The Catholic Priesthood
In the contemporary world, people seem to forget the person and dignity of a catholic priest. Little wonder, one hears about one insulting, beating up, kidnapping and even killing a priest. This is sheer madness, ignorance and profanation of what is sacred. There is an absolute and urgent need for catechesis at the grassroots.
During one of my teaching sessions with the first Holy Communion neophytes, I asked them the question, ‘who is a priest? An eight-year old child quickly answered “angel of God”. Another child smartly answered, he is God. That answers it, he is God! Concilliar Vatican 11 on Presbyterum Ordinis (1) teaches:
The Lord Jesus “whom the father consecrated and sent into the world (John 10:36) makes his whole Mystical Body sharer in the anointing of the spirit wherewith he has been anointed: for in that body, all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood, they offer spiritual sacrifices through Jesus Christ, and they proclaim the virtues of him who has called them out of darkness into his admirable light. Therefore, there is no such thing as a member that has not a share in the mission of the whole body. Rather, every single member ought to reverence Jesus in his heart and by the spirit of prophecy give testimony of Jesus. However, the Lord also appointed certain men as ministers, in order that they might be united one body in which “all the members have not the same function” (Rom.12:4).These men were to hold in the community of the faithful the sacred power of Order, that of offering sacrifice and forgiving sins, and were to exercise the priestly office publicly on behalf of men in the name of Christ. Thus, Christ sent the apostles as he himself had been sent by the Father, and then through the apostles made their successor, the bishops, sharers in his consecration and mission.
A Catholic priest, therefore, is one who shares in the holy priesthood of Christ, the High Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek. St Paul has revealed to us that the absolute dependence of all creatures on the sovereignty of God imposes on man the obligation to give glory to the divine majesty. Ex Ipso et in Ipso sunt omnia: Ipso gloria in saecula.Amen(Rom.11:36). All glory to the Holy Trinity. God renders to Himself a praise that is perfect and infinite. Our praises and those of the angels add nothing to it. However, God requires of his creatures that they should associate themselves with this glorification which is a part of His intimate life. According to the divine plan, the glory which man must render to the Lord is outside the scope of natural religion; it ascends to the Holy Trinity through the priesthood of Christ, the official mediator between heaven and earth.
However, this is the splendid prerogative of the priesthood of Christ and His priests: to offer to the Holy Trinity in the name of man and of the universe, homage of praise agreeable to God. It is the privilege of this priesthood to ensure the return of creation in its entirety to the master of all things. In a nutshell, priesthood is a gift bestowed on the humanity of Jesus by the Father. Abbot Marmion revealed that as soon as the Word was made flesh, the eternal Father looked upon His Son and acknowledged Him as the one mediator between heaven and earth, a pontiff forever.
The Essence of Priesthood
The priest is the mediator who offers to God, oblations and sacrifices in the name of the people. In return, God chooses him to communicate to men His gift of graces, mercy and of pardon. The special excellence of the priesthood springs from this mediation. It is the highest and unquantifiable gift given by Christ to the Church which she receives through Episcopal succession going back to the apostles. As Sovereign Priest by His own immediate authority, Christ instituted three prodigies at the Last Supper which He bequeathed to the Church: the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, intimately united to the Mass, and the Holy Priesthood, derived from His own and destined to perpetuate till the end of time His gesture of power and mercy. Christ is Priest and Victim and He makes use of the ministry of His Priest. One can then deduce from the penultimate statement that the Catholic Priest is not just a priest but also a victim. His voluntary sacrifice of himself constitutes the perfect homage which gives glory to God, makes the Lord propitious to men, and obtains for them all the graces of eternal life.
In summary, the Catholic Priest is the Visible Representative of Christ on earth. By virtue of the Holy Orders, he acts in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ the Good Shepherd. With the sacerdotal consecration by an authentic Bishop, that is, one who is in perfect communion with the Church of Rome, the priest becomes automatically another Christ. When he is administering any of the sacraments, it is Christ doing it. No wonder St Augustine of Hippo confessed the greatness of the priesthood when he says that it is in the priest’s hand that the Messiah incarnates in. St Francis of Assisi said that if he sees a priest and an angel together, he would first, salute the priest and only then turn to an angel. Carlyle in Magnus (23) opines that no man has received a position or dignity superior to the priesthood. No one takes up this position because it a divine mandate.