On the Catholic Priesthood
Catechism on the Priesthood
4th of August: Feast of St. John Vianney
My children, we have come to the Sacrament of Orders. It is a Sacrament which seems to relate to no one among you, and which yet relates to every one. This Sacrament raises man up to God.
What is a priest? A man who hold the place of God - a man who is invested with all the powers of God. “Go,” said our Lord to the priest; “as my Father sent Me, I send you. All power has been given Me in heaven and on earth. Go then, teach all nations… He who listens to you, listens to Me; he who despises you, despises Me.”
When the priest remit sins, he does not say, “God pardons you;” he says, “I absolve you. “At the Consecration, he does not say, “This is the Body of our Lord;” he says, “This is My Body.” St. Bernard tells us that every thing has come to us through Mary; and we may also say that every thing has come to us through the priest; yes, all happiness, all graves, all heavenly gifts.
If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have our Lord. Who placed Him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the Blood of Jesus Christ? The priest – always the priest. And if that soul comes to the point of death, who will raise it up, who will restore it to calmness and peace? Again, the priest. You cannot recall one singe blessing from God without finding, side by side with this recollection, the image of the priest.
Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin, or to an angel; will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the Body and Blood of our Lord? No. The Holy Virgin cannot make her Divine Son descend into the Host. You might have two hundred angels there, but they could not absolve you. A priest, however simple he may be, can do it; he can say to you, “Go in peace; I pardon you.”
Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love.
The other benefits of God would be of no avail to us without the priest. What would be the use of a house full of gold, if you had nobody to open you the door? The priest has the key of the heavenly treasures; it is he who opens the door; he is the steward of the good God, the distributor of His wealth.
Without the priest, the Death and Passion of our Lord would be of no avail. Look at the heathens: what has it availed them that our Lord has died? Alas! They can have no share in the blessings of redemption, while they have no priests to apply His Blood to their souls!
The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the Sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you.
After God, the priest is every thing. Leave a parish twenty years without priest, they will worship beasts.
If the Missionary Father and I were to go away, you would say,”What can we do in this church? There is no Mass; our Lord is no longer there: we may as well pray at home.”
When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion.
When the bell calls you to church, if you were asked, “Where are you going?” you might answer, “I am going to feed my soul.” If some one were to ask you, pointing to the tabernacle, “What is that golden door?” “That is our storehouse, where the true Food of our souls is kept.” “Who has the key? Who lays in the provisions? Who makes ready the feast, and who serves the table?” “The Priest.” “And what is the Food?” “The precious Body and Blood of our Lord.” O God! O God! How Thou hast loved us!…
See the power of the priest; out of a piece of bread the word of a priest makes a God. It is more than Creating the world… Some one said, “Does St. Philomena, then, obey the Curé of Ars?” Indeed, she may well obey him, since God obeys him.
If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God; but the priest holds His place. St. Teresa kissed the ground where a priest had passed. When you see a priest, you should say, “There is he who made me a child of God, and opened heaven to me by holy Baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who give nourishment to my soul.” At the sight of a church-tower, you may say, “What is there in that place?” “The Body of our Lord.” “Why is He there?” “Because a priest has been there, and has said holy Mass.”
What joy did the Apostles feel after the Resurrection of our Lord, at seeing the Master whom they had loved so much! The priest must feel the same joy, at seeing our Lord whom he holds in his hands. Great value is attached to objects which have been laid in the drinking-cup of the Blessed Virgin and of the Child Jesus, at Loretto. But the fingers of the priest, that have been plunged into the chalice which contained His Blood, into the pyx where His Body has lain, are they not still more precious?
The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you the priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Source: The Spirit of the Curé of Ars, St. John Baptist Mary Vianney (Translated from the French, edited by Rev. Fr. John Edward Bowden, 1865)
To pray often to God that He will give good priests to His Church, and to Prevent, as Far as lies in our power, those who have no vocation for that divine office from being brought into it.
