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An Occasional Column of Episcopal Comment
by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz S.T.D.


Once again our Diocese of Lincoln approaches the beautiful time of the year when, by God's grace, the prayers and sacrifices of many people are rewarded by experiencing new ordinations to the transitional diaconate and the priesthood. Through the hands of legitimate apostolic succession, Jesus Christ once again shares His one and only priesthood of the New Testament with frail human beings, giving them a participation in His ineffable and unique mediatorship with God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5) for the Father's glory and the salvation of souls.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "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 the person of Christ the Head." Pope Pius XII wrote, "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." Saint Thomas Aquinas observed, "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."

The Catechism explains, "The word order in Roman antiquity designated an established civil body, especially a governing body. Ordination means incorporation into an order. In the Church there are established bodies which Tradition, not without a basis in Sacred Scripture (Hebrews 5:6; 7:11; Psalm 110:4), has, since ancient times, called (in Greek) taxeis or orders. And so the liturgy speaks of the order of Bishops, the order of priests, and the order of deacons..."

"Integration into one of these bodies in the Church was accomplished by a rite called ordination, a religious and liturgical act which was a consecration, a blessing, or a sacrament. Today the word ordination is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of Bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a sacred power, which can come only from Christ Himself through His Church. Ordination is also called consecration, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ Himself for His Church. The laying on of hands by the Bishop with the consecratory prayer constitutes the visible sign of this ordination." Pope John Paul II says, "The priesthood is not to be considered as a purely human reality, as if it were the expression of a community which democratically elects its pastor. Rather, it is to be seen in the light of the sovereign will of God Who freely chooses His pastors. Christ wanted His Church to be sacramentally and hierarchically structured, and for this reason no one has the right to change what the divine Founder has established."

Grace, an undeserved gift from God in the every sense, is bestowed in abundance on anyone who receives any sacrament, including the sacrament of Holy Orders. First, there is a vast increase in the ordained priest's soul of sanctifying grace, the created share in the very life and nature of God (1 Peter 1:4), which is initially received in Baptism. Then, there are the particular or sacramental graces proper for men who are ordained. Pope John Paul II says these graces give them "a deeper configuration to Christ the Priest, Who makes them active ministers in the official worship of God and in sanctifying their brothers and sisters. They are given ministerial powers to be exercised in the name of Christ the Head and Shepherd." The two most awesome powers that priest receives are that to bestow the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23) and that to confect the Holy Eucharist, making present the dying and rising of our Savior in the transubstantiated Species (1 Corinthians 11:23-29). The Pope goes on to note, "The whole Church garners the fruit of the sanctification resulting from the ministry of priests... The profound ontology of the consecration received in Orders and the dynamism of sanctification that it entails in the ministry certainly exclude any secularized interpretation of the priestly ministry, as if the presbyter were simply dedicated to establishing justice or spreading love in the world. The presbyter participates ontologically in the priesthood of Christ. He is truly consecrated as a man of the sacred, designated like Christ to the worship that ascends to the Father and to the evangelizing mission by which he spreads and distributes sacred realities, that is, the truth, the grace of God, to his brothers and sisters. This is the priest's true identity."

We know that it is very important for all Catholics to obey our Lord's command to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood (Matthew 9:38). However, it is equally important to pray for those who are already our priests. Cardinal Richard Cushing said, "Catholics should beg God to shield their priests from every danger, to drive far from them the onslaughts of the infernal enemy. They should ask that each priest may daily increase in virtue, that his imperfections may melt away in the heat of divine love. They should pray that the way of the Lord may be made smooth for the blessed feet of those who preach and bring the good news of peace. They ought to pray that their priests may be, not only in the eyes of Catholics, but before all the world truly men of God, that Christ may live in them and in them walk this world once more."

A pious layman has remarked, "Catholics, watching the faith and fervor with which a young priest offers his first Mass, instinctively pray for him, that he may persevere to the end as their priest and shepherd. They know the road before him is difficult and beset with danger. Their prayer is touched with pity and tenderness for they know that their priest belongs to them and they have a duty toward him....They pray because they know he needs the help of their prayers to fulfill his high vocation."



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved