Summary: The priest and bishop who choose celibacy as a response to their call are imaging Christ, the Bridegroom.

March 2, 2009

Sacramentum Caritatis

The call to holiness that is summed up and made possible by the sacraments–especially this sacrament of charity–is universal. All the people of this new Israel, this Church, are to be holy. All are called to live a life of effective love of God and of neighbor. All are called, as the Gospel insists, to practice the works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal. But, just as the priest and bishop are called to an office in which they literally assume the person of Christ as they offer the sacrifice of Christ, so also their ordination calls for a complete configuration to Christ, the Bridegroom. This is why, in the West, priests may not marry and must vow celibacy, and in all the Churches, east and west, only celibate men may be ordained bishop.

Priestly celibacy, the Holy Father continues, is rightly considered a priceless treasure. When a man pursuing ordination chooses to embrace (not merely endure) celibacy, it expresses in a special way the dedication which conforms him to Christ. The priest offers himself exclusively for the service of the Church, and for the growth of the Kingdom of God. Christ is our reference point in all things. Only by understanding His living of a life of dedicated celibacy, devoting Himself to the Church so exclusively that He died for the Church, can we understand both the meaning and the treasure that our celibate priests exist to be. Certainly, priestly and episcopal celibacy have practical advantages, as St. Paul taught, by making the priest and bishop beholden only to their priestly vocation. But the choice of celibacy has first and foremost a nuptial meaning, . . .a profound identification with the heart of Christ, the Bridegroom who gives his life for his Bride. . .Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself.

We have an obligation to support this calling, first with our prayers for priests and for those discerning priestly vocations. But we also need to express our appreciation for them, we need also to encourage young men who are leaders to give special thought to the vocation, and we need to encourage young women to see priests and seminarians not as potential husbands for themselves, but as other Christs who are giving themselves totally for the whole Church.

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