The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government official
– Pope Francis
In spite of the attacks the Church has had from within and without, the world has been blessed by the Church through the services of her members.
A priest is called and set apart to offer sacrifice to God on behalf of himself and the people. Priesthood is an indispensable foundation of Christianity. The Church can exist without priesthood if a tree can grow without root.
Kurien Kunnumpuram, SJ, paints a portrait of a priest:
The priest is a man with a mission. Like Jesus, he has been sent by God to his fellow humans. It is this mission that gives meaning to his thoughts and imparts direction to his activities. The priest realizes that he is a man for others. His destiny is to be at the service of God for the realization of God’s dreams for humankind and the world. The priest is called to be a channel of God’s love to his brothers and sisters. Like Jesus, he accepts all humans – the saint and the sinner, the rich and the poor, the intelligent and the foolish. By loving them he affirms their lovableness. By respecting them he gives them a sense of their worth. He is ever eager to perceive and point out the good in others. Thus he builds up persons.
The priest is a community builder. His mission is to gather together the scattered children of God through the ministry of the word and sacraments. He has to demonstrate, by his words and actions, nay by his very life, that sinful, selfish human beings can really love one another, that they can build true communities which promote the growth and happiness of all…
The priest is a sign of hope. By his life of simplicity and joyful sharing of the goods of this world, he bears witness to the vocation of the human person to be totally independent of all created things. By his selflessness and unconditional love, he heralds the advent of a world built on love. By his total availability to God and humans, he points to the possibility of complete freedom from one’s own selfishness. His whole life is thus a constant reminder to us that our ultimate destiny lies, beyond this world, in God.1
Priests over centuries have not only carried out works in the Church, they have also contributed to secular civilization.
If religion in general is the mother of all culture, Christianity must be acknowledged as the source, measure, and nursery of all true civilization. The Church, the oldest and the most successful teacher of mankind, has in each century done pioneer service in all departments of culture. Through her organs, the priests and especially the members of the religious orders, she carried the light of Faith to all lands, banished the darkness of paganism, and with the Gospel brought blessings of Christian morality and education. What would have become of the countries about the Mediterranean during the epoch of the migration of the nations if the popes, bishops, and clergy had not tamed the German hordes, converted them from Arianism to Catholicism, and out of barbarism evolved order? What Ireland owes to St. Patrick, England owes to St. Augustine, who, sent by pope Gregory the Great, brought not only the Gospel, but also a higher morality and culture. While the light of Christianity thus burned brightly in Ireland and Britain, part of Germany was still shrouded in the darkness of paganism. Bands of missionaries from the islands of Saints now brought to the continent the message of salvation and established new centres of culture. Charlemagne’s great work of uniting all the German tribes into an empire was only the glorious fruit of the seed sown by St. Boniface of Certon on German soil and watered with the blood of the martyrs. The Church of the Middle Ages, having now attained to power, continued through her priests to propagate the Gospel in pagan lands. It was missionaries who first brought to Europe news of the existence of China…
As to the relief of the poor and sick, a single priest, St. Vincent de Paul, achieved more in all the branches of this work than many cities and states combined…It may however be noted that the famous school of Salerno, the first and most renowned, and for many centuries the only medical faculty in Europe, was founded by the Benedictines, who here laboured partly as practitioners of medicine, and partly to furnish a supply of skilled physicians for all Europe. Of recent pioneers in the domain of charity and social work may be mentioned the Irish “Apostle of Temperance,” Father Theobald Matthew and the German “Father of Journeymen,” Kolping.2
The priesthood which the Catholic Church is blessed with traces its origin to Jesus Christ. The old covenant required the ritual of offering animal sacrifices but in the New Covenant, Jesus offers himself as the true and perfect sacrifice. By his ordination the priest is authorized to offer this sacrifice for sins of man. He is the minister of divine worship in which the sacrifice, the highest act of worship takes place. There is hardly any religion without an element of sacrifice. Every worship entails sacrifice. We may clap, sing, and dance in church but we cannot call these worship.
Priesthood has two degrees. The first is total and complete while the second is an incomplete participation in the first. The first belongs to the bishop who is truly a priest. The second belongs to the priest who by his priestly ordination has been invested with powers. The priest has the power to celebrate the Eucharist (that is offer sacrifice), to sanctify, to preach, to forgive sins, and to bless. He is however subject to the authority of the bishop to whom he has promised obedience.
This write-up continues in the next post.
- Kurien Kunnumpuram, SJ, 2012, Called to Serve, St. Pauls, Mumbai, pp. 63-65.
- New Advent, Priesthood, www.newadvent.org/cathen/12409a.htm, Accessed March 16, 2016.