Continued from last week…
If I understand correctly you are contemplating the diocesan priesthood. Perhaps I should start by defining what you are thinking of becoming. First you are thinking about being a priest. Priest is a very problematic word. You will get a lot of grief in this ecumenical world about the priesthood. People will quote the letter to the Hebrews saying that Christ is the great high priest and we have no more need of priests. They will doubtless quote the first letter of St. Peter, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1Peter 3:18) No more priests, no more sacrifices. It’s in the Bible.
So why are you claiming to be a priest?
These folks never took my Greek class. If they had, they would know that the English word “priest” (or German/Pruester, French/Prete, Italian/Preti,) are all derived from the Greek word, “presbyteros” which means elder. There is another Greek word “hiereus” that means sacrificer.
You see the problem here? We are dealing with two completely different Greek words here; presbyteros (elder) and hiereus (sacrificer) and these two completely different Greek words are translated into English by the same exact word – “priest.” If you are called to the altar, the bishop will lay his hands on your head and ordain you to the priesthood (sacrificerhood) of Christ in the order of presbyter (elder). You will be ordained an elder who offers true sacrifice. All Christians participate in the sacrificer-hood (priesthood) of Christ by virtue of their baptism. You were anointed “priest (sacrificer), prophet and king” when you were baptized.
“So, what’s this priesthood thing if I was already baptized and anointed as priest?”
You will preside at the one, timeless sacrifice of Calvary when the bishop can’t be there. The bishop is the head elder as well as the head deacon (a word which means table water in Greek.) This may seem complicated and pointless, but if you’ve read anything I’ve ever written you’ve come to expect that. It’s not quite as pointless as it seems. Back to those ecumenical types who never studied classical language. They are quite correct in saying that Jesus is the only high sacrificer. You and I are members of His body the church. If He is a sacrificer then so are we. We are one body with Christ and the bishop, Christ’s vicar (a Latin word for “stand-in”) is the head and the stand in for Christ at Christ’s sacrifice. In the parish you are the bishop’s stand in, and so, you are a true sacrificer offering a true sacrifice.
Why should we offer sacrifice at all if Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice on Calvary? St. Paul says, “I make up in my own flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Col 1:24) What could possibly be lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Nothing, expect my participation. There is a beautiful prayer that I recommend to you:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the redemption of the world, for the good of all who have asked me to pray for them and in particular for the bishops and for our Holy Father, the Pope. Amen.
I love this prayer. I try to say it every morning, usually as I slink back into the rectory after Mass, waiting to hear about the “disaster-du-jour.” The morning offering is all about our calling as baptized people to be priestly (by this I mean sacrificial.) You, the presbyter will make it possible for every baptized person to climb the steps of Calvary and to stand at the foot of the cross with Mary, our Blessed Mother, where we can offer ourselves with Him who so loved the world.
That’s what the priesthood is primarily about, the presbyterate, the elderhood whatever you want to call it. Our first purpose is to extend the one sacrifice of Calvary to every corner of time and space. We are the first to climb Calvary with Christ. We are the elders of a priestly people, a sacrificial people. We are the first to give our lives. We wear the strange ancient roman clothing and we are the first to drink from the cup of Calvary because we have been called to be the first to offer our lives and, if need be, our deaths for the Bride He so loves.
Next week: Okay, Priest – but Elder? I’m barely in my twenties.