On the Catholic Priesthood
St. Paul, the Priest
In short, the reward of the priest’s labors will be in due proportion to the motives that urged his action. If he seeks “the things which are his own” his reward will be an earthly one. If he seeks “the things that are Christ’s” his reward will be an eternal one. Again, if his motive be a selfish one, the results of his labors in the care of souls will be negligible, because the grace of God can be but scantily with him, but working with the motive of the love of God great results may be expected, because the grace of God will amply accompany his efforts. For, with St. Paul, the priest who loves God sincerely may say: “I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me” (Phil., iv, 13). “For it is God who worketh in you (the faithful) both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will” (Phil., ii, 13).
Source: By Rev. Albert Rung: St. Paul, the Priest (The Homiletic Monthly and Pastoral Review) Vol. XXI Jan. 1921 No.4
(Special thanks to Bob Olson)
A Well Trained Priest
"One well trained priest is worth more than many trained badly or
scarcely at all. For such would be not merely unreliable but a likely
source of sorrow to the Church. What a terrifying account, Venerable
Brethren, We shall have to give to the Prince of Shepherds, to the
Supreme Bishop of souls, if we have handed over these souls to
incompetent guides and incapable leaders."
Source: Pius XI (Ad Catholici Sacerdotti: Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on the Catholic Priesthood. 1935)
The Priest as one Chosen from among Men
"We recognize the priest as one chosen from among men to serve men in
the affairs of God. He is the minister of reconciliation with God, the
teacher of the truth, and one who offers the sacrifice, who administers
the sacraments, who prays for the people. We distinguish in him that
double character of man and priest; we recognize the divine character of
the priesthood which forces us to bend the knee to him for the
forgiveness of sins and to receive from his hands the holy sacrifice of
the Eucharist. His ordination has conferred upon the man the character
of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. In the parish he is the ambassador
of God, the administrator of the sacraments, the guardian of the sacred
deposit of faith, the defender of the people's rights, and the unselfish
friend of everyone. From the cradle to the grave, he touches intimately
the lives of his people and brings to them in all the circumstances of
life the blessing of the Divine Savior of whom he is the commissioned
minister. The people feel that in the true priest there is no taint of
selfishness, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order that
the spiritual interests of his people may not suffer "
Source: Bishop James Conaty, Our Young People, 1912
"The blessed Apostle Paul, wishing to describe the ideal Bishop and to
form by his teachings a completely new man of the Church, explained what
was, so to speak, his highest perfection. He stated that a Bishop must
profess sure doctrine, in accordance with what has been taught, and thus
be able to exhort others to sound doctrine and to refute those who
Source: Saint Hilairy de Poitiers (De Trinitate)
The Words of the Priest
"At that hour of the Sacrifice, at the words of the Priest, the heavens
are opened, and in that mystery of Jesus Christ, the choirs of Angels
are present, and things below are joined to things on high, earthly
things to heavenly, and the service is both a visible and an invisible
Source: St. Gregory the Great
On the Church and the Age
"Let us strengthen our devotion to the Church. Let us love our holy
mother the Church; we owe everything to the Church. Let us not fear that
the words of Christʼs promise shall ever fail. The gates of hell have
never prevailed, and never shall prevail, against His Church. She has
never gone astray on a single doctrinal point: her enemies may be
challenged to prove that she has ever erred in any point of practical
justice or prudence.Her children may have done wrong; but the Bride of
Christ has preserved unstained during nineteen centuries that white robe
which He gave to her that she might be " a glorious Church, not having
spot or wrinkle or any such thing." She has never been unfaithful to His
truth or to His cause, and, by the virtue of His power, she will purify
again this earth, on which it is her lot to lead a life of ever-varying
trial and combat. Let us ask to be made worthy children of that Church
militant and struggling, in order that, having done our part of duty in
her warfare with the world, we may merit to be enrolled among the
glorious members of a Church which is triumphing in heaven."
Source: On the Church and the Age, Fr. Merrick (Catholic Oratory, A compilation of Sacred and Sublime Orations, 1891)
The sins of her pastors
If it is true that by contemplating Christ sinners learn from him the
“sorrow for sins” needed to bring them back to the Father, this is even
more the case for sacred ministers.
