Pope Pius XI
Although he wrote his Encyclical Letter on the Catholic Priesthood (Ad Catholici Sacerdotii) in December of 1935, only a few month after I was born, what Pope Pius XI said then was remembered decades later when I was a seminarian, and even has a relevance for our time. Much of what he wrote was echoed by his six successors in the See of Peter and in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
He wrote, "Consider the truths themselves which the priest, if he is faithful to his ministry, must frequently inculcate. Ponder them one by one and dwell upon their inner power, for they make plain the influence of the priest, and how strong and beneficent it can be for the moral education, social concord, and peaceful development of peoples. He brings home to young and old the fleeting nature of the present life, the perishableness of earthly goods, the value of spiritual goods and of the immortal soul, the severity of divine judgment, the spotless holiness of the divine gaze that reads the hearts of all, and the justice of God which will render to every man according to his works (Matthew 16:27). These and similar lessons the priest teaches, a teaching fitted indeed to moderate the feverish search for pleasure and the uncontrolled greed for worldly goods that debase so much of modern life and that spur on the different classes of society to fight one another like enemies instead of helping one another like friends. He proclaims the new commandment of Christ to heal and to enjoin upon all genuine and greater love" (John 13:34).
Pope Pius XI also noted, "A tribute to the priesthood is even given by the enemies of the Church, who show that they fully appreciate the importance of the Catholic priesthood by directing against it their first and fiercest blows, since they know full well how close is the tie that binds the Church to her priests. The most rabid enemies of the Catholic priesthood are always the very enemies of God, a homage indeed to the priesthood, showing it more worthy of honor and veneration from us."
Cardinal Julian Herranz-Casado said, "A Catholic priest is a man who is chosen and called. Chosen by whom? By the Christian community or perhaps by himself? It is patently clear from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the vocation of the priest is absolutely inseparable from his consecration and his mission. The One Who chooses Him is also the One Who consecrates and sends him, that is, Christ Himself, through His Apostles and their successors. By emphasizing the divine institution of the ministerial priesthood, the accent falls on the divine calling of the priest. He is not, therefore, a delegate of the community before God, nor a functionary or employee of God before the people. He is a man chosen by God from among men in order to bring to realization the mystery of salvation in the name of Christ. The notion of a divine vocation is essential to oppose certain overly democratizing notions which today are present and unfortunately influential in some circles. Such democratic conceptions of the Church can arise only from a defective view of the very nature of the Catholic Church."
The Cardinal, the official interpreter of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, said that the Council teaches with crystal clarity that "the priest is a member of the People of God, chosen from among other members with a particular call, that is, a vocation, in order to be ordained or consecrated by a special sacrament, that of Holy Orders, and then sent, that is, given a mission, to perform certain functions in service to the People of God and to all humanity. He is a man chosen, a man consecrated, and a man sent. These are undoubtedly, in their unity and inseparability, the fundamental characteristics of the image of the priest outlined in the Council."
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote extensively about the priesthood in their official documents, certifying from the outset that their teaching was in complete and harmonious continuity, not only with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, but also with all the previous twenty ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church. They cite especially the First Vatican Council and the Council of Trent. The Council says, "Priests, by sacred ordination and the mission they receive from the Bishops, are promoted to the service of Christ, the Teacher, the Priest, and the King. They share in His ministry, a ministry whereby the Church here on earth is unceasingly built up into the People of God, the Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Priests must be faithful to Christ, and fidelity to Christ cannot be separated from faithfulness to His Church."
According the Council the primary and principal task of a priest is to preach the Gospel. However, it is in the action of Holy Mass that this task is mainly carried out. "The Most Blessed Eucharist contains the entire spiritual wealth of the Church, that is, Christ Himself, our Pasch and our Living Bread, giving life to men by the action of the Holy Spirit through His very Flesh, vital and vitalizing… In this light the Eucharist shows Itself as the source and apex of the priest's whole work of preaching the Gospel."
The late Pope John Paul II said, "The Catholic priesthood, in its deepest reality, is the priesthood of Christ. It is Christ Who offers Himself, His Body and Blood, in sacrifice to God the Father at every Mass, and by this sacrifice makes righteous in the Father's eyes all mankind, and indirectly all creation. The priest in his daily celebration of the Eucharist goes to the very heart of this mystery."
He also said, "As the steward of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession or Penance), the priest fulfills the command given by Christ to the Apostles after His resurrection to forgive sins (John 20:22-23). The priest is the witness and the instrument of divine mercy. It is in the confessional that his spiritual fatherhood is realized in the fullest way. It is in the confessional that every priest becomes a witness of the great miracles which divine mercy works in the souls which receive the grace of conversion. As steward of God's mysteries, the priest is a special witness to the invisible in the world. He is a steward of invisible and priceless treasures belonging to the spiritual and supernatural orders. To be a priest means for Saint Paul, above all, to be a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). The word "steward" cannot be replaced by any other. The steward is not the owner, but the one to whom the owner entrusts his goods so they can be managed justly and responsibly."
Dear readers, please pray for our priests frequently, especially those to be ordained this week in and for our Diocese of Lincoln.