The practice of which we speak is of so much the greater importance, as it has been inspired by Jesus Himself. “Pray,” said the Good Shepherd, “pray the Lord that He send laborers into His vineyard;” as though He would say, “This is of more consequence than you think, and requires much intercession with Heaven in order to obtain the graces necessary for so great an object.” But the soul that has any devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament ought more particularly to pray for this end as it entirely concerns the honor and glory of this Adorable Mystery.
Take note that our Master commands prayers to be offered for good laborers, good Priests, whose office it is to work in His vineyard: first, because it is He only Who is to send them; secondly, because it is He only Who can give them the necessary dispositions for it. It belongs only to God to call men to the divine office of the priesthood. This is a truth strongly established in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the great Apostle speaking by the Spirit of God, clearly shows the necessity of vocation in these words: “Neither doth any man take the honor (of the priesthood) to himself.” Heb. V.4
But not content with laying down these truths on this own Apostolic authority, he brings together the Old and New Testaments to render this truth more convincing, and so to leave in men’s minds no doubt on the subject. He points out the example of the High Priest of the Jewish Church, and then that of our Lord Himself: “So Christ also did not glorify Himself that He might be made a High Priest." Heb. V5
After this, I know not what those persons can reply, who have taken the tonsure so hastily, without considering what God requires of them, without deeply considering their vocation, and without obtaining the advice of pious, enlightened persons, who are filled with the Holy Spirit. In like manner some have taken, without consideration, both Minor and Sacred Orders, and at last, the Priesthood itself. If they say, they knew not the importance of it, I answer that this is their greatest condemnation, seeing they OUGHT to have known. For even Jesus did not appoint Himself to this divine office, but waited till His Father called Him, and yet men have the boldness to do otherwise! Is it not carrying presumption to the extreme? Truly such rashness and temerity deserve severe punishment.
You who are priest, examine yourselves here, as to whether you have waited for a call from God, before taking Holy Orders; if you have not done so, tremble, weep, and do penance; seek out holy men of God, to know what you ought to do in a path so slippery, for you are running a very evident risk of falling into the precipice of eternal damnation. If you have not already been admitted into Holy Orders, wait patiently and consider well what you are going to do; for on it depends either your eternal happiness or misery. Do not listen to your relations, not to your worldly friends; do not listen to nature, think not of your ease or advantage, think only of God and His glory.
Is the reader of these words of the number of those who advise haste in entering the ecclesiastical state? If so, reflect whether you have been the mean of introducing some one into Holy Orders. Have you cooperated in such a thing by your counsel? Have you used your authority, or that of your friends, to get others received into the sublime office, without considering whether God has called them or not? You who advise, who recommend and make your children aspire with such levity to the priesthood, are you wiser than Jesus Christ? For though the person you recommend may have led a good life, be very talented, very pure; do you think that suffices? Are you holier, or more enlightened, more zealous for His Father’s glory? O terrible truth, and which ought to be understood by every man! He calls not Himself, but waits till His Father calls Him.
No, unless the Lord build the house, their labor is in vain who build it. It belongs only to the Lord, says the Holy Spirit, to fix the destiny of man. It is for God to appoint the state that he pleases: it is not for us to choose. It is not for father, nor mother, nor relatives, nor for our masters, nor even for ourselves to make the choice; it is God only Who can and does.
If I am told that unless a certain young man aspires to the ecclesiastical state, he cannot live according to his position, well, let him be poor; I repeat it, let him be poor; and if people answer that it is very easy to say so, but very difficult to put it in practice, I reply, that is is more dreadful to be eternally ruined. I hear people in the world say, that men can be saved, whatever their position may be, and consequently in the ecclesiastical state, and it is true; but God must call them to it. Will God give His grace to men to enable them to do their duty in a state to which they have not been called by Him, or into which they enter against their will? Tell me, you who say such things, would you give wages to people, who, in spite of your wishes, thrust themselves into your houses, to be your servants?
There must, therefore, be a real vocation, a call from God. Secondly, there must be seen in the person called a faithful correspondence, in his habits and manners, to the holy state in which God wishes to place him.
