Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy
SACERDOTII NOSTRI PRIMORDIA
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE JOHN XXIII
On the Priesthood
Centennial of ST. JOHN VIANNEY
August 1, 1959
To Our Venerable Brethren, the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.
Venerable Brethren, Health and Apostolic Benediction.
When we think of the first days of Our priesthood, which were so full of joyous consolations, We are reminded of one event that moved Us to the very depths of Our soul: the sacred ceremonies that were carried out so majestically in the Basilica of Saint Peter’s on January 8, 1905, when John Mary Baptist Vianney, a very humble French priest, was enrolled in the lists of the Blessed in Heaven. Our own ordination to the priesthood had taken place a few short months before, and it filled Us with wonder to see the delight of Our predecessor of happy memory, Saint Pius X (who had once been the parish priest of the tiny town of Salzano), as he offered this wonderful model of priestly virtues to all those entrusted with the care of souls, for their imitation. Now as We look back over the span of so many years, We never stop giving thanks to Our Redeemer for this wonderful blessing, which marked the beginning of Our priestly ministry and served as an effective heavenly incentive to virtue.
2. It is all the easier to remember, because on the very same day on which the honors of the Blessed were attributed to this holy man, word reached Us of the elevation of that wonderful prelate, Giacomo M. Radini-Tedeschi, to the dignity of Bishop; a few days later, he was to call Us to assist him in his work, and We found him a most loving teacher and guide. It was in his company that, early in 1905, We made Our first pious pilgrimage to the tiny village called Ars, that had become so famous because of the holiness of its Cure.
3. Again, We cannot help thinking that it was through a special design of God’s providence that the year in which We became a Bishop — 1925 — was the very one in which, toward the end of May, the Supreme Pontiff of happy memory, Pius XI, accorded the honors of sainthood to the humble Cure of Ars. In his talk on that occasion, the Supreme Pontiff chose to remind everyone of "the gaunt figure of John Baptist Vianney, with that head shining with long hair that resembled a snowy crown, and that thin face, wasted from long fasting, where the innocence and holiness of the meekest and humblest of souls shone forth so clearly that the first sight of it called crowds of people back to thoughts of salvation." (1) A short while after, this same predecessor of Ours took the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his own ordination to the priesthood to designate St. John Mary Vianney (to whose patronage Saint Pius X had previously committed all of the shepherds of souls in France) as the heavenly patron of all "pastors, to promote their spiritual welfare throughout the world." (2)
A Time for Tribute
4. We have thought it opportune to use an Encyclical Letter to recall these acts of Our Predecessors that are so closely bound up with such happy memories, Venerable Brethren, now that We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the day — August 4, 1859 — on which this holy man, completely broken from forty years of the most tireless and exhausting labors, and already famous in every corner of the world for his holiness, passed on most piously to his heavenly reward.
5. And so We give thanks to God in His goodness, not only for seeing to it that this Saint would twice cast the brilliant light of his holiness over Our priestly life at moments of great importance, but also for offering Us an opportunity here at the beginning of Our Pontificate to pay solemn tribute to this wonderful shepherd of souls on this happy 100th anniversary. It will be easy for you to see, Venerable Brethren, that We are directing this letter principally to Our very dearest sons, those in sacred orders, and urging each and every one of them — especially those engaged in pastoral ministry — to devote all their attention to a consideration of the wonderful example of this holy man, who once shared in this priestly work and who now serves as their heavenly patron.
Earlier Popes on the Priesthood
6. The Supreme Pontiffs have issued many documents reminding those in sacred orders of the greatness of their priestly office, and pointing out the safest and surest way for them to carry out their duties properly. To recall only the more recent and more important of these, We would like to make special mention of the Apostolic Exhortation of St. Pius X of happy memory entitled "Haerent Animo," (3) issued early in Our priesthood, which urged Us on to greater efforts to achieve a more ardent devotion, and the wonderful encyclical of our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XI, that began with the words "Ad catholici sacerdotii," (4) and finally the Apostolic Exhortation "Menti Nostrae" (5) of Our immediate predecessor, along with his three allocutions on the occasion of the canonization of St. Pius X that give so clear and complete a picture of sacred orders.(6) Undoubtedly you are familiar with all of these documents, Venerable Brethren. But permit Us also to mention a few words from a sermon published after the death of Our immediate predecessor; they stand as the final solemn exhortation of that great Pontiff to priestly holiness: "Through the character of Sacred Orders, God willed to ratify that eternal covenant of love, by which He loves His priests above all others; and they are obliged to repay God for this special love with holiness of life. . . So a cleric should be considered as a man chosen and set apart from the midst of the people, and blessed in a very special way with heavenly gifts-a sharer in divine power, and, to put it briefly, another Christ. . . He is no longer supposed to live for himself; nor can he devote himself to the interests of just his own relatives, or friends or native land. . . He must be aflame with charity toward everyone. Not even his thoughts, his will, his feelings belong to him, for they are rather those of Jesus Christ who is his life." (7)
Subject of the Encyclical
7. Saint John Mary Vianney is a person who attracts and practically pushes all of us to these heights of the priestly life. And so We are pleased to add Our own exhortations to the others, in the hope that the priests of Our day may exert every possible effort in this direction. We are well aware of their devoted care and interest, and well acquainted with the difficulties they face each day in their apostolic activity. And even though We regret the fact that the surging currents of this world overwhelm the spirit and courage of some and make them grow tired and inactive, We also know from experience how many more stand firm in their faith despite many hardships, and how many constantly strive to stir up an ardent zeal for the very highest ideals in their own souls. And yet, when they became priests, Christ the Lord spoke these words so full of consolation to all of them: "I no longer call you servants but friends." (8) May this encyclical of Ours help the whole clergy to foster this divine friendship and grow in it, for it is the main source of the joy and the fruitfulness of any priestly work.
8. We have no intention, Venerable Brethren, of taking up each and every matter that has any reference to the life of a priest in the present day; as a matter of fact, following closely in the footsteps of St. Pius X, "We will not say anything that you have not already heard before, nor anything that will be completely new to anyone, but rather We will concentrate on recalling things that everyone ought to remember." (9) For a mere sketch of the qualities of this Heavenly soul, if done properly, is enough to lead us readily to a serious consideration of certain things that are, it is true, necessary in every age, but which now seem to be so important that Our Apostolic office and duty force Us to put special emphasis on them on the occasion of this centenary.
A Model for the Clergy
9. The Catholic Church, which elevated this man in sacred orders, who was "wonderful in his pastoral zeal, in his devotion to prayer and in the ardor of his penance" (10) to the honors of the saints of heaven, now, one hundred years after his death, offers him with maternal joy to all the clergy as an outstanding model of priestly asceticism, of piety, especially in the form of devotion to the Eucharist, and, finally, of pastoral zeal.
10. You cannot begin to speak of Saint John Mary Vianney without automatically calling to mind the picture of a priest who was outstanding in a unique way in voluntary affliction of his body; his only motives were the love of God and the desire for the salvation of the souls of his neighbors, and this led him to abstain almost completely from food and from sleep, to carry out the harshest kinds of penances, and to deny himself with great strength of soul. Of course, not all of the faithful are expected to adopt this kind of life; and yet divine providence has seen to it that there has never been a time when the Church did not have some pastors of souls of this kind who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did not hesitate for a moment to enter on this path, most of all because this way of life is particularly successful in bringing many men who have been drawn away by the allurement of error and vice back to the path of good living.
The Evangelical Counsels
11. The wonderful devotion in this regard of Saint John Vianney — a man who was "hard on himself, and gentle with others” (11) — was so outstanding that it should serve as a clear and timely reminder of the important role that priests should attribute to the virtue of penance in striving for perfection in their own lives. Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII, in order to give a clear picture of this doctrine and to clear up the doubts and errors that bothered some people, denied that "the clerical state — as such, and on the basis of divine law — requires, of its very nature or at least as a result of some demand arising from its nature, that those enrolled in it observe the evangelical counsels," (12) and justly concluded with these words: "Hence a cleric is not bound by virtue of divine law to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience." (13)
12. And yet it would undoubtedly be both a distortion of the real mind of this same Supreme Pontiff (who was so interested in the sanctity of the clergy) and a contradiction of the perpetual teaching of the Church in this matter, if anyone should dare to infer from this that clerics were any less bound by their office than religious to strive for evangelical perfection of life. The truth is just the opposite; for the proper exercise of the priestly functions "requires a greater interior holiness than is demanded by the religious state.” (l4) And even if churchmen are not commanded to embrace these evangelical counsels by virtue of their clerical state, it still remains true that in their efforts to achieve holiness, these counsels offer them and all of the faithful the surest ro ad to the des ired goal of Christian perfection. What a great consolation it is to Us to realize that at the present time many generoushearted priests are showing that they realize this; even though they belong to the diocesan clergy, they have sought the help and aid of certain pious societies approved by Church authorities in order to find a quicker and easier way to move along the road to perfection.
13. Fully convinced as they are that the "highest dignity of the priesthood consists in the imitation of Christ,"’s churchmen must pay special attention to this warning of their Divine Master: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." (l6) It is recorded that "the holy parish priest of Ars often thought these words of the Lord over carefully, and determined to apply them to his own actions." (17) He made the resolution readily, and with the help of God’s grace and by constant effort, he kept it to a wonderful extent; his example in the various works of priestly asceticism still points out the safest path to follow, and in the midst of this example, his poverty, chastity and obedience stand forth in a brilliant light.
