Unveiled: The Vital Role of the Priesthood
By Fr. Daniel E. Doctor:
Holy Thursday we celebrate the institution of two of the most important sacraments; the Holy Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood. For without the Holy Eucharist we would have no priesthood and without the priesthood we would have no Holy Eucharist.
“Jesus Christ is the great High Priest who has passed through the heavens. Let us hold fast to our profession of faith. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness. But one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in the time of need.” These are the words of the Letter to the Hebrews – these are the wo
rds of faith and hope that were preached to these first followers of Christ by their priests.
This Great High Priest Jesus Christ has not left us and His Church alone but has provided for our spiritual well-being with His very self. Let us hold tightly to this teaching of the Apostles. Let us profess it with great devotion and love.
St. Paul tells us, “what I received from the Lord I also handed on to you … proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”
Our Lord was not a priest because He was begotten eternally of the Father … the Second Person of the Trinity. He was a priest because of the human nature He assumed and then offers on the Cross, as a priestly sacrifice with Himself as both the victim and as the One who offers the sacrifice. He does this out of love for us and our salvation.
Every priest is an alter Christus “another Christ” because he has a vertical relationship to Christ in heaven and a horizontal relationship to every person on earth. This then forms the cross of Christ in every priest. The priest is called by the Holy Spirit and has the responsibility, according to Church Teachings, to teach the Catholic faith. Not his own beliefs does he teach, but that of Christ, the High Priest as revealed and passed on to us in both Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
The priest is called to govern, to regulate, and to celebrate the sacraments with the same love that Christ instituted them. The priest is called to sanctify not only his own life but the lives of sinners and saints, to make holy all who come to him in their need of the Church’s Sacraments and God’s sanctifying graces. It is a very true statement that, to the point that others see Christ in His priests, depends on whether His priests act like Christ their Master …. The reason the priesthood has lost its influence in the world is because in many circumstances we, priests, don’t appear to the world as different from anyone else. It is in direct proportion in which the priest seeks what the world can give that the priest will become unable to give the world what it really needs most and that is Jesus Christ Himself.
Christ came to serve not to be served. And, through His priests He has assured that He will be able to do this here on earth until the end of time sanctifying us, teaching us, and governing us as though He had never left.
Just as the Eucharist Lord is pure gift of Himself so too is His priesthood by which the Eucharist remains with us. And what has been true is always true. God gives holy priests to holy people. So we all play our part in the kind of priests that we will have.
Through our prayers, devotions, penance, reverence, and worship of the Eucharist, by following the teachings of the faith we inspire young men to live their faith and in this way we truly ask God for good holy priests.
The Great Archbishop, Fulton Sheen said, “The search for priestly vocations begins on our knees in adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament.”
We your priests need your prayers. We need your kind words of support, too. Three out of every four seminarians indicated that their mothers were a major inspiration in the development of their vocation, a major inspiration! We need to be good Catholic mothers and fathers who influence their children with more than just material successes.
Every priest realizes some time in his priesthood the words of Jesus, “You have not chosen me; but I have chosen you.” And, He has chosen His priests to go out and bear much fruit to offer the
Church’s Sacraments and to offer Her sacrifices for the salvation of souls; to absolve sinners from sin and to cast out evil; to lead sinners to Christ and in Him find salvation and peace for their souls; to preach and teach a Gospel that is firm, truthful and counter cultural that “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”
Priests are meant to be instruments in the hands of Jesus Christ for the education, sanctification, and salvation of souls. For it is in the Consecration and Elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ at every Mass that the priest exercises fully the power of his priesthood.
Bishop Fulton Sheen continued, “Every woe, every wound in the world is ours as priests … every soul is either a potential convert or a potential saint. No priest is his own he belongs to Christ, to the Church, to his people.” There is a dangerous tendency among many of us in these modern times to divorce Christ from His priests.
But we must remember it is the priest’s unity with Christ’s death, His sacrifice on the cross, that gives all the sacraments their power. It is from the very side of our Savior that the Church and all her sacraments were born, including the priests who serve you.
St. Catherine of Siena taught that contained in the Sacred Heart of Jesus before His death was the Church, all of us, and His Sacraments. When His side was pierced so was His Sacred Heart, and flowing out from His wounded Heart came His bride, the Church, and all of us as her children. In one instant, “all we need was provided for us by so great a redeemer.”
But Christ’s lifeless body was dead on the cross Who would now bring these sacraments that He borne for us by His suffering and death? Who would go out in loving service to bring these sacramental graces to the world? to those in need of His grace, His healing?? Who would go out to all the world and provide these sacraments of Christ for His Bride?
“Do this in memory of me” has echoed through the centuries. Do these mystical things that Christ did that bring us life. Jesus says in the Holy Thursday’s Gospel, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” With these words the apostles were ordained His first priests, given the task of completing the work He started. A life of administering the sacraments, a life of preaching His Gospel, a life of being the new ministers of this new covenant. His Bishop’s/His Priest’s chosen to lead, to govern, to ordain to make holy all those who will come to them through the sacraments, He gave us, to give us this holy and abundant Life.
This is the vocation of every priest who is ordained by a bishop who follows in the apostolic linage back to Christ Jesus Himself that on this night, Christ being “fully aware” as the gospel tells us. He instituted the sacraments of the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist so that His sacramental graces would continue to flow from His side through His Church, first and foremost, for our for sanctification and resulting in the final act of our salvation.
This is what we celebrate on this holy of nights this is our faith as Catholics. That the night before He died; He left us two of His greatest gifts; Himself in the Blessed Sacrament and His sacred and royal priesthood to continue this unbloody sacrifice of the Mass in remembrance of Him for the remission of sins until He comes again in glory.