From Actor to Priest: Anniversary of the ordination of Karol Wojtyla

From Actor to Priest: Anniversary of the ordination of Karol Wojtyla

On November 1, 1946 Karol was ordained a priest. Cardinal Sapieha ordained him in his private chapel on this day the Feast of All Saints. The ordination was performed earlier than and separately from the rest of the seminarians due to Fr. Wojtyla’s imminent departure to Rome for further study. His first Mass fell on All Souls’ Day. Fr. Wojtyla said Masses for the souls of his departed parents and brother at the Wawel Castle in the crypt of St. Leonard amid the tombs of kings and national heroes. A solemn first High Mass was celebrated a few days later in Wadowice.

At this time Father Wojtyla wrote to Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk, founder of the Rhapsodic Theater. He explained that he could not attend their anniversary meeting because he was busy with the events surrounding his ordination.

“Maybe it is God’s design that I can’t come to this anniversary meeting [of the Rhapsodic Theater]. That is how I understand it — I should be present in your activity, just as a priest should be present in life in general, a hidden driving force. Yes, despite all appearances, that is the main duty of the priesthood. Hidden forces usually produce the strongest actions. So perhaps these First Mass and anniversary thoughts of mine will represent me. I commend all of you to God.” (The Making of the Pope of the Millennium, p. 109)

The notion of a “hidden driving force” captures the aspect of priest as one who forms and guides the people of God. The laity rely upon the priest for the sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance. As grace is hidden in the heart of the believer, so the priest is hidden in the activities of the laity. So Father Wojtyla could not be present at the gathering, but he lifted them up in prayer to the Father. The members of the Theater attended his first public Mass at the Wawel.

If we look back seven years to 1939, just two months after the Nazi invasion and occupation of his homeland, we find the following letter by Wojtyla to Kotlarczyk:

“I send you greetings in the name of Beauty, which is the profile of God, the cause of Christ, and the cause of Poland.”

The ideals he shared with the Kotlarczyk and the Rhapsodic Theater were always close to the heart of Blessed . To seek God through the beauty of the world and art, to conform oneself to the word made flesh and the redeemer of man, and to cherish the political freedom and personal liberty.

Perhaps his vocation to the priesthood is already discernible in this letter when he wrote: “I think our liberation lies at the gate of Christ. I see an Athenian Poland, but more perfect than Athens by the boundless immensity of Christianity.”

Through Christ and the Church, nature is perfected by grace, and Reason is drawn up into and expanded by faith.

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