An Ordinary Viewpoint

Holy Orders - 2012 - II

Solemn Words

Many recent Popes and various important magisterial documents have commented about the Catholic priesthood, emphasizing how, in the New Testament, there is only one authentic priesthood, that of the High Priest, Jesus Christ. All priesthood in the New Covenant is participatory, that is, it is always a privileged share in the one priesthood of Christ, Who is the only Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). No one can go to God, that is, get to heaven, except through Him (John 14:6).

The Venerable Servant of God, Pope Pius XII, wrote, "As our predecessors have taught, especially Pope Saint Pius X and Pope Pius XI....the priesthood is a great gift of the divine Redeemer, Who, in order to perpetuate the work of the redemption of the human race which He completed on His cross, confided His powers to the Church which He wished to be a participator in His unique and everlasting priesthood. The priest is like ‘another Christ’ because he is marked with an indelible character making him, as it were, a living image of our Savior. The priest represents Christ Who said, ‘As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you’ and ‘He who hears you hears Me’ (John 22:21; Luke 10:16). Admitted to this most sublime ministry by a call from heaven, the priest ‘is appointed for men in the things that pertain to God that he may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins’ (Hebrews 5:1). To the priest must come anyone who wishes to live the life of the divine Redeemer and who desires to receive strength, comfort, and nourishment for his soul. From the priest the salutary medicine must be sought by anyone who wishes to rise from sin and lead a good life. Hence, all priests may apply to themselves with full right the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, ‘We are God’s helpers’ (1 Corinthians 3:9)".

Our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, says, "The priest, for the Church and in the Church, is a humble but real sign of the one eternal Priest, Who is Jesus. The priest then has the duty to proclaim His word authoritatively, renew His acts of pardon and offering, and show His loving concern in the service of His flock, doing this in full communion with the Bishops and faithfully docile to the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. The mystery of the priesthood in the Catholic Church lies in the fact that miserable human beings, by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, can speak with the ‘I’ of Jesus, acting in the very Person of Christ, Who wishes to exercise His priesthood through them. The priest receives his name and his very identity from Christ. Everything he does is done in His name. The priest’s ‘I’ becomes totally relative to the ‘I’ of Jesus. Therefore, the priesthood is indispensable because by means of the Holy Eucharist, which originates in God, the Catholic Church is built. In the Sacrament of Penance purification is conferred. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, therefore, the priesthood is precisely an involvement in the ‘salvation intended and offered for all’ of Jesus Christ."


Saint Ambrose said, "Nothing in the world can surpass the dignity of the priesthood. It exceeds that of kings as gold surpasses the worth of lead. The reason is because the power of kings extends only to temporal goods and to the bodies of men, but the power of the priest extends to spiritual goods and to the human soul. Hence, as much as the soul is more noble than the body, so much is the priesthood more excellent than royalty." Saint Bernard of Clairevaux agreed, saying, "The priesthood exceeds all the dignities of kings, emperors, and even angels."

Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote, "You must consider your priests as the dispensers of divine graces and as the associates of God Himself." Saint Prosper said, "Priests are the glory and the immoveable columns of the Church. They are the gates to the eternal city, through which one is able to reach Christ. They are the vigilant guardians to whom the Lord has entrusted the custody of the keys of His kingdom of heaven. They are the stewards of the house of the divine King, Who assigns to each, according to His good pleasure, a place in His hierarchy." Saint Laurence Justinian wrote, "A few words fall from the lips of a priest and the Body of Christ is there substantially under the form of bread, and the Incarnate Word descends from heaven and is really present on the table of the altar. Never did the divine Goodness give such power to angels. The angels abide by the order of God, but the priests take Him into their hands, distribute Him to the faithful, and partake of Him as Food for themselves."

Saint Alphonsus Liguori said, "Priests truly have power over the actual Body of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist, but they also are given, in their ministry of the Sacrament of Penance, power over the Mystical Body of Christ. They have the power of the keys, that is, the power of delivering sinners from the danger of hell and of making them worthy of paradise, of changing them from slaves of Satan into being once more the children of God."

Saint John Chrysostom says of this priestly action, "The sovereign Master of the universe in this only follows His servant-priest by confirming in heaven what the servant decides on earth (John 20:23), in regard to forgiving or retaining sins."


The Second Vatican Council clearly intended all its work to be seen in the perspective of what is called the "hermeneutic of continuity’, that is, it explicitly stated many times in its documents that it had no intention or desire of overturning nor repudiating what the previous twenty ecumenical councils in the Catholic Church’s history had proclaimed, particularly stating its intention to accept and build upon what had been stated in the First Vatican Council and in the Council of Trent. Because of the denial by Luther and the Protestants of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the Council of Trent treated Holy Orders extensively, especially in its twenty-third session (1545-1563 A.D.), so it serves a good purpose to know something of what the Council of Trent taught in order to understand better the teaching about the priesthood of the Second Vatican Council.

The Council of Trent says, for instance, "In conformity with God’s decree, sacrifice and priesthood are so related that both exist in all divine law. Therefore, in the New Testament, since the Catholic Church has received the holy and visible sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist according to the institution of the Lord, it is likewise necessary to acknowledge that there is in the Church a new, visible, and external priesthood into which the Old Testament priesthood was transformed (Hebrews 7:12). Moreover, Sacred Scripture makes it clear and the Tradition of the Catholic Church has always taught that this priesthood was instituted by the same Lord and Savior, and that the power of consecrating, offering, and administering the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Mass, and likewise the power of remitting and of retaining sins, was given to the Apostles and to their successors in the priesthood."

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