Pope John Paul II on Priests and Mary

Abstract from the original German talks given at the German Mariological Consortium on Influece of Mary on Pope John Paul II, provided by Sister M. Danielle Peters.

"Mary, Mother of Priests" -- Mary's Spiritual Union with Ordained Priests in the Teaching of John Paul II

– Achim Dittrich

Mariologische Studien. Volume XVIII: Totus Tuus--Maria in Leben und Lehre Johannes Pauls II. Edited by Anton Ziegenaus. Regensburg 2004

Dittrich observes a decline of Marian devotion among members of the clergy which generally speaking began after the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption and reached its climax after Vatican II; the exception to this Marian decline among priests of the Marian Movement of Priests, the foundation of the Milan priest and religion teacher Stephen Gobbi.

The paper examines John Paul II's notion of the union of Mary to the priest in two steps: 1. John Paul II and the ordained priesthood and 2. Mary and the priest.

Ad 1. John Paul II's theology and spirituality of the priesthood remained essentially the same throughout his pontificate. In his retreat given to Pope Paul VI and members of the Roman Curia in 1976, he defined the priesthood as mystery of humanity. For him the main focus of the priesthood is the Eucharist; the priest celebrates the sacraments as a man of prayer who gives witness to the kingdom of God by his celibacy. (See: John Paul II. Gift and Mystery. New York 1996 passim.) In celebrating the Eucharist the priest offers the officium laudis (Ps 50:14) which is "is above all the unceasing discovery of what is true, good and beautiful, which the world receives as a gift from the Creator." (Letter to Priests on Holy Thursday 1996, 6.) The priest is never isolated from the church and the people. His service is in imitation of the Good Shepherd. (Letter to Priests on Holy Thursday 1996, 8.) Priestly service needs to be acknowledged in its hierarchical position; indeed "the priest appears in the structure of the Church as a sign of the absolute priority and gratuitousness of the grace given to the Church by the risen Christ." John Paul II (PDV 16) The Pope highly esteems the priesthood writing in his Holy Thursday Letter of 1984, "in the priest, Christ lives his passion for souls anew."

Ad 2. John Paul II addressed the topic Mary and Priesthood above all when he spoke exclusively to priests. In Redememptoris Mater (RM) for example, he does not mention the priesthood at all. But in Pastores Dabo Vobis (PDV) he wrote about the relationship of priests to Mary taking as his point of orientation the Vatican II document Presbyterorum ordinis 18. Since the Eucharist is the essential actualization of the priesthood, he considers this sacrament also essential for the priest's relationship to Mary. The pope views the celebration of the Eucharist as the representation not only of the Last Supper but also as that of Golgotha and Pentecost. On Holy Thursday 1988 he told the priests: "When we celebrate the Eucharist and stand each day on Golgotha, we need to have near us the one who through heroic faith carried to its zenith her union with her Son, precisely then on Golgotha." Likewise Mary is also present at each baptism and confirmation.

The Marian attitude of the priest is addressed in the Pope's Holy Thursday Letter of 1998. There we read: "The priest is called to match the fiat of Mary at all times, allowing himself to be led by the Spirit as she was. ... Accompanied by Mary, the priest will be able to renew his consecration day after day; and the time will come when, trusting the guidance of the Spirit whom he has invoked on his journey as man and as priest, he will set forth upon the ocean of light which is the Trinity."

In his first annual letter to priests written on Holy Thursday 1979, John Paul II alluding to Jn 19:25ff. invoked Mary as Mother of Priests. During his first visit to Poland in 1979 he challenged priests to be open to her motherly guidance and to allow her to be Mother of those who need her maternal protection: Monstra Te Esse Matrem.

As Mary humbly placed herself at the service of the Lord, priests are called to exercise their ministry in union with the handmaid of the Lord. "Then our priesthood will be kept safe in her hands, indeed in her heart, and we shall be able to open it to everyone. In this way our priesthood, in all its dimensions, will be fruitful and salvific." (Holy Thursday Letter 1995)

John Paul II's most comprehensive examination of the relationship between Mary and priests next to the Holy Thursday Letter of 1979 is his allocution given at the general audience on June 30, 1993. The Pope's last extensive words directed to priests and their relationship to the Blessed Virgin Mary can be found in his address to the plenary session of the Congregation for the Clergy given on November 23, 2001. His testament to priests concluded: "When we celebrate Holy Mass, dear brother priests, the Mother of the Redeemer is beside us. She introduces us into the mystery of the redemptive offering of her divine Son. Ad Jesum per Mariam; may this be our daily program of spiritual and pastoral life!"

In sum, John Paul II emphasized Mary's universal maternity as Mater Ecclesiae and acknowledged her continuous maternal mediation at the side of her Son. The pope's spiritual program, Through Mary to Jesus, points to the goal of every Christian and at Mary's role to aid us in becoming conformed to Christ. Especially priests are called to this close union with Christ and should thus acknowledge in the Mother of the Church also their Mother (cf. PDV 11). "And so we priests are called to have an ever firmer and more tender devotion to the Virgin Mary and to show it by imitating her virtues and praying to her often." (PDV 82)

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