“Open then the eye of your intellect and gaze at the Sun of Justice, and you will see those glorious ministers, who, through ministering the Sun, have become like to It, as I told you of Peter, the prince of the Apostles, who received the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. I say the same of these others, who have administered, in the garden of the holy Church, the Light, that is to say, the Body and the Blood of My only-begotten Son, who is Himself the undivided Sun, as has been said, and all the Sacraments of the holy Church, which all give life in virtue of the Blood.”—Our Lord to St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue.
Today is Holy Thursday, the night before Jesus’ Passion, when He took His Twelve Apostles into an Upper Room to celebrate with them the Passover. Here, He instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, transforming the bread and wine into His Body and Blood, offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins willingly as our High Priest, in anticipation of and intrinsically connected with His Crucifixion the following day.
At this Last Supper, Jesus commanded His Apostles to continue this Sacrificial Meal, when He said to “Do this as a commemoration of Me.” It was here that He commissioned them to be His priests, unite to Him to a special degree through the indelible and transforming power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The priesthood that Christ instituted has an incredible dignity, as the priest manifests Christ to the world as a sign of God’s enduring presence with us. Through the priest’s hands, bread and wine actually and truly becomes Jesus Himself—body, blood, soul, and divinity! Through the priest’s words, absolution and the forgiveness of sins is granted to the sorry sinner. The priest is not simply a man doing a job. He is so much more. He stands and acts as Christ—or rather, through him, Christ acts. St. Paul himself teaches us this with regard to priestly absolution of sins: “For, what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned any thing, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:10, D-R). Or, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
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:
It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).
Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ. (#1548).
We may not always like our priests. We may not always agree with them. A few of them, sadly, have even betrayed their calling in abusive ways. But the majority of priests strive to be good, holy men, and we should love and support them. Ultimately, though, our respect and reverence for our priests and bishops isn’t so much about Fr. So-and-so as a person, but, as Our Lord tells St. Catherine of Siena, “So you see that they are the Sun, because they have taken the condition of the Sun from Me, the True Sun, because, through affection of love, they are one thing with Me, and I with them.”
Remember this when you think of your priest. Treat him with reverence. Pray for him that he would conform himself as fully as possible to the image of Christ. Remember that if it were not for the priesthood that Jesus instituted on this day, we would not have the very Sacraments that make His Sacrifice available to us! And I pray that if these words inspire any young men to ponder whether God is calling you to the priestly vocation, that you would humbly and courageously answer that call!
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