On the Catholic Priesthood
The Priesthood was Instituted by Christ
From the multitude that followed Him, He chose His apostles. At the Last Supper He ordained them priests to offer sacrifice. After His resurrection He commissioned them to go forth and to teach and sanctify all nations. He promised to be with them all days, even to the consummation of the world. The Priesthood, therefore, will continue to exist on earth till the last day. Without it, the holy sacrifice of the Mass would not be offered, the sacraments would not be administered, the word of God would not be preached to the faithful, and the true religion would soon disappear. It is principally through the priesthood that Christ continues to maintain and establish His kingdom; and it is through those who have entered this state, that is, through the priests of His holy Church, that He is accomplishing His greatest achievements in the work of salvation and sanctification. Truly have they been called other Christs, for none are more Christlike in the duties to be performed, of in dignity or in power than the duly ordained priest.
"I know that ravening wolves will enter among you, not sparing the flock"
The hardship is great, because the enemy has long been prowling around the flock and with subtle cunning has endeavored to bring havoc upon it, succeeding to such and extent that more than every, what the Apostle wrote to the ancients of the Church of Ephesus, seems to be realized: "I know that ravening wolves will enter among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts XX. 29)
Those among us who are prompted by zeal for the glory of God and who seek the reasons for the present decay of religion, ascribe it to various causes; and each, according to his own views, adopts different methods in the endeavor to protect and restore the kingdom of God on earth.
To Us, Venerable Brethren, without rejecting the opinions of others, it seems that we must agree with the judgment of those who attribute the remissness, or rather the intellectual debility of our times, as the condition from which such grave evils arise, chiefly to ignorance of divine things. There seems to be in our day a recurrence of what God said by the mouth of the Prophet Oseas: " There is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft have overflowed, and blood hath touched blood. Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth in it shall languish" (Osee iv. 1-3)
Source: On the Teaching of Christian Doctrine, Pope St. Pius X
The Man of God
The priest being the man of God, charged with the interests of His glory, is destined to do on earth what the angel does in heaven. As the blessed spirits, lost in veneration before the throne of the universal King, unceasingly sing His praises, and emulate one another in repeating their sublime Sanctus, so, says Father Olier, the Lord, desiring to be worshiped in a similar manner upon earth, and seeing that the majority of men would not keep themselves to this perpetual adoration, has instituted the priesthood to offer it in their stead.
The good priest is ever imbued with the profoundest love for God and the most ardent desire of procuring His glory. But it is especially towards the Holy Eucharist that his pious affection shows itself most ardent and zealous. It is in this wonderful mystery, as we have previously observed, that our divine Lord has humbled Himself most profoundly for our sake. Gratitude, therefore, demands that our love and veneration towards Him should be correspondingly greater than in other mysteries; and in this the Church and God Himself have given us the example.
"Priests," said Alain de Solminiac, "being officers of the crown, are under particular obligations not only to honor their divine King, but also to make Him honored as He deserves."
When the minister of Jesus Christ is under the guiding influence of lively faith, he manifests in his whole exterior such modesty, gravity, and every-abiding sense of God's holy presence that his very appearance becomes an homage to God and a salutary instruction to all who see him. People are influenced more by example than by precept. The sight of a holy priest prostrate before the tabernacle, motionless, and as it were, annihilated in the presence of the Lord, has, not un-frequently, been the means designed by a merciful Providence to re-animate lukewarm Christians, to convert sinners, and even to convince unbelievers by awakening in their souls a spirit of reflection, study, and prayer.
The Importance of an exact observance of the holy rubrics
St. Vincent de Paul said his Mass with such unction and fervor that all could see that his heart spoke through his lips. His modesty, the serenity of his countenance, his whole exterior appearance were calculated to impress the least susceptible of this audience. They observed in his person something so exceptionally noble and at the same time so humble that often some of them were heart to whisper to others: "How well that priest says Mass!"
