Priesthood Ex Opere Operato

Ecce Agnus Dei

Jesus said to them: “I am the Bread of Life.” (John 6:35) [Spanish]

In the Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Passover. (Vatican II)

Christ, our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer Himself to God the Father by His death on the altar of the cross. But because His priesthood was not to end with His death, at the Last Supper, He willed to leave His beloved spouse, the Church, a visible sacrifice. By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ our Lord. (Council of Trent)

In the Blessed Sacrament, Christ is present in the fullest sense. That is to say, Christ, God and man, makes Himself wholly and entirely present. (Pope Paul VI)

God Almighty. His Son Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer of the human race. The Last Supper, the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church, our Church. We stand on our faith, on what we believe, on what God Himself has revealed to us about Himself, the Bread of Life.

God loves. Loves eternally. He begot the eternal Son out of eternal love. In the fullness of time, the eternally begotten Word of God became one of us, a human being, a man. Out of love for us human beings, wretched sinners. The Word became flesh, and He gave us this heavenly mystery, the Mass: Jesus Christ, our Bread of Life.

Boston Globe 2002Older people like myself remember a very tough period in the life of the Catholic Church in the USA. “The Scandal.” Sixteen years ago. Now we have another one: the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Turns out, he preyed on young people for years.

Just so happens that this now-notorious former Cardinal—he and I, along with eight other young men—we had a very important encounter on May 24, 2003. He ordained us priests. So this hurts. This is personal for me, not just a story on the news. Forgive me for bringing it up, unpleasant as it is. But we have to find a way through this together.

The thing about the sacraments of Jesus Christ, though; the thing about the living Bread of Life, Who we offer to the Father and then receive at a Mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest—the thing is: Christ does not fail. We fail. He does not.

Our beloved seminarian David has faithfully done his best this summer, here in Rocky Mount and Martinsville. Done his best to grow into the man God made him to be. May it be God’s will, in six years, maybe David will celebrate his first Holy Mass here. Sunday he concludes his summer assignment. We’re sad to say goodbye for now. But you go with our gratitude and best wishes, David.

David of course didn’t go to the seminary to offer his life to God in a scandal-plagued Church, any more than I did. Now he and I have this in common: having to get through seminary during a time when many Catholics reasonably struggle with a crisis of confidence in our bishops.

But. This does not mean that we don’t have the Bread of Life. It doesn’t mean that Christ fails us. We fail Him. But He keeps loving. A thousand McCarricks committing a thousand crimes cannot stop Jesus loving us in the Mass and giving us Himself as the Bread of Life.


After all, what did the Word Incarnate do? Why do we have a Church at all? He died, so that we prodigal sinners could be reconciled to our heavenly Father. And receive our heavenly inheritance again.

All it takes is an honest confrontation with the truth. That’s the New-and-Eternal Covenant ‘deal,’ so to speak. God says to us inveterate moral scrubs: “I, dear souls, am infinitely merciful. I will forgive you, no matter what. Just face the truth. That’s all you have to do.” Then we–bolstered in our confidence by this unmerited promise, freed from fear of the condemnation we deserve—we can face the truth.

Same thing with the Catholic Scandal of the summer of 2018. Sure, I might be tempted to think: A predator, a villain who belonged in jail on that very day—he ordained me a priest. So my priesthood… it’s weakened, or tarnished, or rendered meaningless.

But I can honestly say that I am not really tempted to think that at all. I actually think the opposite. Yes, I want to punch the man. For the evils he did to others. And for the fraud he pulled on us–all of us priests and seminarians who gave him the benefit of the doubt, and trusted him, and spent ourselves for years, helping him exercise his ministry.

But the dark human truth about the sinner who ordained me—it actually only makes the sacred mystery involved in the sacrament of Holy Orders all that more evident. Because the priesthood, the Mass, the holy Church—these things do not exist for this man’s worldly glory or that man’s power and influence. McCarrick may have lived for worldly things. But that’s not why the priesthood, the Mass and the Church exist. They exist because of faith—faith in God and His Christ.

We believe in God Almighty, Who sees all, knows all, and judges justly. We believe in His Son, the Divine Mercy. We believe in the sacraments He gave His Church. We believe in the Bread of Life.


2 thoughts on “Priesthood Ex Opere Operato

  1. Dear Fr. Mark, My heart goes out to you and to all in your position who suffer. We (all Catholics) have suffered under the dark cloud of these scandals and the questionable manner in which the church has handled them for so long. They were not just 16 years ago and today, they have surfaced throughout time over and over again. I wonder if there is any Catholic parent who has not questioned the integrity and holiness of the priests who have served them in churches and in schools, who has not wondered, hoping against hope, whether their children were at risk, whether their priest was honorably holding to his vow of celibacy, whether the church had shuttled an at-risk priest into their safe zone.

    BUT this year, this scandal, and the hearing of it from your perspective has touched me deeply and in a new way. I cannot remember at any time during my roughly 40 adult years having heard a priest share the sentiments, the pain, and the call for justice, a real, truth-facing, honest attempt at justice as you have, nor even considering the victims among our seminarians or the affect on our young priests. How refreshing, even if it is painful, after so many years of side-swiping, barely acknowledging, and platitude-offering without ever actually admitting anything! Hearing your thoughts, your concerns, your perspective, and your pain brings a whole new dimension to the far-reaching impact of these scandals. (Perhaps my mind was simply closed to it in previous years.)

    You have offered new (and old) hope by reminding us that God is so far above our humanity and yet still is unfathomably merciful; that the mass, the summit and source of our faith is where we meet CHRIST himself, where we meet our divine physician, our healer, particularly when we truly desire to be present to HIM who deigns to make himself present to us! As you pointed out: “We fail; Christ does not!”

    But you also offer a new hope for our church in your willingness to confront the truths that seem to have been so cautiously approached in the past. Perhaps with priests speaking out we are seeing a turning of the tide, a new age for the church where she has the strength to face ugly truth head on and to properly administer fraternal correction. (Personally I don’t find being confined to a life of prayer and penance sufficient. I mean, what kind of suffering is that for a priest who supposedly prays unceasingly anyway, particularly one who is already retired!)

    May the our bishops be blessed with a new boldness and courage to show their brother priests that there are real consequences for breaching the vows of celibacy; that there is zero tolerance for criminal behavior supported by serious and consistently imposed fraternal correction!

    Thank you for speaking out!

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