Praying for Priests with Saint John Paul II
The Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim is not just a beautiful prayer, but a way to encounter Christ anew.
In a year with so many different scandals emerging related to clergy, there have also been blessings and consoling moments. As we are reminded in the Gospel of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5), and as the Lord reminds us in Matthew, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20).
Entering into Holy Week this year, I received an unexpected gift. Through reading In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries of Pope John Paul II, I learned of a litany that Saint John Paul II prayed in his seminary years, as well as, later in life. Among the devotions taken up during his June 1978 retreat, the same year he would later be elected pope, is the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim. While multiple references are made to this litany in the course of his Spiritual Diaries, this was the first time I looked up the prayer, and it proved to be a blessing to do so.
The Litany begins with the typical invocations found at the beginning of litanies, and then implores Christ, with reference to various aspects of his identity as Priest and Victim to “have mercy on us.” Some of these invocations are quite beautiful, such as “Jesus, High Priest faithful and merciful,” “Jesus, High Priest, inflamed with zeal for God and souls,” and “Jesus, sacrificial Victim in whom we have confidence and access to God.” Highlighting various aspects of Christ’s identity, one encounters once again the Priesthood of Christ, immaculate and undefiled, in which both ordained ministers and the laity, by means of their baptism, are called to share, and through which is found all salvation.
There is also a set of petitions asking the Lord to “deliver us.” These invocations include asking the Lord to free us from particular faults that relate to the priesthood such as “rashly entering the clergy” and “the sin of sacrilege.” Additionally, one prays a set of prayers asking for particular blessings for priests, such as “gentleness in their ministry, resourcefulness in their actions, and constancy in prayer” and “that through them [the Lord] would deign to promote the veneration of the Blessed Sacrament everywhere.” The Litany closes with a format similar to other litanies, and then ends with short prayers to “Jesus, Our Priest” and a closing prayer. The Litany is really worth looking at and praying in its entirety!
Until doing a little research on this litany, little did I know how impactful this devotion was to Saint John Paul II. It is a prayer that he prayed in Latin as a seminarian and would continue to pray in Latin since that time. Not only is the prayer referred to in Pope John Paul II’s Spiritual Diaries, but he also references the prayer in his 1997 Letter to Priests and in his book Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination. (In addition to the link provided earlier in the present piece, the Litany can also be found in its entirety in the Appendix of Gift and Mystery.)
In Gift and Mystery, Pope John Paul II speaks of the Litany in this way:
The truth about Christ’s priesthood has always struck me in an extraordinarily eloquent way in the Litany which used to be recited in the seminary at Cracow, especially on the eve of a priestly ordination. I am referring to the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim.…When I repeat [the invocations], it is in Latin, the language in which I recited them in seminary and then so often in later years…. (pp. 79-80)
Here he shares how the Litany points to the priesthood of Christ and also how he used the Litany in his own spiritual life. In his 1997 Letter to Priests, John Paul II refers again to the Litany: “…I wish to highlight it in the present Letter, for I think it brings out in a particularly rich and profound way the priesthood of Christ and our link with that priesthood” (“Letter to Priests 1997,” 3). The Litany is not just a beautiful prayer, but a way to encounter Christ anew.
A resource highlighted by St. John Paul II, in addressing both priests and a wider audience, the Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim is worth rediscovering and taking up in our day both for personal prayer and for encountering the person of “Jesus, Our Priest.” May the Lord have mercy on us, and renew the Church, covering it in his Precious Blood, the “price of our salvation” (Litany of the Precious Blood)!