Summary of “From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church” by Pope Benedict XVI and Robert Cardinal Sarah

Although there is some controversy regarding the involvement of Pope Benedict XVI in the writing of this book (click here for the general debate & click here for Cardinal Sarah’s reply), here are some insights that I found very helpful & hopefully they reflect the Church’s understanding on celibacy.

1: Jesus Christ’s Sacrificial & Eucharistic Priesthood

“Christ Jesus is a priest. His whole being is priestly, dedicated, and handed over. Before him, priests offered to God animals in sacrifice. He revealed to us that the true priest offers himself. From now on, in order to be a priest, we must enter into this great offering of Christ to the Father. We must adopt the sacrifice of the Cross as the form of our whole life” (Cardinal Sarah, 137).

“[M]y dear brother priests… Our hands consecrated by the sacred chrism are no longer ours. They are his in order to bless, forgive, and console. They are reserved for him. If sometimes celibacy seems to us too burdensome, let us look at the hands of the Crucified. Our hands, like his, must be pierced so as to keep and to hold nothing greedily. Our heart, like his, must be open so that everyone finds welcome and refuge there. Therefore, if we no longer understand our own celibacy, let us look at the Cross. It is the only book that will give us the true meaning of it. Only the Cross will teach us to be a priest. Only the Cross will teach us to “love to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1)” (Cardinal Sarah, 139).

“The priest learns the logic of his celibacy in the Eucharist” (114). In the Eucharistic sacrifice, the celibate priest learns what the total gift of self means. He unites himself wholly to the offering, places his entire life on the altar. This gives not only meaning and order to priest’s lives but also the grace and obligation to make their life a perpetual offering. In this way, celibacy becomes both a sign and a concrete realization this total self-offering of Christ.

“The Mass is the priest’s reason for existing. The renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary is not the most important and loftiest action of his day, but the one that confers all its meaning on it” (130).

2: Jesus Christ’s Ontological & Celibate Priesthood

The priesthood is an ontological entrance into the “yes” of Christ the priest – an entrance with your whole being into the great gift of Christ to the Father.

“Celibacy is the sign and instrument of our entrance into the priestly being of Jesus… There is an ontological-sacramental connection between priesthood and celibacy” (138)

Whereas Old Testament priests observed sexual abstinence in a functional way (only during the specific period of weeks that they were to lead worship), New Testament priests observe sexual abstinence in an ontological way (daily Eucharist).

A consistent priestly life ontologically requires celibacy: “Celibacy reveals the very essence of the Christian priesthood” (125). The priesthood is not a function, but a state in life.

“To ordain a married man a priest would amount to diminishing the dignity of marriage and reducing the priesthood to a job” (79).

3: Jesus Christ’s Nuptial Priesthood

Since Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church, the priest must also “live as the exclusive husband of the Church” (137). Therefore, only the celibate priest can give the faithful all of Christ the Bridegroom’s spousal love.

Priestly celibacy is also necessary for the identity of the Church as Bride:

“The Church, as the Bride of Jesus Christ, desires to be loved by the priest in the total, exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ the Head and Bridegroom loved her” (82).

In the daily celebration of the Eucharist, the priest, through his own body, as a man, enters into Christ’s virginal love for His Bride, the Church, and reveals the supernatural fecundity of the mystical union: “Priestly celibacy proceeds from a necessary Eucharistic nuptial character” (111).

Taking all of this in account, this book gives a convincing argument for why ordaining married men would lead to confusion regarding the correct understanding of the priesthood and of the Church.

We will not solve the crisis of the priesthood by weakening celibacy and adopting worldly criteria but rather in a return to the radical character of the Gospel.

Far from solving the priest shortage, “clericalizing the laity” would further undermine “the dynamic potentialities contained in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation that equips missionary disciple” (109).

On a practical note, both men strongly recommend prayer as a key way to live out this celibate vocation (click here for more on that).

And click here for the 1st episode of FORMED’s book club chat on this book.


  1. Fr. James Hess, O.Carm. says:

    Deacon, the book has caused confusion. Pope Benedict asked that his name be removed from the book. While the book contains truths of the Catholic Life, it addresses only part of the Church that is Catholic. The Eastern Churches are also Catholic and they have other customs which are just as valid. From the Ministry of Jesus to the present, both single and married men have served the Church as priests. I really think that Jesus knew what He was doing and for more than 2000 years the Church has acknowledged what was from the beginning. I ask myself is the book about the life of the Catholic Church or a challenge to the present Holy Father. The Catholic is made up of 23 different Churches with the same Faith but different customs. Celibacy is a time honored custom but not essential to the Catholic Faith.

    Your Blog has so much good but at times your choices represent a part of the Church that is Catholic but not the Whole Catholic Church in all it’s richness.

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