An Ordinary Viewpoint

Some Thoughts For A Special Year - I

On next June 11th, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we will celebrate the conclusion of the special Year for Priests (Year of the Priest), which was proclaimed by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. It is always appropriate at this time of the year to reflect prayerfully once again on the priesthood of Jesus Christ, when ordinations to the transitional diaconate and to the priesthood will be taking place in our Cathedral of the Risen Christ. On Saturday morning, May 22nd, deacons of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) will be ordained priests there, using the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite in the Latin language. On Friday evening, May 28th, three of our seminarians (who are destined to be ordained priests for our Diocese of Lincoln next year) will be ordained as transitional deacons, using the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, and then on Saturday morning, May 29th, four present deacons from our Diocese will be ordained as new priests for the Diocese of Lincoln, also in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Of course, all the faithful are invited and urged to pray for the ordinands, and as many as find it possible are also urged and cordially invited to attend and participate in the ordination liturgies. On Thursday evening, next May 27th, there will be a Holy Hour of Prayer for our diocesan ordinands at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church at the Newman Center on the UNL Campus, to which all are invited as well.

The old ordination ritual has an ancient exhortation for all the faithful in this regard, reminding them that not only the captain and crew of a ship must be concerned about the safety of a vessel, but all the passengers as well need to be involved in this concern. This applies certainly to the Bark of Peter, especially in these days, when the privileged participation in the one and only priesthood of the New Testament, the priesthood of Jesus Christ, is under severe attack from both inside and outside the Church and when there is such Judas-like betrayal of our Lord even from some (although fortunately a very few) of His present day disciples.

This should not be too surprising to us. As Pope Pius XI expressed it, “A tribute to the priesthood is given by the enemies of the Church. They show that they fully appreciate the dignity and importance of the Catholic priesthood, by directing against it their first and fiercest blows, since they know full well how close is the tie that binds the Church to her priests. The most rabid enemies of the Catholic priesthood today are the very enemies of God Himself, a homage indeed to the priesthood, showing it all the more worthy of honor and veneration.” Saint Anthony of Padua preached about the need to pray for priests, since the devils tempt them more ferociously and continually than they do the laity, because the powers of hell know that when they conquer a priest, they take many more souls into hell with him. Jesus said to His first priests, “It is because you do not belong to the world, because I singled you out from the world, that the world hates you. If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me before you” (John 15:18-20).

From Christ

A call to the priesthood and the bestowal of its authority and power come from Christ. The Catholic community has a duty to pray for vocations to the priesthood (Matthew 9:38), and to urge and suggest to appropriate young men that they might consider whether Christ might be inviting them to share in His priesthood. However, the call itself does not come from the community but from Christ Himself. Granted that a priest represents the community before God, he nevertheless cannot undertake that task before first of all representing the divine Person of Christ. Pope Pius XII said: “Only to the Apostles and therefore to those on whom their successors have imposed hands is granted the power of the priesthood, in virtue of which they represent the Person of Jesus Christ before their people, acting at the same time as representatives of their people before God. It (the priesthood) does not emanate from the Christian community. It is not a delegation from the people. Prior to acting as a representative of the community before the throne of God, the priest is an ambassador of the divine Redeemer.”

Pope Benedict XVI says, “No man can dare to take to himself the “I” and the “my” of Jesus Christ ( Hebrews 5:4; Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Yet, those words must be said if the saving mystery is not to remain something in the distant past. So authority to pronounce them is needed, an authority which no one can assume and which no congregation, nor even many congregations together, can confer. Only Jesus Christ Himself, in the sacramental form He has committed to the whole Church can give this authority.”

An internal vocation to the priesthood, a perception that Christ is summoning a man to be a priest, which is examined and prayed about and is the object of spiritual counseling and advice over a suitable number of years, only becomes genuine, certain, and authentic, when, on the day of ordination itself, the Bishop externalizes that previously internal vocation and authenticates it in the name of the Church, saying in the ritual: “I chose this man (these men) for the order of priesthood.” The Council of Trent teaches that only those can be sure they are called to the priesthood by Christ who are called by the Bishops of the Church.”

Twofold Power

The Second Vatican Council teaches, “By sacred ordination and by the mission they receive from their Bishops, priests are promoted to the service of Christ, the Teacher, Priest, and King. They share in His ministry of unceasingly building up the Church on earth into the People of God, the Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” Priests are called upon to undertake this lifelong work in many and various ways. However, the principal exercise of their priesthood consists in two overwhelmingly awesome and supernatural powers: first, to confect the Holy Eucharist, making present under the species of bread and wine the dying and rising of Jesus, His one, enduring and eternally redeeming sacrifice (“Do this in memory of Me”), and His true and substantial presence; and second, to transmit to human and contrite souls the pardon and forgiveness of sins that our Savior obtained for our world on His cross (“Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven and whose sins you shall retain are retained”).

Also, the Second Vatican Council says, “Bishops legitimately handed on to different members of the Church various degrees of participation in their ministry. Thus the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different ranks by those who from the earliest times have been called Bishops, priests, and deacons. Although priests do not possess the highest degree of the priesthood and depend upon the Bishops in the exercise of their power, they are nevertheless united with the Bishops in sacerdotal dignity.”

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