The Poverty of St. John Vianney
14. First of all, you have clear testimony of his poverty. The humble Cure of Ars was careful to imitate the Patriarch of Assisi in this regard, for he had accepted his rule in the Third Order of Saint Francis and he carefully observed it. (l8) He was rich in his generosity toward others but the poorest of men in dealing with himself; he passed a life that was almost completely decached from the changeable, perishable goods of this world, and his spirit was free and unencumbered by impediments of this kind, so that it could always lie open to those who suffered from any kind of misery; and they flocked from everywhere to seek his consolation. "My secret" — he said — "is easy to learn. It can be summed up in these few words: give everything away and keep nothing for yourself." (l9)
15. This detachment from external goods enabled him to offer the most devoted and touching care to the poor, especially those in his own parish. He was very kind and gentle toward them and embraced them "with a sincere love, with the greatest of kindness, indeed with reverence." (20) He warned that the needy were never to be spurned since a disregard for them would reach in turn to God. When beggars knocked at his door, he received them with love and was very happy to be able to say to them: "I am living in need myself; I am one of you." (21) And toward the end of his life, he used to enjoy saying things like this: "I will be happy when I go; for now I no longer have any possessions; and so when God in his goodness sees fit to call me, I will be ready and willing to go." (22)
16. All of this will give you a clear idea of what We have in mind, Venerable Brethren, when We exhort all of Our beloved sons who share in the priesthood to give careful thought to this example of poverty and charity. "Daily experience shows" — wrote Pius XI, with Saint John Mary Vianney specifically in mind — "that priests who live modestly and follow the teaching of the Gospel by paying little attention to their own interests, always confer wonderful benefits on the Christian people." (23) And the same Supreme Pontiff issued this serious warning to priests as well as to others in the course of a discussion of the current problems of society: "When they look around and see men ready to sell anything for money and to strike a bargain for anything at all, let them pass right through the midst of these attractions of vice without a thought or care for their own desires; and let them in their holiness spurn this base pursuit of wealth, and look for the riches of souls rather than for money, and let them long for and seek God’s glory rather than their own." (24)
The Use of Possessions
17. It is very important for these words to sink deep into the mind of every priest. If someone owns things that are rightfully his, let him be careful not to hang on to them greedily. Instead he should remember that the prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law dealing with church benefices make it clear that he has a serious obligation "to use superfluous income for the poor or for pious causes." (25) May God grant that no one of Us ever lets that terrible sentence that the parish priest of Ars once used in rebuking his flock fall on him: "There are many people keeping their money hidden away while many others are dying of hunger." (26)
18. We know very well that at the present time there are many priests living in great need themselves. When they stop to realize that heavenly honors have been paid to one of their own who voluntarily gave up all he had and asked for nothing more than to be the poorest of all in his parish, (27) they have a wonderful source of inspiration for devoting themselves carefully and constantly to fostering evangelical poverty. And if Our paternal interest can offer any consolation, We want them to know that We are very happy that they are serving Christ and the Church so generously with no thought of their own interests.
19. However, even though We praise and extol this wonderful virtue of poverty so much, no one should conclude that We have any intention of giving Our approval to the unbecoming indigence and misery in which the ministers of the Lord are sometimes forced to live, both in cities and in remote rural areas. In this regard, when Saint Bede the Venerable explained and commented on the words of the Lord on detachment from earthIy things, he excluded possible incorrect interpretations of this passage with these words: "You must not think that this command was given with the intention of having the saints keep no money at all for their own use or for that of the poor (for we read that the Lord himself . . . had money-boxes in forming his Church . . .) but rather the idea was that this should not be the motive for serving God nor should justice be abandoned out of fear of suffering want." (28) Besides, the laborer is worthy of his hire, (29) and We share the feelings of Our immediate predecessor in urging the faithful to respond quickly and generously to the appeals of their pastors; We also join him in praising these shepherds for their efforts to see to it that those who help them in the sacred ministry do not lack the necessities of life. (30)
Model of Chastity
20. John M. Vianney was an outstanding model of voluntary mortification of the body as well as of detachment from external things. "There is only one way"– he used to say — "for anyone to devote himself to God as he should through self-denial and the practice of penance: that is by devoting himself to it completely." (31) Throughout his whole life, the holy Cure of Ars carried this principle into practice energetically in the matter of chastity.
21. This wonderful example of chastity seems to have special application to the priests of our time who — as is unfortunately the case in many regions — are often forced by the office they have assumed to live in the midst of a human society that is infected by a general looseness in morals and a spirit of unbridled lust. How often this phrase of Saint Thomas Aquinas is proved true: "It is harder to lead a good life in the work of caring for souls, because of the external dangers involved" (32) To this We might add the fact that they often feel themselves cut off from the society of others and that even the faithful to whose salvation they are dedicated do not understand them and offer them little help or support in their undertakings.
