sanctuary of adoration in spirit and in truth. Her body is the temple fashioned by God for God. Her Immaculate Heart is the altar of the perfect sacrifice. Her womb is the tabernacle of the living Bread come down from heaven. And through her eyes, as through the crystal of a monstrance, one can gaze into the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.

Contemplate Our Lady of Knock

Our Lady revealed herself here at Knock as she is, indeed as she stands near the priest at the altar so often as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. Contemplate Our Lady of Knock, and you will understand what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council meant when, fifty years ago, they summoned us to full, conscious, and actual participation in the Holy Mysteries. Our Lady of Knock is heaven's perfect, shining illustration of what it means to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on earth.

Saint John the Evangelist

After Saint Joseph and Our Lady, we come to Saint John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Here at Knock, Saint John represents the preaching Church, the teaching Church. All that Saint John preached and taught, he drew out of the Heart of Jesus, that beating Heart upon which he rested his head at the Last Supper; the Heart he saw pierced by the soldier's lance on Calvary; the Heart that he recognized in his vision on the island of Patmos in the wound of the immolated Lamb who lives forever.

The Grace of Johannization for Priests

If you would ask one grace for the priests of Ireland today, ask this -- and I will allow myself to coin a word -- ask that they may be entirely johannized by the Holy Ghost: that each priest may become for the Heart of Jesus and for the Heart of Mary another John, so as to be another John in the heart of the Church. Saint John represents the fulness of priestly holiness in intimacy with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

The Sacrifice of the Lamb Renewed

And finally, we come to the altar, to the Lamb, to the Cross, and to myriads of choirs of angels singing, "Holy, Holy Holy"; but now, what is represented at Knock in image and symbol, will be given to us in reality, for the source and the summit of Knock is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is time, then, to leave the ambo for the altar in the blessed company of Saint Joseph, Our Lady, and Saint John; time for the Sacrifice of the Lamb, to whom be all glory and praise here at Knock, and from the rising of the sun to its setting, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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The Lamb that was slain
is worthy to receive power and divinity
and wisdom and strength and honour;
to Him be glory and empire
unto the ages of ages (Apocalypse 5:12; 1:6).
(Introit, Mass of Christ the King)

A Feast of Adoration of the Lamb

Last Sunday was the Feast of Christ the King. As I pondered the Introit of the Mass, I rediscovered the celebration of Christ the King as a feast of the adoration of the Lamb. A week earlier, on Saturday, October 22, in fact, I was in Ireland at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, where, together with the Mother of God, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist, Our Lord manifested Himself in the form of the Lamb of Sacrifice. Perhaps the grace of Knock was still stirring within my heart, because I understood, in a deeper way, that the Most Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Immolated Lamb.

A Priest's One Necessary Sermon

The Lamb who is adored in the glory of heaven is present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar here on earth. If a priest were to preach but one sermon from the day of his Ordination until his death, that one sermon could be this: Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi; Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Disappear Into Adoration

The priest is but a herald. He announces the presence of the Immolated Lamb, and then annihilates himself in humble adoration. Adoration leads inexorably to self-effacement. The Lamb is exalted; the herald of the Lamb disappears. The Bridegroom shines forth in all His beauty; the friend of the Bridegroom withdraws, content to listen to the sound of his voice.

Praedicatio Prima

A priest's adoration -- be it expressed in the liturgical rites (and especially at Holy Mass) or in silence before the Blessed Sacrament -- a priest's adoration is his praedicatio prima, his primary preaching. Without the praedicatio prima of adoration, no other preaching has credibility or meaning.

Preparing for Heaven

The priest who adores does on earth what the angels and saints do in heaven. He is employed on earth in the worship of the Lamb that will be his everlasting employment, his rest, and his glory in heaven.

The Compass That Orients One's Priesthood

The priest who is not first an adorer has lost the compass that orients all the rest of his life. The priesthood is ordered to adoration, and the summit of adoration is sacrifice: the immolation of a victim to God. The loss of the spirit of adoration is the ruin of the priesthood.

The Eucharistic Humility of God

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The 16th Sunday After Pentecost

The Most Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Divine Humility.
Those who partake of It worthily
enter into the humility of God,
for one cannot eat the Bread of the Humble
and remain proud.

Those who adore this Sacrament of the Divine Humility
are drawn into the obedience of God,
who, at the word of a man,
of a priest speaking and acting in the Name of Christ,
annihilates the substance of a little bread
to replace it entirely
with His Divinity united to the Sacred Humanity.

Who can describe the Eucharistic Humility of God?
Here the Word made flesh,
born of the Virgin Mary, and crucified,
He whose side was opened by the soldier's lance,
He who rested in the darkness of the tomb,
He who rose from the dead
and is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father,
here, He is really present:
silent in the fragility of the sacred species,
and hidden from view not only by the sacramental veil
--the appearance of bread--
but, more often than not, by the tabernacle as well.

This is the Humility of God,
hidden from the eyes of the learned and the clever,
but revealed to little children.
I think of Blessed Francisco Marto of Fatima,
who, at nine years of age,
understood the mystery of the Hidden Jesus
and wanted nothing more than to console Him
by hiding himself close to the tabernacle.

