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