22. We want to use this letter, Venerable Brethren, to exhort, again and again, all of them, and especially those who are working alone and in the midst of very serious dangers of this kind, to let their whole life, so to say, resound with the splendor of holy chastity; Saint Pius X had good reason to call this virtue the "choicest adornment of our order." (33)
23. Venerable Brethren, do all you can and spare no effort to see to it that the clergy entrusted to your care may enjoy living and working conditions that will best foster and be of service to their ardent zeal. This means that every effort should be exerted to eliminate the dangers that arise from too great an isolation, to issue timely warnings against unwise or imprudent actions, and last of all to check the dangers of idleness or of too much external activity. In this regard, you should recall the wise directives issued by Our immediate Predecessor in the Encyclical Sacra Virginitas. (34)
Saint John Vianney on Chastity
24. It is said that the face of the Pastor of Ars shone with an angelic purity. (35) And even now anyone who turns toward him in mind and spirit cannot help being struck, not merely by the great strength of soul with which this athlete of Christ reduced his body to slavery, (36) but also by the great persuasive powers he exercised over the pious crowds of pilgrims who came to him and were drawn by his heavenly meekness to follow in his footsteps. From his daily experiences in the Sacrament of Penance he got an unmistakable picture of the terrible havoc that is wrought by impure desire. This was what brought cries like these bursting from his breast: "If there were not very innocent souls to please God and make up for our offenses, how many terrible punishments we would have to suffer!" His own observations in this regard led him to offer this encouragement and advice to his hearers: "The works of penance abound in such delights and joys that once they have been tasted, nothing will ever again root them out of the soul…. Only the first steps are difficult for those who eagerly choose this path." (37)
Priest’s Chastity as Help to Others
25. The ascetic way of life, by which priestly chastity is preserved, does not enclose the priest’s soul within the sterile confines of his own interests, but rather it makes him more eager and ready to relieve the needs of his brethren. St. John Mary Vianney has this pertinent comment to make in this regard: "A soul adorned with the virtue of chastity cannot help loving others; for it has discovered the source and font of love-God." (26) What great benefits are conferred on human society by men like this who are free of the cares of the world and totally dedicated to the divine ministry so that they can employ their lives, thoughts, powers in the interest of their brethren! How valuable to the Church are priests who are anxious to preserve perfect chastity! For We agree with Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XI, in regarding this as the outstanding adornment of the Catholic priesthood and as something "that seems to Us to correspond better to the counsels and wishes of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, so far as the souls of priests are concerned." (38) Was not the mind of John Mary Vianney soaring to reach the counsels of this same divine charity when he wrote this lofty sentence: "Is the priesthood love of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus?" (39)
The Obedience of Saint John Vianney
27. There are many pieces of evidence of how this man was also outstanding in the virtue of obedience. It would be true to say that the fidelity toward his superiors in the Church which he pledged at the time he became a priest and which he preserved unshaken throughout his life drove him to an uninterrupted immolation of his will for forty years.
28. All his life he longed to lead a quiet and retired life in the background, and he regarded pastoral duties as a very heavy burden laid on his shoulders and more than once he tried to free himself of it. His obedience to his bishop was admirable; We would like to mention a few instances of it in this encyclical, Venerable Brethren: "From the age of fifteen on, he ardently desired a solitary life, and as long as this wish was not fulfilled, he felt cut off from every advantage and every consolation that his state of life might have offered": (40) but "God never allowed this aim to be achieved. Vndoubtedly, this was God’s way of bending Saint John Mary Vianney’s will to obedience and of teaching him to put the duties of his office before his own desires; and so there was never a time when his devotion to self-denial did not shine forth"; (41) "out of complete obedience to his superiors, John M. Vianney carried out his tasks as pastor of Ars, and remained in that office till the end of his mortal life." (42)
29. It should be noted, however, that this full obedience of his to the commands of his superiors rested on supernatural principles; in acknowledging and duly obeying ecclesiastical authority, he was paying the homage of faith to the words of Christ the Lord as He told His Apostles "He who hears you, hears me." (43) To conform himself faithfully to the will of his superiors he habitually restrained his own will, whether in accepting the holy burdens of hearing Confessions, or in performing zealously for his colleagues in the apostolate such work as would produce richer and more saving fruits.
The Importance of Obedience
30. We are offering clerics this total obedience as a model, with full confidence that its force and beauty will lead them to strive for it more ardently. And if there should be someone who dares to cast doubt on the supreme importance of this virtue — as sometimes happens at the present time — let him take to heart these words of Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII, which everyone should keep firmly in mind: "The holiness of any life and the effectiveness of any apostolate has constant and faithful obedience to the hierarchy as its solid foundation, basis and support. " (44)
31. For, as you well know, Venerable Brethren, Our most recent predecessors have often issued serious warnings to priests about the extent of the dangers that are arising among the clergy from a growing carelessness about obedience with regard to the teaching authority of the Church, to the various ways and means of undertaking the apostolate, and to ecclesiastical discipline.
An Exhortation to Obedience
32. We do not want to spend a lot of time on this, but We think it timely to exhort all of Our sons who share in the Catholic priesthood to foster a love in their souls that will make them feel attached to Mother Church by ever closer bonds, and then to make that love grow.
33. It is said that Saint John M. Vianney lived in the Church in such a way that he worked for it alone, and burned himself up like a piece of straw being consumed on fiery coals. May that flame which comes from the Holy Spirit reach those of Us who have been raised to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and consume us too.
34. We owe ourselves and all we have to the Church; may we work each day only in her name and by her authority and may we properly carry out the duties committed to us, and may we be joined together in fraternal unity and thus strive to serve her in that perfect way in which she ought to be served. (45)
35. Saint John M. Vianney, who, as We have said, was so devoted to the virtue of penance, was just as sure that "a priest must be specially devoted to constant prayer." (46) In this regard, We know that shortly after he was made pastor of a village where Christian life had been languished for a long time, he began to spend long and happy hours at night (when he might have been resting) in adoration of Jesus in the Sacrament of His love. The Sacred Tabernacle seemed to be the spring from which he constantly drew the power that nourished his own piety and gave new life to it and promoted the effectiveness of his apostolic labor to such an extent that the wonderful words that Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII, used to describe the ideal Christian parish, might well have been applied to the town of Ars in the time of this holy man: "In the middle stands the temple; in the middle of the temple the Sacred Tabernacle, and on either side the confessionals where supernatural life and health are restored to the Christian people." (47)
Prayer in the Life of Saint John Vianney
36. How timely and how profitable this example of constant prayer on the part of a man completely dedicated to caring for the needs of souls is for priests in Our own day, who are likely to attribute too much to the effectiveness of external activity and stand ready and eager to immerse themselves in the hustle and bustle of the ministry, to their own spiritual detriment!
