John Paul II comes at a critical time

September 28, 1995|By Stephen J. Stahley

As a fellow priest, I welcome Pope John Paul II to our country and our city. The fact that I am married, with a child and a secular job, in no way diminishes the bond of priestly fraternity that I share with the Holy Father. We were ordained to the same Catholic priesthood. The priesthood which, according to the ancient tradition of the church, is forever. That same priesthood, instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper, to preserve the memory of His loving presence among us in the Mass.

Pride and gratitude

Along with Catholics throughout the country, I will feel immense pride and deep gratitude when the pope celebrates the Mass at Oriole Park. It will be a wonderful event when the Mass, in all its splendor and ritual beauty, is celebrated for the benefit of all the people of the United States.

The Mass, the sacrament of the holy Eucharist, is at the heart of our faith. In the proclamation of God's word and in partaking of the body and blood of Christ, we receive spiritual sustenance.

On a daily basis, this mystery of God's abiding presence and love is celebrated in grand cathedrals and parish churches. It is also celebrated in hospitals, migrant camps and prisons. The Mass, whether celebrated by the Holy Father in St. Peter's Basilica or a priest at a mission in the High Andes is the same in essence and meaning.

Time for change

The deepening crisis in the priesthood, attested to by the diminishing number of priests and revelations of sex scandals, means that more and more Catholics are going without the Eucharist. The pre-eminent sacrament of our faith must no longer be held hostage to a priesthood confined to celibate males. Maintaining the priesthood in its current form is depriving the Catholic community of what it most needs. There can be no vibrant Catholicism without abundant access to the Eucharist.

Worship and sacrament constitute the essence of the priesthood. And the priesthood is in trouble. An increasing number of bishops in this country, along with bishops in such places as Ireland and South America, are beginning to give voice to this realization. It is a critical time in the life of the church.

As Pope John Paul II celebrates the holy Eucharist in Baltimore on Oct. 8, it will be a moment for rejoicing and thanksgiving. It will also be a good time to remember that what is essential is the holy mystery being celebrated. Whether the celebrant is male or female, married or celibate is secondary. We would do well to remember that the priesthood was instituted for the service of the Eucharist, not the other way around.

Stephen J. Stahley writes from Baltimore.

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