THE EUCHARISTIC MYSTERY IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH AND OF THE PRIEST
Eucharist and Priesthood
2. The present letter that I am addressing to you, my venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate-and which is, as I have said, in a certain way a continuation of the previous one-is also closely linked with the mystery of Holy Thursday, and is related to the priesthood. In fact I intend to devote it to the Eucharist, and in particular to certain aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery and its impact on the lives of those who are the ministers of It: and so those to whom this letter is directly addressed are you, the bishops of the Church; together with you, all the priests; and, in their own rank, the deacons too.
In reality, the ministerial and hierarchical priesthood, the priesthood of the bishops and the priests, and, at their side, the ministry of the deacons-ministries which normally begin with the proclamation of the Gospel-are in the closest relationship with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the principal and central raison d'etre of the sacrament of the priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist, and together with it.(2) Not without reason the words "Do this in memory of me" are said immediately after the words of eucharistic consecration, and we repeat them every time we celebrate the holy Sacrifice.(3)
Through our ordination-the celebration of which is linked to the holy Mass from the very first liturgical evidence(4)-we are united in a singular and exceptional way to the Eucharist. In a certain way we derive from it and exist for it. We are also, and in a special way, responsible for it-each priest in his own community and each bishop by virtue of the care of all the communities entrusted to him, on the basis of the sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum that St. Paul speaks of.(5) Thus we bishops and priests are entrusted with the great "mystery of Faith," and while it is also given to the whole People of God, to all believers in Christ, yet to us has been entrusted the Eucharist also "for" others, who expect from us a particular witness of veneration and love towards this sacrament, so that they too may be able to be built up and vivified "to offer spiritual sacrifices."(6)
In this way our eucharistic worship, both in the celebration of Mass and in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, is like a life-giving current that links our ministerial or hierarchical priesthood to the common priesthood of the faithful, and presents it in its vertical dimension and with its central value. The priest fulfills his principal mission and is manifested in all his fullness when he celebrates the Eucharist,(7) and this manifestation is more complete when he himself allows the depth of that mystery to become visible, so that it alone shines forth in people's hearts and minds, through his ministry. This is the supreme exercise of the "kingly priesthood," "the source and summit of all Christian life."(8)