In a climate of secular hostility toward faith in general and the Catholic Church in particular, it is worth calling to mind the need we have for priests, a need that is built into the very fabric of who we are as Catholics. Holy Thursday is the day in which the Church celebrates, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the institution of the sacred priesthood. Today we thank God for the priesthood—and for the good priests who have served us so faithfully!
The institution of the priesthood is intrinsically tied to God’s covenant of love for sinful man. This covenant was so perfectly ratified at the Last Supper and consummated by Christ’s Blood on the Cross that it is called the “new and eternal covenant” of the Eucharist which will never pass away. So great is this expression of God’s love that Padre Pio said, “It would be easier for the world to exist without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Another holy priest, St. John Vianney, said that if we really knew the value of the Mass we would die!
Christ Jesus offered the new covenant on Calvary as the High Priest of our faith, but He also gave men a share in the gift of His priesthood so that the covenant sacrifice could be renewed until the end of time. It is the ministerial priesthood that allows this perfect sacrifice to penetrate the lives of God’s people even on a daily basis. When the priest holds the sacred Host high, he does so in the person of Christ (in persona Christi), not in his own person or name. The priest may be an imperfect man and a sinner, but, thankfully, it is not by his own authority that he serves people! It is Christ who offers the Sacrifice in him. It is Christ who prays for the world with him. It is Christ who ministers to others through him. The priest is spiritually Christ’s younger brother, set apart and consecrated for this indispensable work of bringing the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity to the world as no one else can. Without the priest, the Sacrifice does not reach us.
I remember well the day that my favorite priest took me aside and asked me to consider a vocation to the priesthood. It was at my eighth grade graduation, I was fourteen, I was awed beyond belief, and I don’t even remember the words he used to sow that seed within me. I only remember the effect of suddenly being brought face to face with a wonderful mystery, and from that moment on, my life has never been the same. It was as if he reached into the bonfire of his priestly heart and brought out an ember to plant in my very tiny heart, a spiritual dynamism of love that God would later consecrate for service to His people. I only pray that I will persevere in fidelity to that great gift which I am sure can literally transform the world when it is lived heroically.
The Letter to the Hebrews says of Christ, “Thou are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” and the Church has always applied this to all priests. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is an eternal gift which ministers the everlasting Eucharistic love of Christ to the world—and apparently even to the members of the Church Triumphant in heaven too. What a marvelous gift!
On this holy day, let us pray not only for the priests that God has given to His Church, but for a renewal of the priesthood and an abundance of good, holy priestly vocations. May many young men hear that call to serve God’s people through the Church and be willing to plunge their lives into that purifying fire that only the priest’s anointed hands can bring to the world.
Hat tip to Brendan for this article