By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Prophetic, Not Ritualistic, Priest

That is how the Pope describes the priesthood of Christ from which derive both the ordained Catholic male priesthood and the common priesthood of all baptized Catholics, whether male or female or children. These papal remarks resonate strongly with my own reflections on the priesthood in my M.A. thesis entitled "Paul as Priest" available at this link. These remarks also underline, in my opinion, the mistaken view of the Catholic ordained priesthood as primarily ritualistic, a misleading view overemphasized by too many who describe themselves as "traditionalists." As usual, the best guide to understanding the most fundamental realities of the Catholic faith is the inspired Word of God, the Scriptures. Hence, the Pope's remarks that follow are very biblical in nature. Enjoy the insights of the successor of Peter, the first Bishop of Rome (see link for the biblical basis for Peter's status as first bishop of Rome).

[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 3 JUN 2010 (VIS) - At 7 p.m. today, Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the Roman basilica of St. John Lateran. The celebration was followed by Eucharistic adoration in the same basilica, while the traditional Eucharistic procession to the basilica of St. Mary Major was suspended due to the inclement weather.

  In his homily the Pope invited the faithful to "meditate upon the relationship between the Eucharist and the priesthood of Christ", in the light of Sacred Scripture.

  "The first thing we must always bear in mind is that Jesus was not a priest after the Jewish tradition", said Benedict XVI. "He did not belong to the line of Aaron but to that of Judah, and thus the path of priesthood was legally closed to Him. The person and activity of Jesus of Nazareth did not follow in the wake of the ancient priests, but in that of the prophets. Thus Jesus distanced Himself from a ritualistic conception of religion, criticising the approach that attributed value to human precepts associated with ritual purity rather than to the observance of God's commandments; that is, to love for God and for neighbour, which 'is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices'. ... Even His death, which we Christians rightly call 'sacrifice', was completely unlike the ancient sacrifices, it was quite the opposite: the execution of a death sentence of the most humiliating kind: crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem.

  "In what sense, then, is Jesus a priest?" the Pope asked. In this context he explained how the Letter to the Hebrews presents Christ's passion "as a prayer and an offering. Jesus meets the 'hour' which leads Him to death on the cross immersed in deep prayer, a prayer which consists in uniting His will to that of the Father. This dual yet single will is a will of love. Lived in the context of this prayer, the tragic trial Jesus has to face is transformed into an offering, a living sacrifice".

  Jesus, "having obeyed to the extent of dying on the cross, became a 'cause of salvation' for everyone who obeys Him. In other words, he became the High Priest for having taken upon Himself all the sin of the world as the 'Lamb of God'. It is the Father Who conferred this priesthood at the very moment in which Jesus passed through His death and resurrection, This is not a priesthood after the order of Mosaic Law, but 'after the order of Melchizedek', after a prophetic order, dependent only on His unique relationship with God".

  "The priesthood of Christ involves suffering. Jesus truly suffered and He did so for us. He was the Son and had no need to learn obedience, but we do, we needed it and we will always need it. Thus the Son assumed our humanity and, for us, allowed Himself to be 'educated' in the crucible of suffering, he allowed himself to be transformed by suffering, like the seed which to bring forth fruit must die in the earth. Through this process Jesus was 'made perfect', He underwent 'teleiotheis', ... a term which in the Greek version of the Pentateuch ... is always used to indicate the consecration of the ancient priests. This is a very important discovery, because it tells us that, for Jesus, the passion was like a priestly consecration".

  And so, the Pope continued his explanation, in the Eucharist "Jesus anticipated His sacrifice; not a ritual but a personal sacrifice. At the Last Supper His acts were moved by that 'eternal spirit' with which He would subsequently give Himself up to the cross. Giving thanks and blessing, Jesus transformed the bread and wine. It is divine love that transforms: the love with which Jesus accepted in advance to give Himself for us. This love is the Holy Spirit, the Sprit of the Father and of the Son, which consecrates the bread and wine and alters their substance into the Body and Blood of the Lord, making present in the Sacrament the sacrifice which would be cruelly realised on the cross".

  "It is divine power, the same power that created the incarnation of the Word, that transforms extreme violence and extreme injustice into a supreme act of love and justice", the Pope concluded. "This is the work of the priesthood of Christ, which the Church has inherited and extends through history, in the dual form of the common priesthood of the baptised and the ordained priesthood of ministers, so as to transform the world with the love of God".