37. "The thing that keeps us priests from gaining sanctity" — the Cure of Ars used to say — "is thoughtlessness. It annoys us to turn our minds away from external affairs; we don’t know what we really ought to do. What we need is deep reflection, together with prayer and an intimate union with God." The testimony of his life makes it clear that he always remained devoted to his prayers and that not even the duty of hearing confessions or any other pastoral office could cause him to neglect them. "Even in the midst of tremendous labors, he never let up on his conversation with God." (48)
38. But listen to his own words; for he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of them whenever he talked about the happiness or the advantages that he found in prayer: "We are beggars who must ask God for everything"; (49) "How many people we can call back to God by our prayers!" (50) And he used to say over and over again: "Ardent prayer addressed to God: this is man’s greatest happiness on earth!” (5l)
39. And he enjoyed this happiness abundantly when his mind rose with the help of heavenly light to contemplate the things of heaven and his pure and simple soul rose with all its deepest love from the mystery of the Incarnation to the heights of the Most Holy Trinity. And the crowds of pilgrims who surrounded him in the temple could feel something coming forth from the depths of the inner life of this humble priest when words like these burst forth from his inflamed breast, as they often did: "To be loved by God, to be joined to God, to walk before God, to live for God: O blessed life, O blessed death!" (52)
Necessity of Prayer Life
40. We sincerely hope, Venerable Brethren, that these lessons from the life of Saint John M. Vianney make all of the sacred ministers committed to your care feel sure that they must exert every effort to be outstanding in their devotion to prayer; this can really be done, even if they are very busy with apostolic labors.
41. But if they are to do this, their lives must conform to the norms of faith that so imbued John Mary Vianney and enabled him to perform such wonderful works. "Oh the wonderful faith of this priest"–one of his colleagues in the sacred ministry remarked — "It is great enough to enrich all the souls of the diocese!" (53)
42. This constant union with God is best achieved and preserved through the various practices of priestly piety; many of the more important of them, such as daily meditation, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the Rosary, careful examination of conscience, the Church, in her wise and provident regulations, has made obligatory for priests. (54) As for the hours of the Office, priests have undertaken a serious obligation to the Church to recite them. (55)
43. The neglect of some of these rules may often be the reason why certain churchmen are caught up in the whirl of external affairs, gradually lose their feeling for sacred things and finally fall into serious difficulties when they are shorn of all spiritual protection and enticed by the attractions of this earthly life. John Mary Vianney on the contrary "never neglected his own salvation, no matter how busy he may have been with that of others" (56)
44. To use the words of Saint Pius X: "We are sure of this much . . . that a priest must be deeply devoted to the practice of prayer if he is to live up to his rank and fulfill his duties properly. . . For a priest must be much more careful than others to obey the command of Christ: You must always pray. Paul was only reaffirming this when he advised, as he did so often: Be constant in prayer, ever on the watch to give thanks; pray without ceasing." (57) And We are more than happy to adopt as Our own the words that Our immediate predecessor offered priests as their password at the very beginning of his pontificate: "Pray, more and more, and pray more intensely." (58)
St. John Vianney’s Devotion to the Eucharist
45. The devotion to prayer of Saint John M. Vianney, who was to spend almost the whole of the last thirty years of his life in Church caring for the crowds of penitents who flocked to him, had one special characteristic-it was specially directed toward the Eucharist.
46. It is almost unbelievable how ardent his devotion to Christ hidden beneath the veils of the Eucharist really was. "He is the one" — he said — "Who has loved us so much; why shouldn’t we love Him in return?" (59) He was devoted to the adorable Sacrament of the altar with a burning charity and his soul was drawn to the sacred Tabernacle by a heavenly force that could not be resisted.
47. This is how he taught his faithful to pray: "You do not need many words when you pray. We believe on faith that the good and gracious God is there in the tabernacle; we open our souls to Him; and feel happy that He allows us to come before Him; this is the best way to pray." (60) He did everything that there was to be done to stir up the reverence and love of the faithful for Christ hidden in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and to bring them to share in the riches of the divine Synaxis; the example of his devotion was ever before them. "To be convinced of this — witnesses tell us — all that was necessary was to see him carrying out the sacred ceremonies or simply to see him genuflect when he passed the tabernacle." (61)
Benefits from Eucharistic Prayer
48. As Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius XII, has said — "The wonderful example of Saint John Mary Vianney retains all of its force for our times." (62) For the lengthy prayer of a priest before the adorable Sacrament of the Altar has a dignity and an effectiveness that cannot be found elsewhere nor be replaced. And so when the priest adores Christ Our Lord and gives thanks to Him, or offers satisfaction for his own sins and those of others, or finally when he prays constantly that God keep special watch over the causes committed to his care, he is inflamed with a more ardent love for the Divine Redeemer to whom he has sworn allegiance and for those to whom he is devoting his pastoral care. And a devotion to the Eucharist that is ardent, constant and that carries over into works also has the effect of nourishing and fostering the inner perfection of his soul and assuring him, as he carries out his apostolic duties, of an abundance of the supernatural powers that the strongest workers for Christ must have.