For he who aspires to the priesthood must be conformed to Jesus Christ, not only in his vocation, but also in his disposition; he must lead a pure and innocent life, like unto that of the Son of God. This makes the great Apostle say, when speaking of the qualities necessary to the priesthood, that they ought to be without sin, irreproachable. This is what made the holy Fathers say, that is necessary to have led a life free of mortal sin, to be promoted to Holy Orders. But now that the Church is not so rigorous, it is a at least necessary that a man should have true contrition.
Then again, men must be learned. Do what you will, says St. Jerome, innocence without doctrine is not sufficient for a priest. Where these three things are wanting, vocation, purity of life, and knowledge, disorder and scandal of all sorts are produced in the Church. Ask then of our Lord, O souls who have devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament, that He will not permit any to take upon themselves the sacred and august office, but men chosen by Himself, such as have sufficient knowledge, and whose saintly and exemplary lives fit them for it, so that by the Holy Sacrifice and daily Communion, they may worthily glorify His Sovereign Majesty.
A layman who is leading a bad life would not ordinarily approach the Holy Communion: if he should do so at Easter, to avoid the blame of men, it would be only once a year, so that in fifty years, he would only communicate fifty times. But a Priest, if he be in sin, would make as many bad Communions as there are days in the year: he would profane the Holy Sacrament oftener in two months than a layman would during his life.
Judge then, how many sacrilegious Communions would be made during ten, twenty, or thirty years. Think also of a wicked priest celebrating the Divine Mysteries, and then reflect on the profanation of which you have been the cause, without naming scandals and other evils, if such priest have been induced by your advice, and perhaps by your importunity, to enter on the holy ministry. Whoever you are, think of the account you will have to give to God, for having assisted towards this guilt, in case you had reason to expect such deplorable results.
The celebrated and apostolical preacher, John d’Avila, remarks in an epistle to a young man, in which he dissuades him from his intention of becoming a priest, that the devil gives great inclination to many towards the priesthood. It is the evil spirit, who, owning to his rage against the Most Holy Sacrament, when he sees a young man whom God does not call to the ecclesiastical state, tries to persuade him to choose that sacred office, and even instills into him an affection for it, so that having entered it only through the promptings of nature, he is guilty of the sins of which we have spoken.
I heartily beseech all charitable persons to reflect well on these sentiments of that great servant of God, John d’Avila, and to remember, that if they have the intention of helping, by their means or in any other way, those who wish to enter on the sacred functions of the Priesthood, they ought to have them examined beforehand by men who have the science of the Saints; for it would be much better to have them taught some trade,than make them risk their salvation and expose the Sacred Body of the Son of God to the profanation which is likely to happen to It. In fact, my flesh and blood is pierced with the fear of the Lord when I reflect that I, who write these words, am a Priest.
O greatness of God! What a dignity, what an office! If we are not on our guard, what misery is there not prepared for us!
By Abbé Henry-Marie Boudon, (1624-1702) doctor in Theology and Archdeacon of Evreux, France translated from the French edited by the Rev. J. Redman DD.
Source:The Book of Perpetual Adoration or The Love of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacraments. 1873
Infallibility of the Pope
Some seem to think that the claim of infallibility for the Pope means that the Pope is never wrong and can never err as other people do. Every Pope is a free man, personally responsible for his own salvation, personally capable of obeying or transgressing the law of God. Christ has endowed the Popes with infallibility only in the teaching of Christ's doctrine, not in their personal lives.
So You May Know the Truth
Protection from error is received by the successors of Saint Peter, not for their own personal advantage but for the advantage of the Church. They are protected from error in teaching so that the followers of Christ will be protected from error in believing.
It is given for the sake of the whole Church, in order that members of the Church throughout the world may always be preserved in the truth. It has nothing to do with the Pope's opinions or habits as an individual.
It does not mean that the Pope is incapable of human weaknesses or shortcomings. Nor does it have anything to do with science, the state of the nation or the best way to build a house.
The Pope has no authority to invent new doctrine. He has no more authority to break a divine law or to distort a single word of Scripture than anyone else. His function is to hand down unchanged the divine truth revealed by God to all generations of men. In this alone is he infallible, as promised by Christ.
The Unworthy Priest
You will find indeed many an unworthy priest who will assure you that he gives no scandal; but he is greatly mistaken. “Murder will out,” and the sins of the priest cannot long remain hidden.
