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A Pre-Lenten Preparation for Priests and a Request for Prayers from the Faithful

February 12, 2018 9 Comments

Priests need to prepare for Lent too. The Book of the Prophet Malachi provides a kind of mini-examen for them.

As we consider the sins of the priests enumerated below, please understand that neither the biblical text nor my commentary should be construed as meaning that all or even most priests are like this. Sadly, though, sins and shortcomings are far too common among the clergy. As priests must strive to be better and more holy, so must the laity remember to pray for us.

With that in mind let’s consider the sins of the priests (as described by Malachi) in three basic areas.

Shoddy Sacraments

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? So says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, “How have we despised thy name?” By offering polluted food upon my altar. And you say, “How have we polluted it?” By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised (Malachi 1:6-12).

Those are strong words indeed. While the injunction regarding blemished and polluted animals has changed, the intrinsic problem remains: careless celebration of the Liturgy and the sacraments.

One of the most common complaints from the faithful regards priests who violate liturgical norms and/or allow others to do so. Few things offend charity and unity as much as the open, sometimes egregious violation of liturgical norms. Although some violations are minor, why not just celebrate the Liturgy as it is set forth in the books? There are of course options, and not every complaint of the faithful is accurate or fair, but God’s people have endured several decades of exotic and often egocentric liturgical experiments, which are not approved and which take the focus off God and the proper worship due Him.

A priest cannot be expected to clear up every problem in the Liturgy the day he walks through the door, but proper liturgical formation of the faithful with due regard to charity and patience is one of his essential tasks as pastor of souls—and he should begin with himself. The liturgy, both its mechanics and its spiritual significance, should be his study and his great love.

Another problem that can emerge is inattentiveness to the dignity and beauty of the Mass and the sacraments. Proper attire and decorum are important ways that we communicate our love for God and one another. Priests should be properly vested, prepare their sermons prayerfully, and avoid mannerisms that are inappropriate or overly casual. Opulence is not necessary, but priests should ensure that liturgical appointments are clean, in good repair, and of proper dignity.

Decades ago, poor immigrant communities sponsored the construction of some of the most beautiful churches. They also supplied some of the finest art and liturgical implement. It is important that we keep what they have bequeathed to us in good repair. Further, priests can and should teach the faithful to follow the example of these recent ancestors of ours by seeking to build and maintain worthy churches, erected for the glory of God and not just the utility of man. In the recent past, many of the faithful have been shocked and hurt by the senseless “wreckovation” of sanctuaries and altars. Thanks be to God, many people today are growing in their appreciation of older churches and are seeking to preserve them.

If God was offended by the offering of a lame or sick animal, why should we think He is pleased with just “any old stuff” in the Sacred Liturgy? God does not need our gold chalices or our tall churches, but He knows that the shoddy, perfunctory, “anything goes” celebration of the Sacred Liturgy says something about our hearts, our priorities, and what we value.

Priests must avoid all conscious violation of liturgical norms, make central the devoted study of liturgy, and inspire respect among the faithful for the Sacred Liturgy. St. Paul summarizes well his liturgical teaching of 1 Cor 11-14 by concluding with this: But all things should be done decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40).

Burdens not Blessings? Behold your Barrenness!

“What a weariness this is!” you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts … And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung upon your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him, that he might fear; and he feared me, he stood in awe of my name (Malachi 1:13, 2:1-5).

The priests of that ancient time had families, and God warned that if the fathers did not obey, their children would suffer many curses. While priests today do not have children of their own, many call us “Father”!

In our day, the sins and omissions of priests surely have brought trouble upon the faithful. We have been through a period in which too many priests have been rebellious, unfaithful to Church teaching, slothful, unprepared to preach, un-prayerful, and irreverent. Some have even been guilty of grave sins and violations of their state in life. In addition, far too many priests and religious have left the sacred call they agreed to live for life.

All of this has resulted in many troubles for the faithful. Some are discouraged and angry; most are poorly catechized and ill-informed on critical moral issues. Many are confused by priests and bishops who have openly dissented, who do not listen to God or lay to heart His teaching and stand in awe of His name.

In this way, the flock is often harmed by this poor priestly leadership and example. Eighty percent of Catholics no longer attend Mass. Many of those who do attend are barely in communion with the Church’s teaching and struggle to live the glorious vision set forth in the Gospel.

