Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Priest and the Word of God

On account of the Babylonian invasion, the temple of the Lord lay in ruins and for 14 generations, the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon. Cyrus of Persia, a benevolent king, brought that exile to an end. He ordered the return of the Israelites to their land so that they may rebuild their temple and their lives. As they were rebuilding the temple, the sacred scrolls of the law were found and so, in the 1st reading today, Ezra the priest read the law of the Lord before the assembly of men, women, and children from daybreak until midday. “Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.” “All people were weeping as they heard the words of the law.” They were weeping because at last, after His long silence during the exile in which Israel had “no prophet, priest, nor leader”, God was once again speaking to His people. They were again hearing the word of the Lord and so they were filled with joy.

Ezra the priest presents to us one of the chief roles of the priest, that is, to read plainly from the book of God’s word and interpret it so that all could understand. In the holy Gospel, St. Luke makes reference to the “ministers of the word” who have handed down to us “the narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” The Holy Father, Pope Benedict himself, speaks of the important service which priests must give to the word of God: “This is your mission (as priests): to bring the Gospel to everyone so that everyone may experience the joy of Christ and that there may be joy in every city. What can be more beautiful than this? What can be greater, more exciting, than cooperating in spreading the Word of life in the world, than communicating the living water of the Holy Spirit? To proclaim and witness joy: this is the central core of your mission” (Benedict XVI, Homily at Mass for the ordination of priests, 27 April 2008). Priestly service is service to the word of God: “’To serve the Lord’ – priestly service also means to learn to know the Lord in his Word and to make it known to all those he entrusts to us.” (Homily at Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, 20 March 2008)
The preaching of the word of God is a role that the priest must take up seriously. When he takes the book of God’s word and reads it to the sacred assembly, the priest assumes the identity of Christ who, in today’s gospel, proclaims the word and then says: “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The priest should take joy in the fact that Christ uses him to speak to his people: “What marvels surround our work (of administering the divine sacraments) in the service of God’s word! We are instruments of the Holy Spirit; God is so humble that he uses us to spread his word. We become his voice, once we have listened carefully to the word coming from his mouth. We place his word on our lips in order to bring it to the world” (Homily at Vespers with clergy and religious in Lourdes, France, 12 September 2008). The priest must always keep in mind that the word he places on his lips is not his own but the Lord’s. His role is to interpret it so that all may understand. People do not listen to the priest because they want to hear the priest speak about himself, his ideas, his opinions. They listen to the priest because they want to know what God has to say to his people. Because of this, the priest must himself listen to God’s word, study it, pray over it. He must prepare his homily well because what he proclaims is not his word but God’s. “Even now the word of God is given to us as the soul of our apostolate, the seed of our priestly life” (Ibid.).


  1. Thanks for this informative article. Indeed for many of us lay people, Sunday is the only day we can be at church and we look forward to the homily of the Priest. It is practically the only oral instruction that we receive. The priest really has to prepare and deliver a homily that above all instruct the faithful, second a message that inspires them and third a fire that would be kindled in their hearts to be moved to love God and obey His will on a daily basis.

  2. Thanks Dr. Herbert. Please pray for priests as we attend the 2nd national congress for priests.