How can we forget, in this regard, that nothing causes more suffering for the Church, the Body of Christ, than the sins of her pastors, especially the sins of those who become “thieves and robbers” of the sheep (cf. Jn 10:1 ff.), lead them astray by their own private teachings, or ensnare them in the toils of sin and death? Dear priests, the summons to conversion and to trust in God’s mercy also applies to us; we too must humbly, sincerely and unceasingly implore the heart of Jesus to preserve us from the terrifying risk of endangering the very people we are obliged to save.
Source: Pope Benedict XVI, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 19 June 2009
A Single Mass
"The entire Church cannot give to God as much honor, nor obtain so many
graces, as a single priest by celebrating a single Mass; for the
greatest honor that the whole Church without priests could give to God
would consist in offering to Him in sacrifice the lives of all men."
Source: St. Alphonsus Liguori (The Dignity and Duties of the Priest)
Horrendum illud scelus, Pius V
That horrible crime, on
account of which corrupt and obscene cities were destroyed by fire
through divine condemnation, causes us most bitter sorrow and shocks our
mind, impelling us to repress such a crime with the greatest possible
Quite opportunely the Fifth Lateran Council [1512-1517] issued this decree: "Let any member of the clergy caught in that vice against nature, given that the wrath of God falls over the sons of perfidy, be removed from the clerical order or forced to do penance in a monastery" (chap. 4, X, V, 31).
So that the contagion of such a grave offense may not advance with greater audacity by taking advantage of impunity, which is the greatest incitement to sin, and so as to more severely punish the clerics who are guilty of this nefarious crime and who are not frightened by the death of their souls, we determine that they should be handed over to the severity of the secular authority, which enforces civil law.
Therefore, wishing to pursue with greater rigor than we have exerted since the beginning of our pontificate, we establish that any priest or member of the clergy, either secular or regular, who commits such an execrable crime, by force of the present law be deprived of every clerical privilege, of every post, dignity and ecclesiastical benefit, and having been degraded by an ecclesiastical judge, let him be immediately delivered to the secular authority to be put to death, as mandated by law as the fitting punishment for laymen who have sunk into this abyss.
Rome: Typographia Reverendae Camerae Apostolicae, Mainardi, 1738, chap. 3, p. 33)
The Mother of a priest
Letter of a mother to a friend of her childhood the day following the ordination of her son:
“Dear friend, bless, bless the good God with me; I am the mother of a priest!
It was to you that I wrote, twenty-five years ago, when this child was given to me. I can remember, I was beside myself with happiness! I felt he was really alive near me; I stretched forth my hand to him, I fondled him in his cradle to make quite sure that he was mine own. Oh! What a distance lies between those joys and the ones of today, which raise up my heart and fill it with new sentiments!
I am today the mother of a priest!
These hands which, when little, I kissed so tenderly, 25 years ago, these hands are consecrated, these fingers have touched God!
This intelligence, which has received the light and to which I showed the meaning of life, it has grown, it has been imbued with truth, it has surpassed mine by study and by grace, and behold now, it is consecrated!
This body, that I cared for, and protected, that made me pass many nights in tears, when sickness came upon it, this body has become great, robust, and behold it is consecrated!
Servant of the soul of the priest, it will grow tired in raising up the sinner, instructing the ignorant, giving the Lord to every thinking creature that seeks and asks for it.
This heart. Ah! This pure heart that never touched any other heart but that of his mother, that trembled before all earthly contact, behold it is consecrated! The love that it pours out is called charity. Oh! My son! I know him well; I know what treasures are contained in this concentrated nature. This concentration will be to him as a strong rampart against life, against himself; but in the secrecy of his priesthood, when God will put in his way a weak soul, troubled or lost, how he will find words to raise it up and make it trust in the Divine Goodness.
Yes, yes, he will do good, my child; he will be according to the Heart of God, he will be all charity.
Yes, yes, I am the mother of a priest, of a true priest! How shall I describe yesterday’s ceremony? I was there, but saw no one but him; but him kneeling down, standing up, prostrating, rising up, leaving, full of recollection after the hands of the Bishop had been imposed upon his head, now a priest!
And this morning, he said his second Mass in the little chapel of the humble convent, in silence and between two candles – with a child for his server – his mother and a few intimate friends for the audience!
