It was one of the few days I was really not looking forward to leading my Scripture study. I had a terrible cold and the thought of conducting a lesson on Revelation did not sound appealing. Though I was trying to put a good face on it, my priest noticed that I was not my usually boisterous self, and he asked me if I wanted a blessing.
“Father, that sounds good… Thanks!” I replied. And then he laid his hands on me and prayed healing over me. Needless to say, I got better. Such is the power of a priest's blessing, and it reminded me of the words of St. James in his Epistle: ”Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:14-15).
Father's prayer of healing wasn't the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, but his prayers were effective, and it reminds us of the awesome power of God and Christ's promise to “send forth My Spirit” and remain with us, “even to the end of the world.”
There are a number of “healers” out there who claim the power to heal various afflictions and diseases and perhaps some of them are legitimate. But with a lay person, even someone “ordained” by a non-Catholic sect, there's no guarantee. You pay your money and you take your chances. Not so with a priest of the Holy Catholic Church. By virtue of his ordination by one of the successors to the Apostles (the bishop), we can have confidence in the power that flows through him to us. We recognize that the priest is exercising the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. His words and his authority come from our Lord Himself, and with an unbroken line from the priest to the bishop through the ages and the Apostles to Christ, we can have no doubt Who it is that is acting.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders, like Baptism, leaves an indelible mark upon the soul. In Baptism, we participate in the common priesthood of all believers in the Church as the New Israel, but when a man receives Holy Orders he places himself at the service of God and the Church. In the Old Covenant there existed the hierarchy of Israel (“a royal priesthood, a holy people”), priest-ministers (the Levites), and the High Priest who alone entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of a lamb. The New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old, and consequently we have the common priesthood (all baptized Christians), the ordained priest-ministers (our priests and bishops), and the High Priest Who alone enters the Holy of Holies with the Blood of the Lamb.
The Catechism speaks of this indelible mark as a way of channeling God's grace to do His work: this sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for His Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in His triple office of priest, prophet, and king (#1581).
In the three degrees of ordination, we see how Christ uses His priests to build up and strengthen His Church. In the episcopate, bishops are ordained to teach and lead the people. Presbyters priests are ordained to minister the sacraments to the people and be the image of Christ to the people. Finally, the deacons are called be assistants to the priests, to carry out the more ordinary tasks of parish life so that priests can be free to minister to the flock.
Which leads us back to the “how do you know” question what makes a priest special and fundamentally different than a layperson or minister from a separate Christian sect? The key here is the priesthood of Jesus Christ, our High Priest. Our Lord ordained the Apostles when He breathed on them and sent His Spirit. These same Apostles then laid hands on presbyters and deacons, as well as successor bishops, in an unbroken line down through the ages to the present day. When your parish priest lays his hands upon you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you can physically connect yourself to Christ through your bishop and a succession of episcopal ordinations back to the High Priest, our Lord Himself.
So the next time you shake Father's hand after Holy Mass, or have your parish priest pray over you, remember that his hands are special. Your humble parish priest is exercising the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and that in a very real sense it is our Lord's hands touching you.
© Copyright 2006 Rosary Army
Mickey Addison is a career military officer, and has been a catechist at the parish level since 2000. He and his wife have been married for 19 years and they have two children. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was previously published on the Rosary Army’s website and is used by permission.