An Ordinary Viewpoint

Bishops & Priests - IV

Doctrinal Preface

The liturgical Preface for the Chrism Mass, which is also used for the Mass for the Ordination to the Priesthood in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, contains a beautiful doctrinal summary of the theology of the Catholic priesthood. Addressing God the Father, the text says: "By Your Holy Spirit You anointed Your only Son (to be) High Priest of the New and Eternal Covenant. With wisdom and love You have planned that this one priesthood should continue in the Church (Hebrews 10:14). Christ gives the dignity of a royal priesthood to the people He has made His own (1 Peter 2:5-9; Revelation 1:6 & 5:9-10). From these, with a brother’s love, He chooses men to share His sacred ministry by the laying on of hands. He appoints them to renew in His name the sacrifice of our redemption as they set before Your family His paschal meal. He calls them to lead Your holy people in love, nourish them by Your word, and strengthen them through the sacraments. Father, they are to give their lives in Your service and for the salvation of Your people as they strive to grow in the likeness of Christ and honor You by their courageous witness of faith and love."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, quoting Saint Thomas Aquinas, "Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only His ministers. Christ is the Source of all priesthood. The priest of the Old Law was a figure of Christ. The priest of the New Law acts in the Person of Christ." The Catechism goes on to paraphrase the words of the Second Vatican Council: "The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of Bishops and priests and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ. While being ordered one to another, they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace, a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit, the ministerial priesthood, on the other hand, is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial (ordained) priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads His Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the Sacrament of Holy Orders." The Second Vatican Council says, "Through the ordained ministry, especially that of Bishops and priests, the presence of Christ as Head of the Church is made visible in the midst of the community of believers."

The Catechism points out, "...Christ Jesus is the one Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). Christian Tradition considers Melchizedek, priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 5:10 & 6:20), as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, holy, blameless, unstained (Hebrews 7:26), Who by a single offering has perfected for all time those who are sanctified , that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross."

The Church

Pope Benedict XVI remarks, "Since the priesthood is rooted in Christ, it is by its nature rooted in the Church and exists for the Church. Indeed, the Christian faith is not something purely spiritual and internal, nor is our relationship with Christ exclusively subjective and private. Rather, it is a completely concrete and ecclesial relationship."

The Catechism explains this further: "The ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ, the Head of the Church, before the assembly of the faithful, but also of acting in the name of the whole Church when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and, above all, when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice. The phrase ‘in the name of the whole Church’, however, does not mean that priests are delegates of the community. The prayer and offering of the Church are inseparable from the prayer and offering of Christ, her Head. It is always the case that Christ worships in and through His Church. The whole Church, the Body of Christ, prays and offers herself ‘through Him, with Him, and in Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit’ to God the Father. The whole Body, Head and members, prays and offers herself, and therefore those who are in the Body are especially His ministers, called ministers not only of Christ but also of the Church. It is only because the ministerial priesthood represents Christ that it can represent the Church."

The Council of Trent in the 16th century, refuting some of Martin Luther’s heresies, stated clearly the perennial doctrine of the Catholic Church: "This sacred Council declares that in the ordination of Bishops and of priests the consent, the call, or the authority neither of the people nor of any secular power or public authority is necessary to the extent that without it the ordination is invalid. Rather, it decrees that all those who have been called and appointed merely by the people or by a secular ruler, and who thus undertake to exercise these ministries, and that those who arrogate these ministries to themselves on their own authority are not ministers of the Church, but should be considered thieves and robbers who have not entered through the door (John 10:1)." The Council declared, "Only those men who are called by the legitimate Pastors of the Church may consider themselves truly called by Christ to His priesthood."


However, this does not mean that the people in the Church, including the laity as well as all the clergy and religious, should not concern themselves about who and how many are called to Holy Orders. The Second Vatican Council declares, for instance, "The task of fostering vocations to the priesthood devolves upon the whole Christian community..."

At the beginning of the Bishop’s exhortation before ordination to the priesthood in the old rite (still being used in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite), the Bishop says: "Dearly beloved brethren, the captain of a ship as well as the passengers are in the same condition as to the safety or danger of the vessel. Their cause is common. Therefore, they ought to be of the same mind. Indeed, not without reason did the Fathers of the Church ordain that in the election of those who were to be employed in the service of the altar, the people also should be consulted. For it happens here or there that as to the life and conduct of a candidate a few know what is unknown to the majority. Necessarily also people will render obedience more readily to the ordained if they have consented to his ordination. Now, with the help of the Lord, these deacons are to be ordained priests. As far as I can judge, their lives have been of approved goodness and pleasing to God, and in my opinion merit for them promotion to a higher ecclesiastical honor. However, lest one or a few be mistaken in their judgment or deceived by affection, we must hear the opinion of many. Therefore, whatever you may know about their lives or character, whatever you think of their worthiness, freely make it known... If anyone has anything against them, before God and for the sake of God, let him confidently come forward and speak, but let him be mindful of his own condition."

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