In the previous post I explained Catholic doctrine that all of the faithful comprise the “baptismal” or “common priesthood.” Now I will start to explain the “ministerial priesthood” of the Catholic Church.
The first thing that one must understand is that “priest” is not a fancy or exclusive word for “preacher.” When someone outside of the Catholic Church (or churches that retain the shared understanding of the priesthood) is conducting a praise and worship service, they are not “priests” by a different name. A priest is a person who is consecrated to God and who conducts sacrifice to God. Thus the second thing that you must understand is that the Catholic priests is a result of the merged faith understanding of that function from first of all the ancient priests of Israel and second the initiation of the Christian priesthood by Jesus Christ himself, first priest. Rather than explain this more, I will use the rest of this post to just cite explanatory passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The priesthood of the Old Covenant
1539 The chosen people was constituted by God as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But within the people of Israel, God chose one of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, and set it apart for liturgical service; God himself is its inheritance. A special rite consecrated the beginnings of the priesthood of the Old Covenant. The priests are “appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”
1540 Instituted to proclaim the Word of God and to restore communion with God by sacrifices and prayer, this priesthood nevertheless remains powerless to bring about salvation, needing to repeat its sacrifices ceaselessly and being unable to achieve a definitive sanctification, which only the sacrifice of Christ would accomplish.
1541 The liturgy of the Church, however, sees in the priesthood of Aaron and the service of the Levites, as in the institution of the seventy elders, a prefiguring of the ordained ministry of the New Covenant…
1544 Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the “one mediator between God and men.” The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High,” as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique “high priest after the order of Melchizedek”; “holy, blameless, unstained,” “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified,” that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross.
[If you want to find the Biblical reference of Melchizedek read Genesis 14:18-20. Melchizedek was “the priest of the Most High God” who blessed Abraham, when he was still named Abram. After that blessing it is then that God appears to Abram to encourage and direct him, and to promise him the multiplying of his seed like stars (fathering the divine faiths). Further, in Psalm 110:4 King David recalls Melchizedek by name as the role model of all priests. Thus, St. Paul in his Letter to the Hebrews 7:1-13 like King David cites Melchizedek as the role model of the office of the priesthood and links Jesus Christ as priest to Melchizedek Hebrews 7:14-28 and also in Hebrews 5:1-10.]
1545 The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ’s priesthood: “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.”
[The Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist is, as I’ve explained in the first post in this series, the invitation to be at the table of Jesus Christ as in the Last Supper in his physical presence. It is not, as some extremists falsely accuse, denying that Jesus Christ is the only priest and further that he was sacrificed once for all. Catholics are not “redoing” Christ’s sacrifice over and over; Catholics offer the daily ability to attend the first, only and for all sacrifice in the form of attending Jesus Christ at his table.]
1548 In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis…
1551 This priesthood is ministerial. “That office … which the Lord committed to the pastors of his people, is in the strict sense of the term a service.” It is entirely related to Christ and to men. It depends entirely on Christ and on his unique priesthood; it has been instituted for the good of men and the communion of the Church. The sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a “sacred power” which is none other than that of Christ. The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all. “The Lord said clearly that concern for his flock was proof of love for him.”
1552 The ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ-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.”
1555 “Among those various offices which have been exercised in the Church from the earliest times the chief place, according to the witness of tradition, is held by the function of those who, through their appointment to the dignity and responsibility of bishop, and in virtue consequently of the unbroken succession going back to the beginning, are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line.”
1556 To fulfill their exalted mission, “the apostles were endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and by the imposition of hands they passed on to their auxiliaries the gift of the Spirit, which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration.”
[To explain the latter quite simply: All bishops can trace their consecration, the “laying on of the hands” both symbolically and literally to the Apostles of Jesus Christ. Yes, you read correctly. There has been an unbroken chain of the “laying on of hands” from the Apostles to today’s bishops. You can view that with names provided to as early as can be documented (names exist back to the one Cardinal, Scipione Cardinal Rebiba (1541-1577), written records before that were not kept) on the web site of the Catholic hierarchy. Here are links for several bishops, cardinals and Popes and if you look at the left hand column, you see that “laying on of hands” Apostolic lineage. For example, in the apostolic lineage of Pope John Paul II, you can count twenty one “laying of hands consecrations” in his lineage back to Cardinal Rebiba.
The Apostolic lineage of Pope Benedict XVI:
The Apostolic lineage of Pope John Paul II:
The Apostolic lineage of Cardinal Egan (New York):
The Apostolic lineage of Bishop Besungu (Congo):
So this is what you need to understand. When the average ordinary Catholic receives the sacrament of Confirmation, which is the laying on of hands by the Bishop, he or she is receiving the sanctifying laying on of hands that has been passed on in unbroken succession from the laying on of hands of the Apostles themselves. So when I as a thirteen year old received the sacrament of Confirmation, which I've written about before on this blog, my local Bishop in the laying of hands with consecrated oil is allowing the participation of the confirmed in the unbroken Apostolic succession of the laying on of hands.
Holy Orders-the priesthood-is the receiving of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was given to the Apostles at Pentecost, and has been in unbroken chain passed down for nearly two thousand years to the present time through spiritual gift transmitted by the laying on of hands by the bishops to ordain bishops, priests and deacons.]
1594 The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which integrates him into the episcopal college and makes him the visible head of the particular Church entrusted to him. As successors of the apostles and members of the college, the bishops share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole Church, under the authority of the Pope, successor of St. Peter.
1597 The sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by the laying on of hands followed by a solemn prayer of consecration asking God to grant the ordinand the graces of the Holy Spirit required for his ministry. Ordination imprints an indelible sacramental character.
1600 It is bishops who confer the sacrament of Holy Orders in the three degrees.
[The three degrees are bishops, priests and deacons.]
I hope that you have found this helpful and interesting!