Ah! When we desire to describe the happiness of Heaven, may we not liken it to the happiness of a mother in beholding God descending at the voice of her son, and being absorbed in such deep adoration as to forget the world, life, the past, and resting only on these two words, God and her son!
There he was, his tall figure, his black hair, his grave bearing, all made him appear noble. I was quite close to the altar, without motion and sensibility. The sound of a body kneeling before the Sacred Host fell upon my eats – my lips moved, I was in an ecstasy – I whispered: Thanks, my God, thanks!
This priest was once mine: I formed him, his soul learned the truth from mine! He is no long mine , but Yours alone! Keep him from every taint of evil; he is the salt of the earth, prevent him from being corrupted! My God, I love You, and I love him! I respect and venerate him, he is your priest!
At the Communion, the server, at my approach, said the Confiteor; the celebrant turned round and raised his right hand; the words of absolution were pronounced over his mother.
My son! With a sigh he took the ciborium, came to me, carrying with him my God! What a moment! What union! God, his priest, and me!…. Was I praying? Really, I do not know. A deep peace filled my soul; I burst into tears; with love and gratitude, I said quietly: “My God! My son!” Yes, for us mothers, prayer is our hope. I never complain. There have been many beautiful days in my life: this one is the sweetest of all, because the thoughts of earth had no place in it.
Farewell, then; I can write no more; my tears moisten the sheet on which I write, they are tears of happiness."
Source: Truth Vol. XVL No.8 August 1912
The Lukewarm priest
(That) priest is certainly greatly to blame who is filled with the spirit of the age that he ridicules every pious devotion, even those devotions approved of by the Church; who is, on principle, opposed to pious sodalities and confraternities; who makes light of the rosary, the medal, the scapular and so on; who never encourages the people to practice frequent Communion; who discourages and even opposes those who wish to enter the convent, especially when they are useful to himself; who is, on principle, opposed to missions, to retreats and the like; who looks upon Catholic Schools as a foreign notion, or at least as an unnecessary luxury; who takes more interest in fairs and dances than in teaching his poor children the catechism; who finds more pleasure in fast horses than in the conversion of sinners; who spends more time in carousing, in visiting the theaters and watering places than in instructing the ignorant and praying before his Lord hidden in the tabernacle.
Such a priest is clearly a stumbling block to many on the way of salvation. But let us forget that HE is also an enemy of souls, who is ever guided by rash, imprudent zeal; who sends people to the convent who have no marks of a divine vocation; who encourages young men to study for the priesthood, who are slaves of the most shameful vices; who allow frequent Communion to worldly-minded young women, passionately addicted to so-called fashionable, yet really indecent dances; who show an insane jealousy of their neighboring priests, especially if these priests have the good or ill fortune to be religious!
(…) He is not very strict in observing the rubrics. He rushes through his breviary with little attention and devotion. He confesses but seldom, and even then with little preparation. He hurries through Mass without preparation or thanksgiving, without devotion or recollection. The lukewarm priest may labor much, but his motives are merely natural. His actions are not prompted by the inspirations of grace. Hence he makes so little progress in the path of virtue. He preaches to others, but how does he practice what he preaches. He prays in the name of the Church, but does he pray from his heart? (…) Every day at the altar, he opens heavens to others, while his own heart has no desire for heaven.
Every day our Lord comes down from heaven to cast fire upon his heart, and his heart remains cold; the fire of divine love will not burn. If a man takes every day the most nourishing food and yet does not get strong, he must certainly be sick; there must be something wrong!
Source: The Catholic Priesthood, Michael Muller p68
"With a satisfaction born of her divinity can the Catholic Church look back over her young life of nineteen centuries. She has been her very existence apparently exterminated by the legions of imperial Rome, yet out of the catacombs she came forth to chant Rome's requiem.
The religious revolt of the sixteenth century prepared a tomb for the Church of the Ages. Yet in some mysterious way the Church has lived to record another Easter morn.
Still her enemies arise anew to taunt her in the modern day. She is called on by modern religion to come down from her supernatural viewpoint and become humanitarian; she is called by modern morality to come down from her high standards of celibacy and virginity, of indissoluble marriage, of marriage's sanctity; she is called upon by modern skepticism and unbelief to come down from her belief in such a thing as Truth, the existence of God and the Divinity of Christ. All together call upon the Catholic Church to come down and mingle as one among many and change her standards to suit the modern mind. And they threaten that is as she will not come down, then she must die. Like Christ, she is charged at one time of blasphemy and at another time of being unpatriotic.
