What is the Priesthood?

Origin of the Priesthood

Chalice Elevation 1The priest has his origins and his power in and through Jesus Christ, the High Priest, who offers Himself as a sacrifice and is a shepherd to His flock. Priesthood in ancient times, both among God’s chosen people and among pagan religions, was intimately connected with sacrifice. the priest offered sacrifice on behalf of the people either in thanksgiving for something received or in reparation for a sin committed. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins … For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified,” (Hebrews 10:11-12). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was THE ultimate priestly act to sanctify the whole world and all of time. The night before He offered this sacrifice He sat down with His Apostles to partake in the Passover sacrifice meal. “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood,’” (Luke 22:19-20). In those words, He ordained those men to offer His once-for-all sacrifice, to participate, in an intimate way, in the sanctification of the world. “Through the ministry of the priest, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ. He is the only mediator who in the name of the whole Church is offered sacramentally in the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord Himself comes. The ministry of priests is directed to this goal and is perfected in it,” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2).

This sacrifice is not just the source and summit of our faith as Catholics but is also the source and summit of priestly ministry in and through Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” (John 10:11). Jesus passed on the pastoral care of His flock to His Apostles through Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when He invited Peter to “Feed my lambs .. Tend my sheep .. Feed my sheep,” (John 21:15,16,17). The priest, then, moving from the Eucharistic sacrifice, which deepens his conformity with Christ the head, goes out to tend the flock of Christ. “By the sacramental anointing of Holy Orders, the Holy Spirit configures (priests) in a new and spiritual way to Jesus Christ the head and shepherd, he forms and strengthens them with His pastoral charity; and he gives them an authoritative role in the Church as servants of the proclamation of the Gospel to every people and of the fullness of Christian life of all the baptized,” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 15).

What Is the Need?

Confession 2In Jesus Christ is our salvation. He dwelt among us, sacrificed Himself, and rose from the dead for our salvation. Each human person is in need and desires this salvation, consciously or not. They receive that salvation by entering into Christ through baptism and entering deeper into Him through the graces poured out of Him at the cross. Although God is not bound by man, He has chosen to pour on His beloved these graces through men who have been conformed to Christ as head and priest. “Remember what happens on the day of ordination. on that blessed morning, a young (deacon), overwhelmed by the sentiment of his own unworthiness and weakness, prostrates himself before the bishop who represent the heavenly Pontiff (Christ); he bows his head at the imposition of hands by the consecrating prelate. At this moment the Holy Spirt descends upon him and the eternal Father is able to contemplate with ineffable complacency this new priest, a living reproduction of His beloved Son: Hic est Filius meus dilectus (This is My Beloved Son). While the bishop holds his hands extended … the words of the angel addressed to the Virgin Mary are accomplished anew, ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadows thee’ (Luke 1:33). At this moment, full of mystery, the Holy Spirit takes possession of this chosen one of the Lord, and effects between Christ and him an eternal resemblance; when he rises, he is a man transformed. ‘Thou are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek,’ (Psalm 110:4).” (Bl. Columba Marmion, Christ, the Ideal of the Priest, pg. 56-57). Precisely because the world needs Christ does it need His priests.