Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

You are a priest forever...

Newsletter of Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration
Portsmouth, Ohio

"Why is it said to a priest, "You are a Priest forever...”
What is the eternal aspect of the priesthood—
how would you be a priest once you have left this life?
What does it mean for you to think of your priesthood as lasting forever?"
Could you also explain to us about the indelible mark on the soul
that is placed on you at ordination?

Answered by: Father Matthew J. Albright

The ordained priest, by virtue of valid ordination through the laying on of hands and consecratory prayer of a bishop, is configured to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit. The priest is conformed to Christ, who is the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church. As Christ possesses the triple identity of priest, prophet and king, so the priest shares in His triple office. Thus, the ordained priesthood involves the ministries of sanctifying, preaching, and shepherding the flock of Christ.
At the heart of the identity of the priest, which is derived from the priest’s relationship to Christ, and at the heart of all the various ministerial duties of a priest, is the reality that the priest stands in persona Christi capitis – in the person of Christ the Head. The priest represents Christ for the Church.
Despite his unworthiness to hold the office, his weak humanity and inability to image Christ completely, the priest, by virtue of the grace of ordination, remains an image of Christ. Every priest strives daily to be worthy of this great calling and submit his humanity to the grace of ordination, in order to “get out of the way” and allow Christ to be revealed in him.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders, as with Baptism and Confirmation, imparts an indelible mark on the soul of a priest. Thus, the spiritual character of the priesthood is permanent. It cannot be removed. The Sacrament cannot be conferred temporarily or repeated. The ordained priest is a priest forever, and his priesthood becomes essential to his very identity.
Even if a priest is “laicized” or dispensed from the obligations, faculties and functions of the priesthood, his identity remains that of a priest. A priest cannot truly become a layman again after ordination. Even if a priest looses permission to function as a priest, he never looses the sacred power of ordination. Canon Law recognizes as valid the emergency anointing of the dying by even a laicized priest.
The indelible spiritual character imparted on the soul of a priest endures unto eternity. Jesus says in the Gospel that, in Heaven, “there will be no marrying or giving in marriage.” On earth, the celibate priesthood (the practice in the Roman Rite since late apostolic times) is a witness to, and foretaste of, the non-exclusive love of Heaven.
In Heaven, all are joined perfectly in love with one another and with God. In eternity, however, the souls of priests remain marked with the indelible character of their ordination and so the priesthood remains. This must mean that the priest is consecrated – that is, “set apart” – even in Heaven, and so participates in the eternal liturgy of Heaven, the eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb of God, in a priestly manner. Only in Heaven will we understand what this means – but what a splendid thought indeed!
All this means that the priesthood is fundamentally ontological, not functional. That is, it is about who the priest is, and not simply what he does. The priest is a priest; he doesn’t simply do priestly tasks. He is an image of Christ. It is helpful for the priest, indeed for the whole Church, to realize how an authentic understanding of the priesthood transforms our way of perceiving the spiritual life and raises our minds and hearts to a higher level.
For example, the Mass is so much more than a fellowship experience or a gathering of persons orchestrated by a “presider,” as the priest is sometimes inappropriately labeled. The Mass is the wedding of Heaven and earth, the sharing on earth in the eternal liturgy of Heaven, the Church’s supreme worship of the divine presence. As the priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Church experiences a participation in the one eternal sacrifice of the Cross, which is the moment of our salvation. The priest is not simply performing functions of ministry, or filling one liturgical role among many. He is experiencing in the consecration of the Eucharist the pinnacle of His existence, which is at the same time the source and summit of the whole life of the Church. The priest says the words of the consecration in the first person. Thus, in the priest, we hear Christ speaking. The priest is the image of Christ in the Church’s celebration of the Mass. This reality is meaningful for priests and also for everyone who worships at Mass.
As a priest, I understand the gravity of my vocation and the significance of my identity as God’s minister. I exercise that role, not for myself, but in order to change lives, form minds and hearts, and save souls for Christ. I rely on the collaboration and prayers of so many people – priests and laity alike – and ultimately on the grace of God, as I strive to answer the call to bring Christ to others in the midst of the world. May we always praise God for the incredible gift of His love, bestowed on simple men called “Father” – and through them to the world.

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