During his homily on the feast of the Sacred Heart that marked the end of the year for priests, June 11, 2010; Pope Benedith XVI clarifies that the Priest is not a mere office holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions … The priesthood then, is not simply “office” but sacrament. He further stated “God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf”. One of the beautiful sayings of Saint John Mary Vianney cited in the CCC 1589 is “The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. “O wonderful dignity of the priests” exclaimed St. Augustine, “in their hands, as in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, the son of God becomes incarnate”. Thus, the grandeur, dignity and beauty of the priesthood rests upon the primordial, intrinsic, unique and dynamic bond between the priest and the Eucharist. In a very real sense, the Eucharist is the priesthood’s reason for being, the centre and root of the whole priestly life. The priesthood derives from and exists for the Eucharist. Hence we can say that there cannot be Eucharist without the priest. No wonder priestly ordination must be done in the context of Eucharistic ordination. Through his ordination, the priest is configured to Christ, the eternal High Priest and to represent officially the priestly person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:20–25). Ordination therefore is not employment, it is consecration. He dispenses the grace of God and lives a life that corresponds to total fidelity to God and solidarity with human beings.
It is against this backdrop that we can realize that God who alone is holy and who alone bestows holiness, willed to take as his companions and helpers, men who would humbly dedicate themselves to the work of sanctification. This is the origin of the priesthood. It is one of God’s greatest gift to the Church. The priest is a representative of who is Christ, the source of all priesthood by his unique sacrifice of the cross. According to CCC: 548, the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ. The letter to the Hebrews teaches us; “Every high priest is taken from among human beings and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationships with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can sympathize with those who are ignorant or who have gone astray, because he too is subject to the limitations of weakness. That is why he has to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honour on himself; it needs a call from God, as in Aaron’s case” ( Heb. 5:1–4).
Meanwhile, Jesus Christ associates the priest with his own mission. That is why he maintains “You did not choose me, no it was I who chose you to go and bear much fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn. 15:16). And in another section of the same gospel of John, he furthers “As the father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). That is to say, only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers” (CCC 1545).
Lending credence to the above words of Christ, the High Priest, we can deduce reflectively that Priesthood is a response to a very concrete call, a vocation, not merely a profession or career, a redefinition of self, not just a ministry because one is especially good at it; a way of life, not a question of job in which someone secures his own livelihood by his own abilities, perhaps to rise to something better; a state of being, not a function; a permanent life long commitment, not a temporary style of service; an identity not a role.
What the Church tells us about this ministry shall be discussed in next edition. God bless us all!