Priests: During Mass,
Aware of an Infinitely
Homily on November 1, 1993
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Today, as every year, we celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice here, in the ancient Roman cemetery of Verano. We celebrate it on the vigil of the Commemoration of our dear departed, as we contemplate the mystery of holiness on the Solemnity of All Saints.
This is a great day for the pilgrim Church on earth, a day of special closeness to those who have preceded us on this earth and are now standing "before the Lamb".1 Their hearts are full of God’s glory. This is the glorious day of "All Saints" which commemorates the salvation brought to fulfillment in human history by the blood of the Redeemer.
"A great multitude... from every nation, race, people and tongue... ‘Who are these... and where did they come from?’... ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."’2
The day of All Saints—the day of redemption fulfilled, the great feast of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
2. This day is imprinted indelibly in my memory. It was in fact on the Solemnity of All Saints 47 years ago that I received the gift of Christ’s priesthood and became a servant of the Eucharist. I remember with constant devotion those who accompanied me on the way to this ministry. With them I unite myself in the mystery of the Communion of Saints.
On these days, the first and second of November, I was able to complete the journey which leads a new priest to the celebration of his first holy Mass: from the celebration with my Bishop (Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha) during the priestly ordination, to the first Mass we could call "my own. However, a Mass can never be said to be one’s own! The Mass is always the sacrifice of Christ and of the whole Church, his Mystical Body. Holy Mass thus represents a profound entering into the mystery of All Saints, as indeed it is a meeting with those who, suffering in purgatory, "seek the face of God."3
Never Forgetting the First Mass
Every holy Mass announces what is proclaimed in today’s liturgy in the responsorial psalm: "The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it."4 Yes! The redeeming sacrifice of Christ embraces everything and everyone. Aware of his own limitations, the priest celebrating Mass always experiences a gift which surpasses him infinitely.
3. On the morning of the day of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, I was able to celebrate the Eucharist together with those who "seek the face of God",5 united with them all. As the liturgy emphasizes, they see him "as he is".6
My mind’s eye still sees the place, the crypt below the cathedral of Wawel, in Kraków, where the mortal remains of the kings, great leaders and prophetic spiritual leaders of my country lie. Their presence and their witness permeate the cathedral, just as one notes in St. Peter’s Basilica the spiritual power radiating in a significant way from the tombs of the Popes. These are witnesses of history in which all nations, from generation to generation, together with the Church seek "the face of the God of Jacob",7 because, as St. Augustine recalls, the heart of man is restless until it rests in God.8
4. That day, the day of one’s first Mass, one never forgets. It remains not only in the memory, but is perpetuated in the Eucharist of Christ, which is the same, yesterday, today and forever. It is prolonged in the priestly ministry, as the foundation of the vocation of every bishop, and especially the Bishop of Rome.
Celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice here in Campo Verano, I would like to include in our common prayer all the cemeteries of Rome, and also those who "dwell" there. Not only the dead of this city which is called "eternal", but "the world, and those who dwell in it":9 everyone, wherever their mortal remains may lie, wherever they may be buried, sometimes even without the proper respect their bodies deserve (and sadly places of this kind are none too few...).
The redeeming sacrifice of Christ embraces them all. They are present in this sacrifice of the Church, which prays on behalf of the dead. The complete sacrifice of Christ, and at the same time, the complete sacrifice for all men: for the living and the dead.
5. "Who are these... and where did they come from?"10 From everywhere. From everywhere... "My Lord, you are the one who knows."11 From wherever they come they have all "washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb."12 And now they are standing before you.
Lord! May they see the face of the Father. May they see you, the living God. May they see God, as he is.
1. Cf. Rv 7:9
2. Cf. Rv 7:9, 13-14
3. Cf. Ps 24
4. Ps 24:1
5. Cf. Ps 24:6
6. 1 Jn 3:2
7. Cf. Ps 24:6
8. Cf.Confessions 1:1
9. Ps 24:1
10. Rv 7:13
11. Rv 7:14
12. Rv 7:14