Does the unworthy priest love solitude? Does he love study? Do you find him often in church praying before the Blessed Sacrament? Do you find him often in the confessional? Why is he so often absent when the messenger comes for a sick call? Why does he come home so late at night? Why does he visit that house so often? Why does that light burn so late in his room? Is he praying, or perhaps card-playing? Why does he sleep so long in the morning instead of being in the confessional? Why does he omit Mass so often on week days? Why is he so often nervous and ill humored? Is he not a little too free and confidential towards certain persons?
Look at the church, look at the altar, look at the vestments, look at the sacred vessels – the chalice and ciborium – is everything clean, decent and orderly? Why does he not begin Mass punctually on Sundays and holy days of obligation? Why does he so often fail to keep his promises and thereby disappoint the people? See how he hurries through Mass.
How does he observe
the rubrics? Is he attentive and devout? Why is he so eager for
money, and so indifferent when there is question of saving a soul? (...)
Why does he speak against the Pope, the bishop, and religious? Why does he jest about holy things? Why does he not show more reverence in church, and when he carries the Blessed Sacrament to the sick?
Why does he not show more self respect, more priestly dignity and decorum in society, at fairs, excursions, picnics, and so on? Why does he make use of words of double meaning, unbecoming hints and jests? Why does he allow young persons to read dangerous story papers, magazines, and novels? (…)
These are some of the questions that the people ask; these are some of the thoughts that flit through their minds. The unworthy priest may try his best to hid his crimes; but the cloak of hypocrisy cannot hide them forever. The inner corruption of his heart betrays itself at least at times. But how terrible is the scandal when the sins of the priest are no longer a matter of doubt or uncertainty, but a sad and shameful reality. Who can sum up all the harm that is done by even one bad priest? (…)
How often must a good priest suffer for the misdeeds of his predecessors! He may be as generous and disinterested as St. Paul; still some will accuse him of avarice, of doing everything for money. (…) He may be reserved and dignified and pure as an angel, yet wicked tongues will not be wanting to whisper unjust suspicions. (…)
The higher the source of the torrent is, the more rapidly does it rush into the valley, and the more wide spread is the destruction which it causes. O God! Who can calculate all the harm that is done, all the sins that are committed, all the souls that are ruined on account of the scandalous life of one unworthy priest! Like a mountain torrent, the scandal rushes on, spreading death and desolation on every side. It rushes on like a poison flood, bearing death to generations yet unborn; aye, it goes on in its work of destruction even till the day of doom; its evil consequences go even beyond the tomb; they live on forever in hell.
O God! How many yet unborn will rise up on the judgment day against the bad priest and curse him! If a petty shrub is uprooted and falls, it harms only itself; but if a might cedar falls, it drags down in its deadly embrace whatever stands within its reach!
Woe to the world, when the “Salt of the earth” becomes the corrupter of innocence.
Woe to the world when the “Light of the world” becomes an "ignis fatuus",
a wandering light that leads unwary souls into the foul, noisome marsh of sin.
Woe to the world when the shepherd of the flock has become a ravenous wolf!
The unworthy priest loses the friendship of God; he loses the beauty of his soul; he loses the merit of all his good works. As long as he remains in sin, his arm is withered; he can merit nothing for heaven. The unworthy priest is the slave of sin, the slave of the devil; he heaps sin upon sin, sacrilege upon sacrilege. By his wicked life he gives scandal and ruins innocent souls.
All this is sad and terrible enough; but the most terrible of all the consequences of sin is that the unworthy priest becomes hardened; he is at last struck with spiritual blindness; his conversion becomes almost an impossibility; and finally he gives way to despair, like another Judas.
Source: Rev. Fr. Michael Muller, C.SS.R. The Catholic Priesthood, 1885.
“Woe to the world because of scandals...Woe to that man by whom scandal cometh” Matt XVIII 7
No man can live in society without influencing those among whom he lives. What he says and what he does is telling, all day long, in a variety of ways known and unknown, for good or for evil, upon those who bear his words and witness his actions.