49. We do not want to skip over the benefits that accrue to the faithful themselves in this way, as they see the piety of their priests and are drawn by their example. For, as Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII, pointed out in a talk to the clergy of this dear city: "If you want the faithful who are entrusted to your care to pray willingly and well, you must give them an example and let them see you praying in church. A priest kneeling devoutly and reverently before the tabernacle, and pouring forth prayers to God with all his heart, is a wonderful example to the Christian people and serves as an inspiration." (63) The saintly Cure of Ars used all of these helps in carrying out his apostolic office, and without a doubt they are suitable to all times and places.
The Mass and the Priesthood
50. But never forget that the principal form of Eucharistic prayer is contained in the holy Sacrifice of the Altar. It is Our opinion that this point ought to be considered more carefully, Venerable Brethren, for it touches on a particularly important aspect of priestly life.
51. It is not Our intention at this time to enter upon a lengthy treatment of the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and on the Eucharistic Sacrifice as it has been handed down from antiquity. Our predecessors Pius XI and Pius XII have done this in clear and important documents and We urge you to take pains to see to it that the priests and faithful entrusted to your care are very familiar with them. This will clear up the doubts of some; and correct the more daring statements that have sometimes been made in discussing these matters.
52. But We too hope to say something worthwhile in this matter by showing the principal reason why the holy Cure of Ars, who, as befits a hero, was most careful in fulfilling his priestly duties, really deserves to be proposed to those who have the care of souls as a model of outstanding virtue and to be honored by them as their heavenly patron. If it is obviously true that a priest receives his priesthood so as to serve at the altar and that he enters upon this office by offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, then it is equally true that for as long as he lives as God’s minister, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will be the source and origin of the holiness that he attains and of the apostolic activity to which he devotes himself. All of these things came to pass in the fullest possible way in the case of Saint John Vianney.
53. For, if you give careful consideration to all of the activity of a priest, what is the main point of his apostolate if not seeing to it that wherever the Church lives, a people who are joined by the bonds of faith, regenerated by holy Baptism and cleansed of their faults will be gathered together around the sacred altar? It is then that the priest, using the sacred power he has received, offers the divine Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ renews the unique immolation which He completed on Calvary for the redemption of mankind and for the glory of His heavenly Father. It is then that the Christians who have gathered together, acting through the ministry of the priest, present the divine Victim and offer themselves to the supreme and eternal God as a "sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God." (64) There it is that the people of God are taught the doctrines and precepts of faith and are nourished with the Body of Christ, and there it is that they find a means to gain supernatural life, to grow in it, and if need be to regain unity. And there besides, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, grows with spiritual increase throughout the world down to the end of time.
54. It is only right and fitting to call the life of Saint John Vianney a priestly and pastoral one in an outstanding way, because he spent more and more time in preaching the truths of religion and cleansing souls of the stain of sin as the years went by, and because he was mindful of the altar of God in each and every act of his sacred ministry!
55. It is true of course that the holy Cure’s fame made great crowds of sinners flock to Ars, while many priests experience great difficulty in getting the people committed to their care to come to them at all, and then find that they have to teach them the most elementary truths of Christian doctrine just as if they were working in a missionary land. But as important and sometimes as trying as these apostolic labors may be, they should never be permitted to make men of God forget the great importance of the goal which they must always keep in view and which Saint John Vianney attained through dedicating himself completely to the main works of the apostolic life in a tiny country church.
Personal Holiness and the Mass
56. This should be kept in mind, in particular: whatever a priest may plan, resolve, or do to become holy, he will have to draw, for example and for heavenly strength, upon the Eucharistic Sacrifice which he offers, just as the Roman Pontifical urges: "Be aware of what you are doing; imitate what you hold in your hands."
57. In this regard, We are pleased to repeat the words used by Our immediate predecessor of happy memory in the Apostolic Exhortation entitled Menti Nostrae: "Just as the whole life of Our Savior was pointed toward His sacrifice of Himself, so too the life of the priest, who must reproduce the image of Christ in himself, must become a pleasing sacrifice with Him and through Him and in Him. . . And so it is not enough for him to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice, but in a very deep sense, he must live it; for in this way, he can draw from it the heavenly strength that will enable him to be profoundly transformed and to share in the expiatory life of the Divine Redeemer himself. . . .(65) And again: "The soul of the priest must refer what takes place on the sacrificial altar to himself; for just as Jesus Christ immolates Himself, his minister must immolate himself along with Him; just as Jesus expiates the sins of men, so too the priest must tread the lofty path of Christian asceticism to bring about his own purification and that of his neighbors." (66)
58. This lofty aspect of doctrine is what the Church has in mind when, with maternal care, she invites her sacred ministers to devote themselves to asceticism and urges them to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice with the greatest possible interior and exterior devotion. May not the fact that some priests fail to keep in mind the close connection that ought to exist between the offering of the Sacrifice and their own self-dedication be the reason why they gradually fall off from that first fervor they had at the time of their ordination? St. John Vianney learned this from experience and expressed it this way: "The reason why priests are remiss in their personal lives is that they do not offer the Sacrifice with attention and piety." And he, who in his lofty virtue, was in the habit of "offering himself as an expiation for sinners" (67) used to weep "when he thought of the unhappy priests who did not measure up to the holiness demanded by their office" (63)
59. Speaking as a Father, We urge Our beloved priests to set aside a time to examine themselves on how they celebrate the divine mysteries, what their dispositions of soul and external attitude are as they ascend the altar and what fruit they are trying to gain from it. They should be spurred to do this by the centenary celebrations that are being held in honor of this outstanding and wonderful priest, who drew such great strength and such great desire to dedicate himself "from the consolation and happiness of offering the divine victim." (69) May his prayers, which We feel sure they will have, bring a fullness of light and strength down upon Our beloved priests.
