priest w rosary - smallWritten By: Fr. Jason Kuntz

Between the vestibule and the altar, let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say “Spare your people, O Lord and do not make your heritage a mockery.”

This passage from the prophet Joel is part of the First Reading on Ash Wednesday.  It highlights the essential duty of priests – to intercede for others.    In this case, Joel exhorts the priests to beg God for mercy upon his people, lest they come to nothing.  The passage is reminiscent of Moses begging God not to destroy Israel after they worshipped the golden calf.[1]

The priest’s role of intercessor is most evident in the celebration of the Holy Mass and the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours.   The obligation to pray the liturgy of the Hours is not primarily for the priest’s own spiritual benefit.   A priest commits to pray the liturgy of the hours, “for the Church and the world.”[2]   This is why the Liturgy of the Hours was traditionally spoken of as a “work”, a “duty” or an “office.”   It is the priest’s job to stand on guard for others, praying especially for those who do not pray for themselves.

The same is true of the Holy Mass – the priest offers Mass for the sake of others.  This is why the Church exhorts priests to celebrate Mass every day, even when no one can be present – the priest always celebrates Mass for the people, even when he is unable to celebrate with the people.  The people of God benefit from the graces of the Mass, whether one thousand are in attendance or merely one.  One of the phrases of the Mass that is very dear to me is “save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.”[3]  I always think of parishioners who are not present at the Mass, those not practicing their faith, and those in a state of mortal sin.

This Lent, with the new Roman Missal, we are reviving an ancient Lenten tradition called “Prayers over the people.”  These are special blessings at the conclusion of Mass where the priest prays over the people gathered, asking God to strengthen them in the midst of their Lenten observances.  This prayer is distinctively intercessory.   In the other prayers of the Mass, the priest uses the first person plural “watch over us”.   The prayers over the people are in the Third Person – the priest is praying for the people, but not for himself: “Watch over your people.”

This ancient tradition helps remind us of the role a priest plays as an intercessor before God.  Let us be grateful for all the priests who beg God’s mercy on our behalf each and every day.

As St. John Vianney says “The priest is not a priest for himself…he is for you.”


[1] see Exodus 32:9-14
[2]  Rite of Ordination to the Diaconate.  The commitment to pray the Brievary is made at ordination to the diaconate.  Permanent deacons, along with religious brothers and sisters are also obliged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the sake of the whole Church.
[3] The First Eucharistic Prayer or the Roman Canon.


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