Sadly, this text from Malachi echoes a similar one from Zechariah: Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered (Zech 13:7). This is why the sins of priests are so serious and why the faithful must pray for them fervently. Not only are priests subject to targeted attack by Satan, they are also especially susceptible to grandiosity, pride, and the sin of craving human respect.

Pray that priests do not become weary of exhortation or speak of their office as a burden. Pray, too, that they do not succumb to modern notions that the Gospel is too burdensome for the faithful and therefore fail to preach it or to encourage the faithful to live it.

Sacerdotal Silence

True instruction was in [Levi’s] mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction (Malachi 2:6-9).

Silent pulpits are all too commonplace in the Church today. Some priests prefer to “play it safe,” fearing to preach about the issues of the day out of human weakness. Others do not believe certain teachings themselves or think them impractical in modern times. Still others have turned aside from the truth, preaching and teaching outright dissent; by preaching corruption they cause many to stumble.

It is tragic as well that so many priests are permitted to mislead the faithful without being disciplined for it by their religious superiors.

The text says that a priest should guard knowledge. That is, he should protect it from those who would distort it; he should refute error. He must also guard it from misunderstanding and see that it is presented in balance with other truths in Scripture and Tradition. St. Paul says this of a presbyter: He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).

The text of Malachi also warns against partiality, wherein a priest chooses which truths he will teach or emphasize and which he will not. St. Paul said to the elders at Miletus, Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27). Yes, the whole counsel, the complete truth, is to be taught by the priest.

Some of these rebukes concerning partiality must still be made today. Encourage your priests when they speak confidently and clearly. Thank them; give them support even if they challenge you. The job of a priest is not to be popular but to be a prophet. It’s tough work and it isn’t always welcomed. Even the prophets needed support from the 7000 who had still not bent the knee to Baal or kissed him (cf 1 Kings 19:18). Pray for priests and encourage them to announce the whole counsel of God.

These are some of the sins of priests that God sets forth, but let us not forget that the world has many hard-working, dedicated, loyal, and holy priests. Yet, as these passages remind us, priests can lose their way. They can forget the glory of the liturgies they celebrate, refer to their office and the gospel as burdensome, and grow silent out of fear or laziness.

Pray for priests!

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Comments (9)

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  1. Christina says:

    I’ll be praying for you, Monsignor and all the priests. Please know that your blog has been very helpful to me in times of distress, in times of sorrow, in good times, and in times of loss. Your writings get me started in the morning in a positive direction. Thanks for all you do.

  2. David F. says:

    Thank you Father, great post. I’ve only witnessed significant departures from the liturgy a few times but reverence does vary quite a bit although this is more subtle and less easily defined. Most common is the lack of clear strong statements about the hard issues, mostly surrounding “sins of the flesh” to paraphrase Our Lady at Fatima. This is especially true if the Church teachings make people uncomfortable or if it’s not politically correct. I get that priests don’t want to make waves, and that it takes courage to speak the truth against the prince of this world. That’s where we laity really can help by encouraging and praising priests who are brave enough to speak the difficult truths we need to hear but resist. May God Bless you Father

  3. Mom says:

    Homilies are to ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.’ But it seems the goal is only ‘warm and welcoming.’

    Filling pews isn’t equivalent to filling heaven. Full masses and communion lines yet only ten at confession isn’t a sign of health.

    If the priests don’t confront the LGBT agenda, who will? If priests don’t confront the collapse of men, who will? If priests don’t confront militant feminism, who will? If priests don’t confront rampant contraception, who will?

    This silence leaves faithful parents demoralized.

  4. Antonia says:

    Thank God for our priests, and may He lead them in their holy vocations. Thank you for your faithful & insightful blog, as always, Msgr. Pope!