On the other hand, it would be impossible to calculate the evil done to religion by inattentive, indevout, worldly looking priests, who, while celebrating, seem intent only on accomplishing their task in the shortest possible time, seemingly indifferent as to whether they offer God homage or insult. Seeing them, one would be tempted to ask, with Tertullian: " Sacrificat an insultat?" Let us suppose that St. Basil and the other ministers who served him at the altar in the church of Cesarea had been wont to celebrate Mass in a trivial, unbecoming manner, instead of that imposing solemnity which fills us with an awe-inspiring sense of God's presence in our sanctuaries; could they have so terrified the Emperor Valens as to make him turn pallid and tremble when he advanced toward the altar to present an offering which none would receive at his hands, because he was guilty of heresy?
We have read of a heretic who, after many conferences with a saint and learned religious, had resolved to embrace the true faith; but having observed priests offer the holy sacrifice without respect or devotion, he was so scandalized by their irreverence that he could not be convinced to the truth of Catholic doctrines, or that those priests themselves believed them, and he completely abandoned the idea of entering the true Church.
One of the most infallible means of preventing that routine indifference which too great familiarity with sacred things so often superinduces, of escaping the abysses of evil which it leads to, as well as of fostering in our souls that feeling of religious awe so essential to the most sublime and sacred of all ministries, is to habituate ourselves to an exact observance of the holy rubrics, and to perform as perfectly as possible each one of the prescribed ceremonies. This is of the highest practical importance.
Father Tronson, in an instruction on this subject (Observance of the Holy Rubrics), aptly remarks with what care and in what express terms Almighty God Himself had, under the Old Law, ordered and regulated, even to the minutest detail, everything concerning His public and exterior worship. And with what terrible severity He had punished all violations of those regulations, he furnishes three remarkable instances.
The two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abiu, are devoured by fire because, contrary to the ceremonial law, they put in their censers a fire other than that prescribed.
Oza is punished with instantaneous death for having unlawfully touched the Ark of the Covenant, though under circumstances which seemed to render his doing so excusable, if not imperative.
Ophni and Phinees, with their father Heli, who by his silence encouraged their sacrilegious temerity, were also punished in a dreadful manner for their transgression of the divine ordinance.
Who will believe that God exacts less respect for our adorable mysteries that He did for those of the Old Testament, which were but feeble representations, dimly defined shadows of what is accomplished on our altars?
Lend a respectful ear to what the holy Council of Trent says: "-If any one saith, that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church, wont to be used in the solemn administration of the sacraments, may be contemned, or without sin be omitted at pleasure by the ministers, or be changed, by every pastor of the churches, into other new ones; let him be anathema. (Canon 13, on the Sacraments)"
Anathema is the greatest punishment which the Church can inflict. Against whom, in this instance, does she pronounce it?
Not against those who change, neglect, or omit at their pleasure the rites which she has approved and adopted; but against those who simply say that every pastor can change them, that they can be neglected or omitted without sin. Now, if the Church thus vigorously deals with whosoever speaks lightly of her sacred rites and ceremonies, will she spare those who in action disregard them? In vain would we endeavor to palliate our neglect by pretending that we do not intend to disregard the rubrics. Have we not just reason for alarm, when we reflect on the above-cited decree of the Church, and realize that we do not take pains to observe them religiously?
The Mass is the memorial of the passion of Jesus Christ. His death is here mystically represented by the separate consecration of the bread and of the wine. The ornaments are all marked with the sign of the the cross, which is used in all ceremonies and benedictions. But above all, the silence, the meekness, the patience of the adorable Victim, everything at the altar, vividly remind us of the ignominious and sorrowful scenes of Calvary. Moreover, outrages ceased not to be offered to Jesus Christ with the termination of His mortal life. We know what indignities have been reserved for Him hidden under the Eucharistic veils. Alas! does He not find in our churches renewal of the cruel trials of Calvary? Does not His heart experience the same sorrow at the sight of the crimes daily committed by men, whilst He offers Himself to the Eternal Father as a victim of propitiation? Does He not find also coldness, indifference, abandonment, and that, too, on the part of those very persons who were the recipients of his greatest favors and on whose fidelity He had therefore the strongest claims. On the cross He was loaded with opprobrium by the Jews; on the altar He is overwhelmed with it by the heretics and the impious. But in this example of the Savior, who not only devotes Himself to torments and to death, but who also, as it were, prolongs and perpetuates His passion by leaving Himself in the hands of men, there is a wonderful power to make us love mortification, or at least render the practice of is more agreeable.
Jesus Christ foresaw everything. Therefore, when through love for men He constituted Himself a prisoner in the Holy Eucharist, the persecutions of the future were as clearly present to Him as those which He was actually undergoing. His tender love for us triumphed over every feeling of repugnance. He accepted the twofold chalice. Oh, that thought alone, which everything connected with the celebration of the sacred Mysteries so vividly recalls, ought to suffice to inspire the priest with unbounded generosity and courage!
Thou hast, O Lord! constituted Thyself my Victim; shall I refuse to be Thine? When instituting the Sacrament of the Altar, and pre-ordaining me to be its privileged minister, Thou didst well know how many tribulations Thou wouldst have to undergo from that moment to this. Thou hast ever present to Thee those numberless impieties, those horrible sacrileges, committed against Thee in Thy holy sacraments during this long interval of nearly nineteen hundred years. Thou didst distinctly foresee how many Judases Thou wouldst encounter on Thy way, how many times on multiplied Calvaries Thy thirst wouldst be sated with vinegar and gall; yet that terrifying prospect could not allay the fervor of Thy love, nor prevent Thee accomplishing this prodigy of charity in my behalf. Will it now be said that I have nothing but a lukewarm heart to offer Thee in return for all Thou has done for me? For love of me Thou hast sacrificed consolations, glory, life itself; shall I hesitate to sacrifice for Thee my love of ease, my sensitive emotions? For the love of me Thou hast consented to be spit upon, to be trampled under foot, to be crucified; Thou has abandoned Thyself to the fury of Thy enemies, to be rejected, insulted, vilified by many even of Thy own disciples, and all this Thou endurest till the consummation of the world; and shall I complain of remaining in obscurity during the few days of my sojourn on earth? Shall I permit a slight insult or contradiction to irritate me to such an extent as completely to upset my mind? Shall I continued to be proud, impatient, excitable, exacting? Such a contrast should not be tolerated.
The Deplorable Results of Ignorance in a Priest
The ignorance of priests and the disorders which follow upon it very largely account for the loss of faith and morals in a country.
This the enemies of the Church know perfectly well. When at the outbreak of the French Revolution the clergy were called upon to take the oath to the Civil Constitution, Mirabeau said: Educated priests will refuse to take this oath, and once we have driven them out and brought the cloisters into disrepute, we can replace them with men destitute of faith and morals, who will do more to aid us in robbing France of her Catholicity than we can possibly do with all our decrees.
Jesus Christ having so dignified chastity in His own person left it to His priests as the most beautiful adornment of their priesthood and the greatest glory of their ministry. A priest whose reputation is clean and whose morals are pure is dear to the heart of God and useful to His Church; whereas, on the contrary, a priest whose morals are not beyond reproach, a pastor who is not chaste, what sort of a priest, what sort of a pastor is he?
Whoever the priest is who does not strive to do something more than his predecessors have done, who does not seek out new means by which to draw men from the torrent of iniquity in which they are being lost, is a priest who suffers himself to be beaten by the wicked, and a pastor who sleeps while the wolves are devastating his fold.
Be up and doing, then ye priests and pastors of souls; set to work promptly with all earnestness and zeal to do something for these men.
My God, if only priests clearly understood and fully appreciated the tremendous power which unity of doctrine, unity of hierarchy and, above all, their divine mission confer upon them; if only they had a living faith and an abiding trust in Him from whom they received their mission; if only they worked with the zeal, charity and disinterestedness of the first Apostles, the whole world would be subdued and kneel at their feet. They are more potent than statesmen with all their political craft and subterfuge; they are more potent than even kings and emperors with their armies; they are the depositories of a great moral force which alone can move the world.
Forward, then, O priests of the Lord; forward, with the sword of the Word and the shield of faith, all obedient to the same Head, all animated with the same spirit; diocesan priests and regulars, young men with the oil of consecration still fresh upon your hands, old men, veterans of the Sanctuary, forward, as one man; vice and error will flee at your approach, victory will be yours and the world will be saved.
Vocation to Missions Among the Infidels
And He spoke to them this parable, saying, What man of you that hath an hundred sheep,
and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go
after that which was lost till he find it ? And when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulders,
rejoicing." — St. Luke xv. 3—5.
Go after that which was lost.
In this Parable Jesus Christ indicates Himself, Who (says St. Gregory) left the choirs of
Angels in Heaven, and, in order to fill up the number of His flock in Heaven, sought lost
man upon earth. And the Priest who leaves the charge of devout souls in order to visit
the land of infidels, and to seek the salvation of those lost souls towards whom Jesus
has such compassion, is a follower of this Good Shepherd, Who came down upon earth
to seek the lost sheep.
Most necessary is it to have pity on those who are perishing (says St. Cyril). This is a most
noble vocation, for it is similar to that of the Son of God ; most glorious is this destiny, which
renders the Missionary a partaker of the Apostolate. The Apostles were to "sit upon thrones "
(St. Luke xxii. 30) — to be " the salt of the earth," "the light of the world," "the light put upon a
candle-stick" (St. Matt. v. 13, 14, 15); and the rewards promised to them — " the hundredfold "
of that which they had left, and the thrones" on which they should "judge the twelve tribes of Israel"
(St. Matt. xix. 28) — represent the infinite value of the recompense reserved for them, and for all
those who are partakers of the Apostolical ministry. Happy those who " are numbered with them
and have part in this ministry" (Acts i. 17) ! whereas to many others God says, " Thou hast no part
nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God " (Acts viii. 2 1 ).
What worldly glory can be put in comparison with that of a man thus truly Apostolical ?
How many good works, what great virtue, what abundant merits, are his! How sweet will death
become to him ! How superabundant his happiness in Heaven !
The Priesthood of the Word made flesh
St. Cyril of Jerusalem teaches that Christ was Priest before all ages, anointed by the Father in His eternal generation, so that His Priesthood had not its beginning in time, but is immutable. This Priesthood consisted not in humiliations, in sufferings, in prayers, but in knowing the Father, in acknowledging Him as the source of the Godhead, and Himself as true God of true God. It consisted (according to St. Thomas) in saying to Him, "Thou art my Father," " I am in Thee, and Thou in Me; I love Thee and honor Thee with an infinite love and infinite glory; for infinite is the love which Thou bearest Me, and infinite the glory which Thou hast communicated to Me." He united this Priesthood with His temporal Priesthood when He assumed human nature; taking from us (as St. Augustin says) that which He would offer for us. The Word (says St. Ambrose) appeared clothed with flesh, in His dignity of King and of Judge, and full of sacerdotal justice. Our guilt could not be cancelled without a sacrifice, and therein a sacrifice was sought. The Son (says St. Gregory) took our nature, but not our sin, and offered Himself a sinless Victim. His Incarnation was itself a Sacrifice which lasted His whole mortal life, was consummated upon the Cross, and is continued in glory at the Right Hand of the Father, and on our altars on earth. In the womb of Mary (says Dionysius of Alexandria) the King of Glory was made a High Priest; and He continueth such for ever, now that He has entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. Let us adore our great High Priest, in Whose hands is our salvation. Source: Meditations For the use of the Clergy, Oblates of St. Charles
Do Not Be Afraid
Do not be afraid, if you find yourselves in the minority. "Woe to you when men shall bless you!" You must be censured if you are the disciples of Jesus Christ. The world that hated Him will not love you. "The disciple is not above his master, not the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord." "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household?" And therefore, if you have the mark of the world's hatred upon you, accept it; press it to your bosom. It is the token that you are the disciples of the true and only Master. If you have the world's favor and sunshine, look to yourselves.
There is a dark future before the world. What it may be, God alone knows. The Church will have to suffer; but there is a light upon it, and that light can never fade. We are in evil times, marked deeply by the four great evils of which I have spoken. Around us are "evil men and seducers, who grow worse and worse, erring, and driving into error. " "Many shall come in my name," our Lord has said, "and seduce many"; and because of their iniquity the love and the charity of the many shall wax cold. Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be wars and pestilences in many places. But the end is not yet. This is only the beginning of troubles. Keep close to the footsteps of the Master who spoke those words; and, when these signs are in the sky and upon the earth, remember that He also said, "When these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption is at hand."
Thanks to the Holy Spirit for Celibacy
The Holy Spirit decreed that this obligation should be specially imposed on Priests, in order that
they might not be hindered from prayer, and from the daily celebration of the holy mysteries ;
as St. Jerome and St. Peter Damian declare. In this state, also (as St. Ambrose says), Priests have
a better title to speak in praise of chastity, and to urge the practice of it, since they give
example of it in their own person. It enables them also to gain greater respect from the laity
(as St. Augustin explains). Moreover, in a state of chastity, Priests can consecrate themselves
wholly to the service of the Church and the sanctification of souls, and are able to bestow
their ecclesiastical revenues on the poor.
Let us, then, give thanks to the Holy Spirit for having made us Priests of the Latin Church,
and for having given us so many brilliant examples of chastity among her clergy.
Our Best Help in the Spiritual Life
In the Catholic Church, our greatest treasure, and the source of our strength and consolation, is the Most Adorable Sacrifice of the Mass, offered with faith and hope, with thanksgiving and love, in union with the merits and intentions of the Divine Victim, the Son of the Living God.
It has been well said that the Mass, the Sacrifice offered on our altars, is, to the Catholic , the sun of Christianity, the soul of Faith, the center of the Christian religion, the grand object of all the Church's rites, ceremonies and Sacraments - the summary, in a word, of all that is good and beautiful in Divine worship and the service of God.
It is no mere form of prayer, but a great and solemn Sacrificial Act offered through Jesus Christ unto the supreme honor of God alone, our Creator and Sovereign Lord. At this august Action, the faithful assist intelligently and fruitfully even when they are so far from the Altar that they cannot hear what is said. At no time since the creation of man was the world without visible sacrifices offered to God. In the Prophecy of Daniel it is foretold that at the coming of Antichrist "the continual sacrifice shall be taken away" (xii,2); and one of the chief acts of the so-called Reformation in the sixteenth century was to suppress this holy Oblation.
Alas! how great is the loss which they suffer who neglect to hear Mass, a loss which they will most bitterly regret, at least in the life beyond the grave.
Some laugh at the custom of hearing daily Mass, and say: "No one that wishes to get on in the world can do such a thing." If they succeed in putting together some wealth, how dearly that success is bought if it drew them on to neglect even Sunday Mass and other grave obligations! When they come to die, how little consolation will such riches give! Will not those persons cry out then, "What hath pride profited us, or the boasting of riches brought us? These things are passed away like a shadow." In the next live, if they see the faithful souls who loved Holy Mass, and lived for God only, they will say: "We, fools, esteemed their life madness and their end without honor. Behold, how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints" (Wisd. v.6)
Our model in offering the Holy Sacrifice in union with the priest is our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross, offering her Divine Son unto the honor of God for the redemption of the world. We should associate ourselves with her, and desire to have the same perfect disposition of soul as she had on Calvary, and we should ask of her to intercede for us that we may worthily offer the Adorable Sacrifice and share in all its benefits. Everyone who assists at Mass is an offerer of the Sacrifice with the priest. The prayers said in the plural number by the celebrant for those who are present, the mention by him of the people as offerers, and the responses spoken aloud by the server, all show that the persons present at the Mass are true offerers of the Sacrifice, and are liturgically associated with the priest.