Thus does the Church renew the life of Christ, and from the pulpit of her cross the Church will continue to preach and will not omit the prayer of Christ for those who contrived to kill God, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
Source: Bishop Hafey, Easter Sermon 1932
The violence of the enemy is always directed against those priests who are most generous and most loyal. The more you are like your Divine Model, your Saviour and your God, the more certainly will you be the target for the calumnies, the abuse and persecutions of the wicked.
One thing is clear, namely, that it is not the man, but Jesus Christ, that is, truth and virtue, who is persecuted in the priest. All this noisy clamor, then, against priests, which wearies the ear and is borne in upon us from the four winds of heaven, is but the prolonged cry of the deicides: Away with Him, away with Him. Away with this man; we will not bow to the authority of God, nor will we submit to the yoke of duty; we will obey only ourselves, and follow whither our passions lead. The priest protests against our pride; he rebukes our vices; he threatens us with the vengeance of God; he is a torment to us and pursues like a vision of hell: Away with him, away with him.
This is the solution of the enigma, the explanation of that strange and unnatural hatred against the priest. There are two camps: on the one side are the Catholic priests bearing a banner on which are inscribed words uttered by angels at the cradle of their Divine Founder: Glory be to God, and peace to men, through humility, self-denial and chastity; and on the other side are ranged pride, voluptuousness and every delirious passion, on whose banner is emblazoned the legend: War against God, and death to priests.
And this is as it should be. The priest is a man of God, sent to carry on and continue the great work of the redemption of mankind, and to gather together the elect from every part of the earth. On the other hand, hell wars without ceasing against the accomplishment of God's designs and, in order to drag down the posterity of Adam to the pit below, arms all its adherents against the priest. All the worst passions of men are let loose against him, and like so many stormy billows rise in their anger, beat upon him, and threaten to engulf and destroy him.
In the end his lot is such as was foretold. It was clearly predicted of him that he would attract to himself, as if by a natural law, the malice and fury of the wicked and the love and veneration of the good. The disciple is not above his Master. If they have persecuted Me, said Jesus Christ to His Disciples, they will also persecute you. You shall be dragged before tribunals, you shall be scourged, you shall be cast into prisons, you shall be condemned to death.
Priest of God, you knew all this, you were aware of the dangers of your mission, and you cheerfully accepted the burden. You are a priest because you wished to be one; you saw before you conflicts, contradictions and trials of every sort; still you did not hesitate, you said generously with St. Thomas: Let us also go that we may die with Him.
How beautiful and ennobling it is to share the toils and fatigues of our Saviour, Jesus Christ; to make God known to men; to preach the Gospel to the poor; to proclaim His mercy to sinners; to assure the unfortunate that they have a Father in heaven, and that the pains of a day can merit an eternity of bliss! Yes, it is beautiful to carry on the glorious mission of our Divine Redeemer, and to be with Him engaged in the work of saving our brethren, even though we should in the end like Him die on the Cross: Let us also go that we may die with Him.
Therefore, O priest of Jesus Christ, your glory and your happiness consist in this: to be for His sake a mark for calumny, abuse and persecution. This will be a proof that you are a foe to the world and its vices, and that you worthily represent Him who smote the world with His anathema: If you be reproached for the name of Jesus, you shall be blessed...They indeed went from the presence of the Council rejoicing, that they were accounted worthy of suffering reproach for Jesus.
Fear not the world, it can harm only the body; fear it not, for He has overcome it: Have confidence, I have overcome the world.
Source: Jesus Living in the Priest: Considerations on the greatness and Holiness of the Priesthood
Jacques Nicolas et Rev. P. Millet, S.J. Imprimatur Michael Augustine, Archbishop of New York , June 29, 1901
Work of the Priesthood
Catholic priests have ever been the champions of virtue, and the Church was always a barrier to tyranny and social disorder, says the Freeman's Journal. Virtue! Virtue! Is their constant theme.
They inculcate it to the powerful as well as the weak, to the rich as well as the poor.
