ST. PAUL, Minn. — Holy Hours, Masses, Rosaries, confession and the spiritual adoption of priests are high on the agenda for the coming year in the Church.
These are the primary ways in which dioceses across America will be marking the Year for Priests, which began June 19.
“Coinciding with the [150th] anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney and the Pope’s desire to call priests to greater holiness, it’s a perfect fit,” said Archdiocese of Denver Auxiliary Bishop James Conley.
St. John Vianney, known as the Curé of Ars for the French village where he was a pastor, has long been patron saint of parish priests.
This year, he will be declared patron saint for all priests.
A number of dioceses and seminaries have announced special events and activities for the year, including symposiums, special prayers and even a drama, for both priests and the faithful.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also unveiled a special icon and webpage.
One diocese even has a special connection with St. John Vianney and is planning to promote the sacrament for which the saint was particularly well known. The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis will place special emphasis on the sacrament of reconciliation.
St. John Vianney was known for spending hours on end hearing confessions.
Father William Baer, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., said emphasis on the sacrament is needed in the Church.
“The dirty little secret of the Church is how little time some priests are willing to put in the box,” said Father Baer. “We should be hearing confessions both before and after Mass.”
“We intend to develop a more widespread effort, particularly on the University of St. Thomas campus,” said Father Baer.
“Sunday evening confession already brings as many as 300 students. College students are just waiting for someone to put in the time.”
The archdiocese also plans to have a lineup of older, senior priests speak on various aspects of Vianney’s ministry — his preaching, his ministry in the confessional, and his austerity of life.
“St. John Vianney is a co-patron of this diocese because he knew many of its first bishops,” said Father Baer.
The first bishop, Joseph Cretin, he said, “went to St. John Vianney to receive a blessing before coming to Minnesota.”
‘Adopt a Priest’
The Archdiocese of Denver is planning to celebrate the Year for Priests in a big way. It began with a special Mass celebrated by Archbishop Charles Chaput at Denver’s cathedral on June 21.
The archdiocese has put on display in the cathedral an oversize image of the statue of St. John Vianney from Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, as well as a relic of the saint.
They also plan to use the image along with a prayer for priests to create a special holy card that will be distributed throughout the archdiocese.
But Bishop Conley said that the most important thing the archdiocese is doing is organizing Holy Hours in all of its deaneries and inviting all the priests and faithful to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
“For priests, the most important act that he does every day is offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass,” said Bishop Conley.
“Without the Eucharist, there is no Church, and without the priest there is no Eucharist.”
The Archdiocese of Denver will also set up a webpage where visitors can offer Rosaries, Masses and other prayers as a spiritual bouquet for priests of the archdiocese.
Praying for Priests
There is already a public association of the faithful that promotes this kind of spiritual support. The primary apostolate of the Intercessors of the Lamb in Omaha, Neb., is to pray for priests.
This year it is planning an “adopt a priest” program that will allow the faithful to “adopt” and pray daily for a specific priest.
Msgr. Steven Rohlfs, rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., said that another thing people can do in a special way during the Year for Priests is to remember their priest on the anniversary of his ordination.
“I was the vocation director in the Diocese of Peoria [Ill.] for a number of years. I tried to call all of the priests on the anniversary of their ordination,” said Msgr. Rohlfs.
“Often, they would tell me I was the only one who remembered.”
This is in the spirit of something Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, said as the Year for Priests got under way.
“We must say to priests that we are proud of them and that we recognize they are a group that is very special for the Church and society,” he said. “We must recognize who they are and what they do and tell them that we love them and want to be alongside them to support them.”
Mount St. Mary’s will be hosting a symposium Oct. 3 for priests in honor of the Year for Priests. The symposium will feature speakers on various themes of priestly spirituality.
In addition, the seminary plans to host actor Leonardo Defilippis’ one-man play “Vianney” for the public the afternoon of Oct. 3.
“The priests, especially in this country, need a shot in the arm, both spiritually and emotionally,” said Msgr. Rohlfs. “We’ve taken it on the chin for a number of years, and it’s time that we spend the year reinvigorating ourselves spiritually and re-energizing ourselves to be proud of who and what we are.”
Many dioceses are planning priest and seminarian retreats to Ars, France. The Congregation for Clergy has planned an international priests’ retreat there for Sept. 27-Oct. 3.
The year will conclude with an international gathering of priests with Pope Benedict in St. Peter’s Square on June 19, 2010.
In addition, the Vatican announced that a plenary indulgence will be available to the faithful on the opening and closing days of the year and on the anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, Aug. 4.
The requirements for the indulgence include attendance at Mass, receiving the sacrament of reconciliation and prayers for the priests of the Church.
“With the ‘Long Lent’ of 2002 — the sexual abuse scandals — the priesthood has, at least in the public perception, suffered over these last few years,” said Bishop Conley.
“This kind of call to a deeper priestly identity is something whose time is very right.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.