Worldly arrogance scoffs at the folly of a God
hidden under the appearance of a little bread
and put away in a box;
but this Mystery follows and completes
the disconcerting logic of God who hides Himself
in a Virgin's womb,
becoming a man like unto other men
in all things, save sin.

The Eucharistic Humility of God
is inseparable from His Eucharistic Silence.
This Saint Benedict understood,
for in his Rule, the silent are humble,
and the humble silent.

This our Mother Mectilde understood
for she wanted her Benedictine adorers to bury themselves
in the silence of the hidden God,
the ineffably humble God
in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

This the little Thérèse understood
for she knew that one who would find the Hidden Face of Jesus,
must first hide himself.

The Eucharistic Face of Jesus, His Hidden Face,
is revealed only to those who themselves risk being hidden,
as the psalm says:
"Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy Face,
from the disturbance of men,
Thou shalt protect them in Thy tabernacle
from the strife of tongues" (Psalm 30:20).

The last place at the banquet is elusive;
he who thinks he has found it
may be surprised to discover
that Another has taken a still lower place before him.

No matter how low we think we have placed ourselves,
no matter how little we think we have made ourselves,
no matter how diligently we think we have sought the last place of all,
no matter how completely we imagine ourselves to be
buried in silence,
there is Another, the Other,
who has forever laid claim to the lowest place,
who, though He be the infinite God,
Creator of all things visible and invisible,
has made Himself littler than a crumb of bread.

Has He not made Himself
the very last thing that remains
when all have left the banquet table:
a fragment of bread to be stored away?

Has He not entered into an inviolable silence
that astonishes even the angelic Choirs
and causes kings to fall silent and adore?

One does not become humble by striving to be so,
for all our striving is infected by an insidious pride.
One does not become humble by striking humble poses,
by affecting a humble speech,
or even by thinking humble thoughts.
And why?
Because humility belongs to God alone
who made it His own in the mystery of the Incarnation,
and who continues to make it His own
so often as the mystic words are uttered by a priest
over a little bread and a little wine mixed with water:
"This is My Body. This is the chalice of My Blood."
Here is the Mysterium Fidei:
the Eucharistic Humility of God.

Eat the Body of Christ, and digest the Divine Humility.
Drink the Blood of Christ;
it is the elixir of those who would hide themselves with Christ in God.

Since the event of the Incarnation
--the descent of God into the Virgin's womb,
in view of His descent into death's dark tomb--
and so often as Holy Mass is celebrated
--the descent of God into the frail appearance of Bread
and into the taste and fragrance and wetness
of a few drops of wine--
humility can be found nowhere else.

The very least and last of the guests
has become The Host,
and The Host
has made Himself the very least and last of the guests.

Tremble, then, to adore Him,
and having adored Him, receive Him,
that your soul may become the throne of the Humble Hidden God,
and His humility your most cherished treasure.

"Learn from Me," He says,
"for I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29),
and again,
"Everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled,
and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11).

Adoremus in aeternum
sanctissimum et augustissimum Sacramentum.

Preparation and Thanksgiving

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Father Paul Gunter's article (published on Zenit) must be put into the hands of every priest and, from there, pass into his heart. How many Diocesan Offices of Divine Worship will make this text available to priests? Heartfelt thanks to Father Paul for an article that, for a very long time, I have been waiting for someone to write.

The Priest's Preparation and Thanksgiving for Mass
Dom Paul Gunter, OSB

The priest depends on his union with God for the fruitfulness of his life and ministry and the people of God rely on the priest to pray for them.

Jesus Christ entrusted to his closest followers a premise for any good they would do. "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."[1] The same Jesus, in the context of many miracles that he worked, established times to be by himself so as to spend time in prayer to his heavenly Father. For Jesus, the formal prayer of the Liturgy was supported by an inner life whose privacy bore the intimacy that nurtures personal prayer. Ecclesial and community dimensions are strengthened by that personal relationship with God which believers hope to deepen.

The search for God, which gives meaning to the lives of those who love him, serves as a daily reminder that it is, to and from Almighty God that all blessings flow. Sacred Scripture describes vividly the nourishment Jesus drew from his hidden life of prayer. "He would withdraw to deserted places and pray."[2] Similarly, there is the sense of the times of day when Jesus was particularly receptive to the stillness of prayer wherein he sought the Father's will. Such times encourage specific concentration and uninterrupted closeness. "Then Jesus got up early in the morning when it was still very dark and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer."[3] "And after he sent the crowds away, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone."[4]

The priest, conscious of his sharing in the work of Christ, strives by following Christ's example, to lead God's holy people through Christ and in the Holy Spirit to God the Father. He knows, all too well, since his own shortcomings damage the credibility of his witness, that he needs no less urgently to ask God to instill in him virtues proper to his state. Part of the homily provided in the rite of the ordination of a priest instructs the one who is to be ordained accordingly: "In the same way, you will continue the sanctifying work of Christ. Through your ministry, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect, because, united to the sacrifice of Christ it is offered through your hands in the name of the Church in an unbloody way on the altar, in the celebration of the sacred mysteries. Recognize what you are doing and imitate [him] whom you handle so that celebrating the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord, you may mortify all vices within yourself and prepare to walk in newness of life."[5]

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory