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IN PERSONA CHRISTI

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

PRIESTS
Saint John Chrysostom wrote in the fourth century, "Priests who dwell upon earth and make their abode therein have been commissioned nonetheless to dispense things which are in heaven, and have received an authority such as God has not given either to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them: All that you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven (Matthew 18:18). Those who rule upon earth, indeed, have authority to bind, but bodies only, whereas the binding done by priests takes hold of the soul itself and reaches to heaven. What priests execute below, God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the judgment of His servants."

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, says, "The priestly vocation is a mystery. It is the mystery of a wondrous exchange ("admirabile commercium") between God and man. A man offers his humanity to Christ, so that Christ may use him as an instrument of salvation, making him, as it were, another Christ. Unless we grasp the mystery of this "exchange", we will not understand how it can be that a young man, hearing the words "Follow me!", can give up everything for Christ, in the certainty that, if he follows this path, he will find complete personal fulfillment. In our world is there any greater fulfillment of our humanity than to be able to re-present every day in the Person of Christ, ("in persona Christi"), the redemptive sacrifice, the same sacrifice which Christ offered on the cross?"

OTHERS' WORDS
Saint Catherine of Siena in her Book of Dialogues said that God the Father mystically said to her about Catholic priests, "They are My anointed ones and I call them My Christs, because I have given them the office of administering to Me in you, and have placed them like fragrant flowers in the Mystical Body of holy Church. The angel himself has no such dignity as I have given to those men I have chosen for My ministers and whom I have appointed as earthly angels in this life."

The Council of Trent teaches, "Sacrifice and priesthood are, by the ordinance of God, in such wise conjoined as that both have always existed in every dispensation. Whereas, therefore, in the New Testament, the Catholic Church has received from the institution of Christ the holy, visible sacrifice of the Eucharist, it must needs be also professed in faith that there is in that Church a new, visible, and external priesthood into which the priesthood of the Old Testament has been translated (Hebrews 7:12)."

Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore wrote, "To the carnal eye a priest looks like other men, but to the eye of faith he is exalted above the angels, because he exercises powers not given even to the angels." Blessed Peter of Blois said, "A priest has the primacy of Abel, the patriarchate of Abraham, the government of Noah, the order of Melchisedech, the dignity of Aaron, the authority of Moses, the perfection of Samuel, the power of Peter, and the unction of Christ."

SPECIAL GRACE
The Second Vatican Council teaches, "Wherefore the priesthood, while indeed it presupposes the sacraments of Christian initiation, is conferred by that special sacrament of Orders. Through it priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are signed with a special character and are conformed to Christ the Priest, in such a way that they can act in the Person of Christ the Head." Pope John Paul II says, "The profound ontology of the consecration received in Holy Orders and the dynamism of sanctification that it entails in the ministry 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 priest 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, the truth and grace of God, to his brothers and sisters. This is the priest's true identity."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "It is in the Eucharistic cult or in the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful that priests exercise in a supreme degree their sacred office. There, acting in the Person of Christ and proclaiming His mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ, their Head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering Himself once and for all a spotless Victim to the Father. From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength."

OTHER TASKS
The old ordination ritual mentions other tasks that God entrusts to His priests. "The office of a priest is to bless, to forgive sins, to preach, to baptize, and to shepherd and govern God's People." A recent writer has noted that wherever a priest is located, he is a sharer of secrets, a carrier of burdens, a fountain of consolation, and a pillar of strength. Solitary he is called father by thousands; poor he enriches the lives of countless persons; weak he gives help to all who call for assistance; unimportant he does things each day whose importance cannot be told by any tongue on earth."

"A priest is the target of God's enemies and the magnet of God's needy. Occasionally he attracts attention, but usually he works entirely unnoticed and unacclaimed while he does the noblest work on earth."

Bishop Luke Liu, the Bishop of Hsinchu, Taiwan, said, "The faithful laity for their part ought to realize that they have obligations to their priests. They should treat them with filial love as their fathers and pastors. They also should share their priests'anxieties and help them as far as possible by prayer and active work so that they may be better able to overcome difficulties and carry out their duties with great success."

Cardinal Suhard of Paris once told his flock, "Take care of your priests. Not to reverse the roles, for your priest is the one who is ultimately responsible for you and your eternal salvation. But, help him with his mission of authority and life... You must not confine your cooperation only to material assistance, but you must create an atmosphere of spiritual affection for your priests, reserved yet sincere."

 

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