Lent: Praying the Sorrowful Mysteries for Priests

The “perfect sacrifice” of the Eternal High Priest is central to the liturgical season of Lent, and is coupled with the priesthood of the Lord. Lenten reflections on the Passion of Christ beckon us to a deeper encounter with incarnate divine love. Christ, who freely suffered on account of love, places upon the ministerial priesthood the weight of his love for his Bride, the Church. Lent reminds us that sacrificial love is the essence of Christ’s priesthood.

The priest’s identification with Christ crucified is articulated in Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 inaugural letter for the Year for Priests. Reflecting on the notion of priesthood radiating “the love of the heart of Jesus” he wrote, “The expression of St. John Vianney also makes us think of Christ’s pierced Heart and the crown of thorns which surrounds it. I also think, therefore, of the countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister.”

Great is our need to contemplate Christ’s Passion in order to understand our own. Lenten spiritual exercises help to reorder our lives and our loves. The fruit of reflecting on Christ’s Passion is to believe in the truth that we are perfectly loved by God, to accept the gift of God. When our hearts are vulnerable to his love, he teaches us to love what he loves: the Church, and in a special way, his priests.

From Ms. Beckman’s Praying for Priests.

The devil fears those who pray

The first Sunday of Lent recounts the temptation of Christ in the desert. Lent is meant to be a desert experience. The point of Lenten spiritual warfare is to bring us to the joy of proclaiming his victory over sin and evil.

St. John Vianney emphasized the power of prayer, “We can see, too, how much the devil fears those who pray, since there is not a moment of the day when he tempts us more than when we’re at prayer. He does everything he possibly can to prevent us from praying. When the devil wants to make someone lose his soul, he starts out by inspiring in him a profound distaste for prayer. However good a Christian he may be, if the devil succeeds in making him either say his prayers badly or neglect them altogether, he’s certain to have that person for himself. From the moment that we neglect to pray, we move with big steps toward hell. We’ll never return to God if we don’t resort to prayer.” The Cure of Ars noted also, “When people want to destroy religion they begin by attacking the priest; for when there is no priest, there is no sacrifice: and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.”

Why pray for priests?

Fr. John Hardon, S.J. relates the spiritual mandate, “Having taught priests over 30 years, having lived with priests, and having labored for them, loving them and suffering with them—no words I can use would be too strong to state that the Catholic priesthood needs prayer and sacrifice as never before since Calvary…But the pressures are experienced by priests with a violence and a virulence such as no one else but a priest can understand. One saint after another has declared that the devil’s principal target on earth is the Catholic priest. Priests need, Lord, how they need, special graces from God. We ask, why pray, then, for priests? We should pray for priests and bishops because this has been the practice of the Church since apostolic times. It’s a matter of revealed truth. It is a divine mandate.”

The practical reasons include that, according to the Pew Research Center, in the world, there are 1.29 billion Catholics and 414,313 priests. While the global Catholic population has doubled since 1970, the number of priests has slightly declined since 1970. In the U.S.A., priests numbered 58,632 in 1965 and in 2014, they number 38,275, a drastic decline. If you think with the Church the answer is not to ordain women, but to focus on the family as the seedbed of vocations. The Synod on the Family will address key challenges, and encourage prayer for families, and family prayer for vocations.

Praying the Sorrowful Mysteries for priests

In his encyclical on the Holy Rosary, St. John Paul II wrote, “From the beginning Christian piety…has focused on the individual moments of the Passion, realizing that here is found the culmination of the revelation of God’s love and the source of our salvation…The sorrowful mysteries help the believer to relive the death of Jesus, to stand at the foot of the cross beside Mary, to enter with her into the depths of God’s love for man and to experience all its life-giving power.”

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

Scripture – Matthew 26:38-39

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little further he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

Reflection from Pastores Dabo Vobis

First of all, obedience is indeed “apostolic” in the sense that it recognizes, loves and serves the Church in her hierarchical structure. Priestly obedience has a particular “pastoral” character. It is lived in an atmosphere of constant readiness to allow oneself to be taken up, as it were “consumed,” by the needs and demands of the flock.

Petition

Eternal Father, you willed Jesus to be the icon of obedience. Graciously dispose the priest to glorify you by the gift of his free will. Grant that nothing on the earth cause him to compromise the promise of obedience that helps him to disappear from his own sight. We implore you to form the priest’s heart into a canvas of charity, humility, mortification, surrender, recollection and obedience for love of you and the Church.

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar

Scripture – Matthew 27:24-26

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

Reflection from Pastores Dabo Vobis

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church his body. He is the “head” in the new and unique sense of being a “servant”, according to his own words: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Jesus’ service attains its fullest expression in his death on the cross, that is, in this total gift of self in humility and love.

Petition

Eternal Father, graciously grant the priest to discover the joy of being configured to Christ who came to serve, not to be served. Please shape the expectations of the priest to conform to the divine expectation of priesthood, and help him to embrace a life of humility and love, with prayer, simplicity, and patience.

The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns

Scripture – Matthew 27:28-30

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him saying, “Hail King of the Jews!” And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.

Reflection from Pastores Dabo Vobis

The priest’s spiritual and pastoral life, like that of his brothers and sisters, lay and religious, depends, for its quality and fervor, on the frequent and conscientious personal practice of the sacrament of penance. If a priest were no longer to go to confession or properly confess his sins, his priestly being and his priestly action would feel its effects very soon, and this would also be noticed by the community of which he was the pastor.

Petition

Eternal Father, graciously encourage the priest to avail himself of the sacrament of confession as a penitent, so that he minister the same sacrament of mercy with a pure heart. Help him to realize that as he receives divine mercy in the confessional, he can more joyfully extend the same divine mercy to others. Grant him to be a good penitent and in turn, a good confessor.

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Carries His Cross

Scripture – Matthew 27:31-32

And when they [the Roman soldiers] had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him. As they were marching out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon, by name: this man they compelled to carry his cross.

Reflection from Pastores Dabo Vobis

Jesus brought his role as mediator to complete fulfillment when he offered himself on the cross, thereby opening to us, once and for all, access to the heavenly sanctuary, to the Father’s house (Cf. Heb. 9:24-28)… With the one definitive sacrifice of the cross, Jesus communicated to all his disciples the dignity and mission of the priests of the new and eternal covenant.

Petition

Eternal Father, as the priest carries his cross daily in service to the Church, grant that he experience the presence of Mary and the welcomed help of the lay faithful. We pray that the weight of his cross not crush his spirit, though it may break his heart. At the end of each day, when the priest is in the silence and solitude of his room, grant him peace and lead him to surrender the burdens of his ministry, laying them at the foot of the Cross.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion of Our Lord

Scripture – Matthew 27:35-37

And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”

Reflection from Pastores Dabo Vobis

In accordance with Saint Paul’s words to the Christians at Philippi, the priest should have “the mind which was in Christ Jesus,” emptying himself of his own “self,” so as to discover, in a charity which is obedient, chaste and poor, the royal road of union with God and unity with his brother and sisters (cf. Phil. 2:5).

Petition

Eternal Father, Your Son’s self-emptying love is inspiring and challenging to the priest. Jesus drank the chalice to the dregs, his poverty is complete, and he hides his glory, and strips himself of every possession and domain. Please protect the priest from the enemy who strategizes to destroy his vocation, and tempts him to extremes of discouragement and doubt, and then, pride and vanity. Graciously teach the priest the science of the cross and the art of loving as Jesus loves.

Loving Father, we entrust all priests to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

(For more information and prayers, please visit www.foundationforpriests.org)

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Praying for Priests, which is available from Sophia Institute Priest. 

Kathleen Beckman

By

Kathleen Beckman, L.H.S. is President and Co-Founder of the Foundation of Prayer for Priests (www.foundationforpriests.org), a global apostolate of prayer and catechesis for the holiness of priests promoting spiritual motherhood and fatherhood. An international Catholic evangelist, author, radio host, Ignatian certified retreat director, she assists priests in the Church’s ministry of healing, deliverance and exorcism. Often featured on Catholic TV and radio such as EWTN and the Catholic Channel, she hosts the weekly program, “Eucharist, Mercy & Saints” which airs internationally on Radio Maria. She and her husband are business owners and have two grown sons. Sophia Institute Press published her three latest books: Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization (‘14) and God’s Healing Mercy: Finding Your Path to Forgiveness, Peace & Joy (‘15) When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer (’17)Her reversion to the faith in 1991 came through the Eucharist and Mary. www.kathleenbeckman.com. More at www.kathleenbeckman.com.

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  • noelfitz

    I read here ” when there is no priest, there is no sacrifice: and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.”

    This worries me, as in many parishes in the Western world there are no priests, does this mean there is no religion? Has God abandoned us? I would hope not.

    I would love to have this concern answered.

  • John

    I think St. John Vianney is simply making the point that the Catholic religion cannot be perpetuated without Catholic priests, since our faith is a faith of sacraments instituted by Jesus and priests on earth perpetuate those sacraments, above all the holy sacrifice of the Mass. He also made this statement during a time in 19th-century France when there were many attacks against the priesthood.

    The Church is in decline in Europe, as is the number of priests there. In the United States I believe we’re either holding steady or experiencing a slight decrease in the number of Catholic priests. It doesn’t follow, however, that God has abandoned us. Humanity, on the other hand, has demonstrated over the course of the last several hundred years that they have become quite adept at abandoning God.

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