They protect the innocent and save the oppressed from violence. They insist on the observance of the law and the keeping of the commandments. Children learn from their lips the obligation of obedience, and parents are reminded of what they owe to their offspring. Husbands and wives are taught fidelity and the necessity of mutual forbearance. Compassion for the afflicted, mercy toward the erring, alms-giving to the needy and charity for all are among their frequent lessons. When selfishness corrupts the hearts of men they hear echoing the solemn duty of bearing each other's burden. These are the doctrines taught by the priesthood. There is not a virtue necessary for the individual or society that has not its teacher, its champion and its model within the ranks of the clergy. They are ever ready with arguments to show the beauty of virtue and the horrid deformity of vice. With a zeal all their own and a power all divine, they illumine the intellect, fill the soul with grace, purify the heart and rescue the sin-laden from eternal misery.
Source: Our Church, Her Children, and Institutions, Vol.1 ed. Henry Coyle, Angel Guardian Press 1908
Historians may discuss and dispute the time and circumstances in which the Christian priesthood began to use an altogether distinctive dress at the altar; but they have to agree that what was so used was held as sacred. The cloak which St. Paul seemed so careful about was early reported to have been his sacrificing robe. The same character was attributed to Thomas the Apostle’s mantle, long venerated at Rome. The centuries of persecution were not a time for elaborating ceremony or dress, yet pontiffs of the period are on record for restrictions in the use of the same garments at the altar and away from it, or by one order of the clergy and by another. The first pope who enjoyed the freedom of peace, St. Sylvester, introduced an improvement that still holds its ground: our sleeved dalmatics were prescribed by him. St. Jerome mentions the white robes of all ministers within the Sanctuary, as ordinary and long-established. Thence down through the centuries there are adaptations to place, or rite, or monastic or secular garb; but the insistence on sacred vestments, on their sacred significance and sacred employment, goes on ever increasing. Holy to the Lord, is the more and more exclusive mark on them, as on those who are privileged to wear them.
And here, my
brethren, I have to call your attention to a point that may somewhat
escape your notice – though when well considered it is found most
practical. The holiness of the priestly vestments is very much for
the priest himself. In blessing them the Church asks that the wearer
may be fit and apt for so sacred a ministry; but she also implores
that he may be filled with the grace of the Holy Ghost, rendered
perseveringly agreeable to God, clad with chastity here and with
immortality hereafter. ‘Tis particularly in the words she puts on
his lips as he takes each vestment that we divine her maternal
solicitude for her priest in person. All scriptural sanctities are
invoked on him. The amice, with which you may have seen him first
cover his head and then tuck out of view all trace of his secular
dress, is to be to him an unfailing helmet of salvation. Made white
like his alb, and, in the very Blood of the Lamb, he is to be fitted
for joys eternal. With the binding of his cincture, concupiscence is
extinguished. His manipule tells of the exultant harvesting that will
follow his tearful sowing; for of him and his fellow-laborers is it
prophetically true that “going they went and wept, casting their
seeds. But coming they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their
sheaves” (Ps. 125). His Stole, the special ensign of the priesthood
that is forever, proclaims his right to Everlasting Life and its
beatitude; while his Chasuble, though bearing a Cross before and
behind, is but the sweet yoke and light burden of the Master who give
both the merit and the crown. So it is with these and the other
sacred vestures he may have to put on. Panoplied round with them, and
with the dispositions they suppose, he is invulnerable to the
assaults of every malign spirit. Even human malignity had often to
refrain; for Law recognized a peculiarly punishable atrocity in
assaults on the vested priest. To the devout faithful there is an
attractive sacredness in the robes which come in contact with the
Altar of God; for they vividly recall that Garment, the touch of
whose hem was health and holiness. And as far, my brethren, as holy
vesture can announce and preserve the sanctity of the wearer, the
same faithful have good reason to rejoice. Assuredly they may be said
to need nothing, after the grace of God, more than they need the
holiness of their priests. God’s ordination carries with it that
sanction and consequence. ‘Tis markedly the races and nations most
devotedly attached to the chaste sacredness of the priestly character
who have best maintained the worship of the Son of the Virgin, the
Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.
Source:By the Rev. G. Lee CSSP ( A Pulpit Commentary on Catholic Teaching: The liturgy of the ecclesiastical year, 1910)