60. The wonderful examples of priestly asceticism and prayer that We have proposed for your consideration up to now, Venerable Brethren, also point clearly to the source of the pastoral skill and of the truly remarkable heavenly effectiveness of the sacred ministry of St. John M. Vianney. In this regard, Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius Xll, gave a wise warning: "The priest should realize that the important ministry entrusted to him will be more fruitfully carried out, the more intimately he is united with Christ and led on by His spirit." (70) As a matter of fact, the life of the Cure of Ars offers one more outstanding argument in support of the supreme rule for apostolic labor that was laid down by Jesus Christ Himself: "Without me, you can do nothing." (71)
The Good Shepherd
61. We have no intention of trying to make a list of all the wonderful things done by this humble Cure of a country parish, who drew such immense crowds to the tribunal of Penance that some people, out of contempt, called him "a kind of nineteenth-century rabble-rouser"; (77) nor do We see any need of going into all of the particular ways in which he carried out his duties, some of which, perhaps, could not be accommodated to our times.
62. But We do want to recall this one fact-that this Saint was in his own times a model of pastoral devotion in a tiny community that was still suffering from the loss of Christian faith and morals that occurred while the French Revolution was raging. This was the mission and command received just before taking over his pastoral office: "You will find love of God in that parish; stir it up yourself." (73)
63. He proved to be a tireless worker for God, one who was wise and devoted in winning over young people and bringing families back to the standards of Christian morality, a worker who was never too tired to show an interest in the human needs of his flock, one whose own way of life was very close to theirs and who was prepared to exert every effort and make any sacrifice to establish Christian schools and to make missions available to the people: and all of these things show that St. John M. Vianney reproduced the true image of the good shepherd in himself as he dealt with the flock entrusted to his care, for he knew his sheep, protected them from dangers, and gently but firmly looked after them.
64. Without realizing it, he was sounding his own praises in the words he once addressed to his people: "Good shepherd! O shepherd who lives up to the commands and desires of Jesus Christ completely! This is the greatest blessing that a kind and gracious God can send to a parish." (74)
65. But there are three things in particular of lasting value and importance that the example of this holy man brings home to us and it is to these in particular that We would like to direct your attention, Venerable Brethren.
His Esteem for the Pastoral Office
66. The first thing that strikes Us is the very high esteem in which he held his pastoral office. He was so humble by disposition and so much aware through faith of the importance of the salvation of a human soul that he could never undertake his parish duties without a feeling of fear.
67. "My friend" — these are the words he used to open his heart to a fellow-priest — "you have no idea of how fearful a thing it is for a priest to be snatched away from the care of souls to appear before the judgment seat of God." (75)
68. Everyone knows-as We have already pointed out-how much he yearned and how long he prayed to be allowed to go off by himself to weep and to make proper expiation for what he called his miserable life; and We also know that only obedience and his zeal for the salvation of others got him to return to the field of the apostolate when he had abandoned it.
Sufferings for His Sheep
69. But if he felt the great weight of this burden to be so heavy that it sometimes seemed to be crushing him, this was also the reason why he conceived his office and its duties in so lofty a fashion that carrying them out called for great strength of soul. These are the prayers he addressed to heaven as he began his parochial ministry: "My God, make the sheep entrusted to me come back to a good way of life. For all my life I am prepared to endure anything that pleases you." (76)
70. And God heard these fervent prayers, for later our saint had to confess: "If I had known when I came to the parish of Ars what I would have to suffer, the fear of it would certainly have killed me." (77)
71. Following in the footsteps of the great apostles of all ages, he knew that the best and most effective way for him to contribute to the salvation of those who would be entrusted to his care was through the cross. It was for them that he put up with all sorts of calumnies, prejudices and opposition, without complaint; for them that he willingly endured the sharp discomforts and annoyances of mind and body that were forced upon him by his daily administration of the Sacrament of Penance for thirty years with almost no interruption; for them that this athlete of Christ fought off the powers of hell; for them, last of all, that he brought his body into subjection through voluntary mortification.
72. Almost everyone knows his answer to the priest who complained to him that his apostolic zeal was bearing no fruit: "You have offered humble prayers to God, you have wept, you have groaned, you have sighed. Have you added fasts, vigils, sleeping on the floor, castigation of your body? Until you have done all of these, do not think that you have tried everything." (78)
Need for Comparison
73. Once again Our mind turns to sacred ministers who have the care of souls, and We urgently beg them to realize the importance of these words. Let each one think over his own life, in the light of the supernatural prudence that should govern all of our actions, and ask himself if it is really all that the pastoral care of the people entrusted to him requires.
