A Priest Without People is Not a Priest

A Priest Without People is Not a Priest

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In the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, two Chrism Masses are celebrated each year during Holy Week in each of the two cathedrals. It is always a special moment for us together, a Bishop with his priests, in the Cathedral for the celebration of the Chrism Mass. It is further touching to have the people to whom we minister with us at these liturgies as well.

“Holy brothers who share a heavenly calling, fix your eyes on Jesus…” These words from the Letter to the Hebrews are from the Office of Readings. Since the fifth Sunday of Lent and on through to Holy Saturday, the Church has had us reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, reflecting on the ordained priesthood and how we priests share in the Priesthood of Jesus. The ceremonies of the Chrism Mass, with the renewal of our priestly commitment(s) along with the blessing of the oils to be used for the sacramental life of the diocese, are striking. I daresay, they are rather mystical moments. At least for me they are: I always leave inspired and renewed for the work of the diocese, and I know the clergy do as well.


In the most recent addition of Extension Magazine, there is an article about a seminarian in Puerto Rico. He spoke of his discernment that eventually led to him joining the seminary and the support he received from his family and his home parish. In the article, he offered his own insight into the spirituality of the diocesan priesthood and gave what I thought was a keen insight: “A priest without his people is not a priest.”

We recently had two Memorial Masses for the late-Fr. Bob Landewe, first at St. Joseph in Springfield, in December, followed by another Memorial Mass in his hometown of Leopold, on March 15, the actual anniversary of his ordination. The Mirror carried an article about him when he retired and, in that article, Fr. Landewe gave his own insights into the priesthood. Looking back on his years and his many assignments, on the verge of retirement, he said, “It was God’s people, the folks I was sent to serve, who sustained me. Their friendship, loving care, their tolerance of my weaknesses, and their prayers kept me loving my call.”

What was he saying? Similar to the insight of the young seminarian, “A priest without his people is not a priest,” or “Without the People of God, there’s no need for the priesthood.” We could still have the ceremony of the blessing of the holy oils to be used for the sacramental life of the diocese, but without the people there would be no sacramental life. Without the People of God, the priesthood bears no fruit, it is sterile. At the Chrism Mass, the Church realizes this reality and therefore includes in this sacred celebration, the Mass of Holy Chrism, the blessing of the holy oils for the sacramental life of the Church. It is no mistake that this occurs at the same Mass where the renewal of our promises to serve the People of God take place. The two go together—the priesthood and the people. When they are at their best, they should complement each other. In essence, you couldn’t have one without the other.


For the blessing of the Oil of the Sick, we asked God to send the Holy Spirit to, “sanctify it for our use… A remedy for all who are anointed with it… And deliver them in every affliction.” In other words, the Oil of the Sick is for the people of God. The same with the Oil of Catechumens: we asked God to bless that oil for three effects: that they “may understand more deeply the Gospel of your Christ… may undertake with a generous heart the labors of the Christian life, and… may rejoice to be born anew and to live in your Church” (OBO, no. 22). It’s all about the people of God. And finally, the high point of the ritual is the consecration of the Chrism, which is made by mixing the oil “with fragrances or other aromatic material” (OBO, no. 4), usually balsam. The prayers and action provides a rich description of the uses of holy Chrism: “Pour out in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters anointed with this oil; adorn with the splendor of holiness the places and things signed by sacred oils; but above all, by the mystery of this oil, bring to completion the growth of your Church” (OBO, no. 25-2). The blessing of the oils is all about the people of God.


With the people of God in mind, the priests on hand at the Chrism Masses renewed their priestly promises, to resolve once again to be in union with the bishop in the work of the diocese. And for the sake of the people, we resolved once again to be more closely conformed to Christ, denying ourselves in the midst of our sacred duties towards Christ’s Church. For the sake of the people of God we resolved once again to be faithful to the holy Eucharist and the other liturgical celebrations; to be faithful to the sacred office of teaching, forsaking any gain but rather being better motivated only by zeal for souls.

Having renewed our promises, I addressed the people of God gathered and asked them to pray for the priests and in a particular way for me: that I am faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me so that I too might be a living and more perfect image of Christ, the priest, the good Shepherd, the teacher, and the servant of all.

Echoing again the Letter to the Hebrews, “Holy brothers who share a heavenly calling, fix your eyes on Jesus.” Let us remember that, “a priest without his people is not a priest.” Let us remember that we are privileged to serve the people of God and we welcome them into our hearts. May each of us discover what Fr. Landewe did in his priesthood, that their friendship, their loving care, their tolerance of our weaknesses, and their prayers will keep us in love with the priesthood. Amen.

The Chrism Mass, which [the Bishop] concelebrates with Priests from various regions of the diocese and during which he consecrates the sacred Chrism and blesses the other oils, is among the principal manifestations of the fullness of the Bishop’s Priesthood and is considered to be a sign of the close bond of the Priests with him. For it is with the sacred Chrism consecrated by the Bishop that the newly baptized are anointed and those to be confirmed are signed. It is with the Oil of Catechumens that catechumens are prepared and disposed for Baptism. Finally it is with the Oil of the Sick that those who are ill are comforted in their infirmity. — The Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism (OBO), no. 1

Photo Source: Grace Tamburro for The Mirror


Bishop Edward M. Rice