The Clergy Series II

This is a continuation of the last post with the same title but II.

Priest Celebrating Mass

The powers of a priest make him distinctive.

No one but a priest can change bread and wine into the living Christ. At his words of consecration, what had been bread and wine cease to be bread and wine, so that only the appearances remain. What becomes present is Jesus, the Son of God who becomes the Son of Mary, now on earth in all the fullness of His divinity and humanity, and with all the qualities that make Jesus Christ who He is.

No one but a priest can offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in which the same Jesus who surrendered Himself on Calvary now offers Himself in the Mass, through the hands of His priest.

No one but a priest can absolve sinners and restore them to friendship with the Creator whom they have offended.3

The bishop appoints priests to represent him at parishes. Those appointed are called parish priests and they are helped by those we refer to as assistant or associate priests. The catholic priest is either a diocesan priest or a religious priest. The diocesan priest makes a promise of obedience to the local bishop. He also makes a promise of celibacy. The religious priests belong to a particular order which includes the Augustinians, Dominicans, Jesuits, and others. They take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

When a man receives Holy Orders, he is configured to Christ, which means that when he carries out his ministerial work he is acting in the power of Christ, and not in his own power. We call this a special grace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could be described as God’s power, energy and wisdom. In the most profound way possible, ordination creates a new man, one who, if living his vocation (calling) faithfully, can say with St. Paul: ‘It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20). He is changed not because of what he can do, but because of what he has become. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes Holy Orders as ‘The sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time…’ (CCC 1536)…

The priest, therefore, living in the midst of the people, is called to teach, sanctify, and lead through service. He is called to serve others and will be involved in many various circumstances of life. The priestly ministry is as varied as those men who are called to live this way of life. No two parishes are the same and other ministries such as university and military chaplaincies are often undertaken by diocesan priests. Like Christian marriage, the sacrament of Holy Orders also provides a special grace (help from God) to enable the priest to carry out his vocation faithfully and successfully.4

The priest serves in the place of Christ. His celibacy configures him to Christ who was not married. Having consecrated himself to Christ, he devotes himself to the service of the Church. The celibacy of a priest is not a natural call but a supernatural one. In a hyper sexualized society like ours, celibacy is not easy to live and the society does not comprehend it. Celibacy is a supernatural call but when the priest gets lonely and disillusioned, the natural call can re-assert itself strongly. Living the supernatural call is only possible by supernatural means. A deep relationship with Christ helps in this regard.

The desire to have a spouse or be a father does not have to be absent in a young man who wants to be a priest. On the contrary, they are necessary. A priest is married to the Church and he is called a Reverend Father because he is a spiritual father to God’s children. The responsibilities of a priest as a spouse and a father are not totally absent; he lives them out in a fairly different way from the rest of the lay faithful.

By baptism, the lay faithful belongs to the priesthood of Christ. This is different and even subordinate to the ordained ministerial priesthood. There is a point during the Mass when the priest asks the lay faithful to pray by saying, “Pray, my brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.” The faithful respond with a prayer. Because they share in Christ’s priesthood, they are able to offer, together with the priest, the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ to his heavenly father. The letter to the Hebrews in the bible is one to be reflected upon concerning Christ’s priesthood and our share in that priesthood.

No man is worthy of the office of the ordained priesthood by himself but God calls. He calls whomever he chooses and qualifies the person.  When God calls, he waits for a response. As with the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary before she conceived Jesus, God respects our freedom and does not force us to do his will. The call to priesthood requires a response, an acceptance by the one who is called.  The word ‘vocation’ comes from a Latin word, vocare, which means ‘to call’. We read in the bible how Christ called the twelve apostles who were to be sent out to proclaim the gospel.

The Church understands that the call from Christ should be the primary motive for seeking ordination to the priesthood. Sadly, it is a historical reality that some men have been ordained for other motives which sometimes proved to be harmful to the faithful. This is why Christ’s call must be discerned, or rather co-discerned, by the candidate and by those who represent the Church. It has been possible and still is to pursue priesthood for the wrong reasons. A cousin of mine wanted to go for priesthood because of the material gains. He saw priests as men who have become “successful” hence he wanted to be just as “successful” as they are.

This write-up continues in the next post.

Notes

  1. John A. Hardon, S.J, What is a Catholic Priest?, The Real Presence Association, www.therealpresence.org/archives/Priesthood/Priesthood_019.htm, Accessed March 17, 2016.
  2. Brooklynpriests.org, Is God Calling Me?, www.brooklynpriests.org/discerningsigns.html, Accesed April 8, 2016

Godwin Nwaokike is the author of Growing Through Life and Live The Mission.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 + two =