74. With firm confidence that the merciful God will never fail to offer the help that human weakness calls for, let sacred ministers think over the offices and burdens they have assumed by looking at Saint John M. Vianney as if he were a mirror. "A terrible disaster strikes us Cures" — the holy man complained — "when our spirit grows lazy and careless"; he was referring to the harmful attitude of those pastors who are not disturbed by the fact that many sheep committed to them are growing filthy in the slavery of sin. If they want to imitate the Cure of Ars more closely, who was so "convinced that men should be loved, so that we can do good to them," (79) then let these priests ask themselves what kind of love they have for those whom God has entrusted to their care and for whom Christ has died!
75. Because of human liberty and of events beyond all human control, the efforts of even the holiest of men will sometimes fail. But a priest ought to remember that in the mysterious counsels of Divine Providence, the eternal fate of many men is bound up with his pastoral interest and care and the example of his priestly life. Is not this thought powerful enough both to stir up the lackadaisical in an effective way and to urge on to greater efforts those who are already zealous in the work of Christ?
Preacher and Catechist
76. Because, as is recorded, "he was always ready to care for the needs of souls," (80) Saint John M. Vianney, good shepherd that he was, was also outstanding in offering his sheep an abundant supply of the food of Christian truth. Throughout his life, he preached and taught Catechism.
77. The Council of Trent pronounced this to be a parish priest’s first and greatest duty and everyone knows what immense and constant labor John Vianney expended in order to be equal to carrying out this task. For he began his course of studies when he was already along in years, and he had great difficulty with it; and his first sermons to the people kept him up for whole nights on end. How much the ministers of the word of God can find here to imitate! For there are some who give up all effort at further study and then point too readily to his small fund of learning as an adequate excuse for themselves. They would be much better off if they would imitate the great perseverance of soul with which the Cure of Ars prepared himself to carry out this great ministry to the best of his abilities: which, as a matter of fact, were not quite as limited as is sometimes believed, for he had a clear mind and sound judgment. (81)
Obligation to Learn
78. Men in Sacred Orders should gain an adequate knowledge of human affairs and a thorough knowledge of sacred doctrine that is in keeping with their abilities. Would that all pastors of souls would exert as much effort as the Cure of Ars did to overcome difficulties and obstacles in learning, to strengthen memory through practice, and especially to draw knowledge from the Cross of Our Lord, which is the greatest of all books. This is why his Bishop made this reply to some of his critics: "I do not know whether he is learned; but a heavenly light shines in him." (82)
Model for Preachers
79. This is why Our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII, was perfectly right in not hesitating to offer this country Cure as a model for the preachers of the Holy City: "The holy Cure of Ars had none of the natural gifts of a speaker that stand out in men like P. Segneri or B. Bossuet. But the clear, lofty, living thoughts of his mind were reflected in the sound of his voice and shone forth from his glance, and they came out in the form of ideas and images that were so apt and so well fitted to the thoughts and feelings of his listeners and so full of wit and charm that even St. Francis de Sales would have been struck with admiration. This is the kind of speaker who wins the souls of the faithful. A man who is filled with Christ will not find it hard to discover ways and means of bringing others to Christ." (83)
80. These words give a wonderful picture of the Cure of Ars as a catechism teacher and as a preacher. And when, towards the end of his life on earth, his voice was too weak to carry to his listeners, the sparkle and gleam of his eyes, his tears, his sighs of divine love, the bitter sorrow he evidenced when the mere concept of sin came to his mind, were enough to convert to a better way of life the faithful who surrounded his pulpit. How could anyone help being moved deeply with a life so completely dedicated to Christ shining so clearly there before him?
81. Up to the time of his blessed death, Saint John M. Vianney held on tenaciously to his office of teaching the faithful committed to his care and the pious pilgrims who crowded the church, by denouncing evil of every kind, in whatever guise it might appear, "in season, out of season" (84) and, even more, by sublimely raising souls to God; for "he preferred to show the beauties of virtue rather than the ugliness of vice." (85) For this humble priest understood perfectly how great the dignity and sublimity of teaching the word of God really is. "Our Lord"– he said — "who Himself is truth, has as much regard for His word as for His Body."
The Obligation to Teach
82. So it is easy to realize what great joy it brought Our predecessors to point out an example like this to be imitated by those who guide the Christian people; for the proper and careful exercise of the teaching office by the clergy is of great importance. In speaking of this, Saint Pius X had this to say: "We want especially to pursue this one point and to urge strongly that no priest has any more important duty or is bound by any stricter obligation." (86)
83. And so once again We take this warning which Our predecessors have repeated over and over again and which has been inserted in the Code of Canon Law as well, (87) and We issue it to you, Venerable Brethren, on the occasion of the solemn celebration of the centenary of the holy catechist and preacher of Ars.
84. In this regard We wish to offer Our praise and encouragement to the studies that have been carefully and prudently carried on in many areas under your leadership and auspices, to improve the religious training of both youngsters and adults by presenting it in a variety of forms that are specially adapted to local circumstances and needs. All of these efforts are useful; but on the occasion of this centenary, God wants to cast new light on the wonderful power of the apostolic spirit, that sweeps all in its path, as it is exemplified in this priest who throughout his life was a witness in word and deed for Christ nailed to the cross "not in the persuasive language devised by human wisdom, but in a manifestation of spiritual power." (88)
His Ministry in the Confessional
85. All that remains for Us to do is to recall at a little greater length the pastoral ministry of Saint John M. Vianney, which was a kind of steady martyrdom for a long period of his life, and especially his administration of the sacrament of Penance, which calls for special praise for it brought forth th