This is especially true of the priest. He is set up on high, and lives in sight of the people. He is an object of curious interest for them in all the particulars of his daily life. He is observed; he is listened to; much more of him is known than he imagines, more of his utterances, of his habits, of the character of his thoughts and aspirations; so that, without being distinctly conscious of it, he may be very helpful or very harmful to those around him.
In the latter case the solemn warning of Our Lord applies to him with special emphasis: “ Woe to that man by whom scandal cometh.” It may come in many ways and in various degrees. It may, like the sin of the sons of Heli, be such as to keep the faithful from the house of God, or from the practices of Christian piety: “Erat peccatum filiorum Heli grande nimis coram Domino qui retrahebant homines a sacrificio Domini: I Reg. Ii, 17; or it may shock and surprise them as something out of keeping with sacerdotal character, and thereby diminish their trust in the Church and their respect for the priesthood; or again, it may be such as to disappoint them, and destroy their higher Christian ideals, as frequently happens when they find a priest very much like themselves, in some things, perhaps, not so good. For if a priest differs from the layman only by this sacred character and his official duties; if, in the ordinary course of life, he is just as eager as other men in the pursuit of place or emolument, or as hard and grasping, or as sensitive in his pride, as resentful and unforgiving, or as particular about his ease and comfort, how can the Christian conception of life keep its hold on those who naturally look to him for a practical illustration of it?
Still more is his influence harmful to those who live in closer contact with him, and in whose presence he throws off all artificial restraint, personal friends, relatives, domestic servants, fellow priests.
What an amount of real harm may be done to all these by the easy-going, tepid, worldly priest! What a powerful though silent and insensible encouragement to them to settle down on a low, comfortable level, amid the tangible realities of the present! How many young priests, alas! Have thus learned to discard salutary restraints, to neglect the blessed devotions of earlier years to waste their time on useless objects, to pamper the flesh, in a word, to despoil their lives of all supernatural beauty!
Source: Very Rev. John Baptist Hogan (1829-1901) Daily Thoughts for Priests (1899)
To a Priest
To a Priest
How blest the hour, when on thy sacring day,
’Mid prayer and holy rite,
The fragrant unction dew’d thy hands for aye
With priestly might!
Then power to thee, O favored one! was given
Daily to climb the Rood
And pluck therefrom the Body, for us riven,
As daily food;
To give their God to men, making them strong
’Gainst ever-biding stress;
To lift Him high above the adoring throng,
His own to bless;
To whiten as the snow the erring soul
In scarlet hue bedyed;
For, at thy word, life-giving waters roll
In cleansing tide!
For such dread gifts, O Priest! from day to day
Pour forth thanksgiving meet;
Waiting the call their golden fruits to lay
At Jesus’ feet!
By Dom Michael Barrett, O.S.B.
Source: The Ave Maria, July 25, 1908 p. 97.
Special thanks to Robert Olson
The Priest is a Father
The priest is a man of the people, a father, a friend, a guide, a defender. It is his duty to commend good, to denounce evil, to lead the people into virtue, to keep them from vice, to guard the fold from the ravening wolves, to feed the sheep with life-giving food, to train them in the ways that lead to strength and beauty of goodness.
What a work the Christian priesthood had done in the history of the world! It preached the Gospel to pagan Rome and Jewish Palestine, it converted Constantine and his empire; and evangelized the barbarians; it brought the Gospel of Christ to every nation; it built the Christian altar by the running brook, on the hillside and in the mountain fastness, that everywhere the people might have salvation; near the altar; it built the Christian school; it preserved letters and science, and civilized the world.
The saints of old, who taught men morality, established Christianity and ruled the Christian Church, were priests. The missionaries, who gave up life and its ambitions to consecrate themselves to the service of God, were saintly priests of the Christian Church. They built the Church of God into the life of every nation; they have brought the Church to this land and to our day. We are the successors to that same priesthood, and upon us falls the same responsibility.
The priest of today must be prepared to meet the exigencies of the times; he must have the spirit of his vocation and courage of his convictions, manfully and fearlessly standing for the truth. He is called to be a leader.
By Rt. Rev. Thomas. J. Conaty, D.D.
Source: Our Church, Her Children and Institutions, 1908