  5. Christi says:

    Monsignor Pope, I have been enjoying your lectures on the ICC website for months and I have to thank you, because you are my primary source of catechesis. I am a “revert” of sorts. I came to the Catholic faith 24 yrs ago when I jumped into an RCIA class mid session, married a non-practicing Catholic and then promptly got divorced and reverted back to my Protestant faith. Fast forward to June of 2017 and my mother returns to the Catholic faith after 50 yrs!!! I wanted to support her in her faith journey so I thought I’d go to Mass, but first, I knew enough to go to confession if I wanted to receive the Eucharist. It took three confessions before I casually mentioned I’d been divorced and remarried. My priest almost choked. I was like, “What’s the big deal Father?” So, I began the process of an annulment. I’ve been married to my current husband for 18 yrs (it will be 19 this April). We have three kids, ages 11, 9 and 6. Since my return to the Catholic faith the 6 yr old got baptized and the other three have joined RCIA. But here’s the thing. I still can’t take part in any of the sacraments and my husband can’t be admitted to the faith with the rest of his RCIA class until AFTER my annulment is processed, which likely will not happen before Easter, even though all of the paper work and witness statements have been received and the grounds set since last August – six months ago. It’s been “fast tracked” but the case still has to wait it’s turn. You’ve been AMAZING at helping me understand exactly WHY I have to wait to receive the LORD in the blessed sacrament, but I still don’t really understand why I can’t go to confession at all. I especially feel this as Lent approaches. I cry my eyes out, write out my confession and then hold onto it because I’m “not allowed” to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation. The Protestant part of my brain just doesn’t get it. Doesn’t God WANT me to confess my sins and receive his mercy? Please, if you can help me understand I’d greatly appreciate it. God knows my priest has tried to explain it to me, but I still have no idea why this is.

  6. Deb says:

    I have been blessed to be surrounded by very holy and spirit led priests. I can go to many different churches in the Archdiocese where I live and know I will be going to a proper Mass. I am a member of the Seven Sisters Apostolate and I pray for many priests outside of my pastor in the Apostolate.

    My discouragement comes from many of the Bishops and Archbishops and Cardinals and even our Pope. Too many publicly teaching error, without any censure. Too many leading souls astray instead of bringing them home. We have a few Bishops who speak out and like you Monsignor, are direct with what is true, but so many who remain silent, and in my eyes, complicit. I respect their offices, but having a hard time respecting many of them. I pray the Lord will bring them all to a deep conversion.

  7. I have often wondered about the origin and significance of animal sacrifice being central to worship in the old testament and other ancient religions. The text above about lame and diseased animals as inferior offerings leaves me with this impression so correct me if I am missing the point. Was it believed that offering and sacrificing living animals to God that were important to the sustenance of the people, released the nature of the offerings from their physical presence in God’s worldly creationand that their spiritual essence was either accepted to exist in the heavenly mansions with God and people who die and go to heaven? Were inferior sacrifices thought to be denied by God as unworthy offerings as are those people who die unrepentent and in sin? Christ changed or corrected that concept at the last supper. Able sacrificed animals and his sacrifice was acceptable to God. Cain offered crop plants and it was unacceptable. The plant offerings Cain offered were not considered acceptable until Jesus consecrated them as His body and blood at the last supper at which time animal sacrifice became unacceptable. Fat Tuesday becomes ash Wednesday. Jesus made the sacrifice of ones life to God’s will central through His sacrice at mankind’s sinful hands and the sacrice of our live to God’s will acceptable through the consecrated eucharist. Sacrements are central to salvation So what is the break down and relationship of the words sacrement, sacred and sacrifice? .Dyslexic ADD Cathollic.

  8. Yue Wang says:

    ‘…far too many priests and religious have left the sacred call they agreed to live for life.” Imagine being a young woman, a virgin, and God asks you to bear his son. The request is troubling, but through prayer and discernment you conclude that the call is genuine and sacred. Your own discernment gives you peace, but it does not mean that others will understand. In fact, your betrothed, who has not yet moved in with you, thinks that you have done something sinful and that he must call off the marriage. No doubt the neighbors are whispering too: who does she think she is, pretending to be so holy, and yet does not honor God. One would have to bear this misunderstanding, hopefully with grace. One might also wish that the neighbors might be as willing to take the matter to prayer as one’s betrothed does. Through prayer he understands that sometimes God writes straight with crooked lines: like the time he asked the prophet not to mourn the death of his wife or the time he asked another prophet to marry a prostitute. People thought these prophets had abandoned their sacred call. We should all be careful about passing judgement on others. What looks like a good and faithful life may be a cover for terrible abuse. What looks like a departure from grace may be a response to a divine call. Prayer and discernment and humility and an openness to at least consider another person’s situation can go a long way towards lessening the influence of authoritarianism, hubris, and the pre-judgement of our brothers and sisters.

  9. Jose Johnson says:

    As we are moving with end time Church we should be constantly praying for our priests. satan knows very well that if a priest falls a parish members faith is affected…but if a Priest is faithful the parish is revived…a simple and powerful example is St St. John Maria Vianney… So remember our parish priests and all other priests and sisters in your daily prayers and Holy Mass.

    May God bless our priests and Let Holy Spirit guide them in Jesus name ..Amen..

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