Vocation Sacraments

Holy Orders - Presbyters (priests)

In the new Testament, only bishops and priests possess priestly powers. In the Church’s language, bishops have the fullness of the priesthood, “the highest priest of the first order.” Presbyters (priests) are  priests of the second order.”

Challenged on the priesthood, the Catholic Church has more than once defended her teaching as revealed by God and therefore the irreversible truth. The most explicit doctrine was taught by the Council of Trent.

There is a visible and external priesthood in the New Testament. It consists in the power of consecrating and offering the Body and Blood of the Lord, and of remitting and of retaining sins. The priesthood, therefore, is not only an office and simple ministry of preaching.

Orders, or holy ordination, is truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ our Lord.

Priest are consecrated to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful as well as celebrate Divine Worship (Mass ) and the Sacrament of Penance (CCC 1564). His supreme dignity is in celebrating the Mass, where he makes present the Body and Blood of Christ in the person of Christ (In person Christi) (CCC 1566). This is symbolized in the reception of the chalice and patten at his ordination (CCC 1574). A priest takes promises of obedience to his Bishops (CCC 1567).

All parishes call for the same fundamental ministry of the priest, but each in its own distinctive way. The priest needs to be very flexible and adaptable in the way he lives and works.

In any parish, the priest’s ministry is to build a community of faith, of truly faith-filled people. It is there that they encounter the living Jesus in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in the whole prayer-life of the community, and in their fellow parishioners. Parish unity is to be a communion of faith and witness. The parish is supposed to be a servant community, a community for others. In other words, it is meant to be a small-scale version of all that the Church is called to be.

For the parish the priest is their shepherd, bringing them the care of the Good Shepherd. His ministry tries to create an atmosphere of prayer and of loving care, a community where people feel they belong, where they are valued and accepted.

On the other hand, a priest cannot do everything. He has his limitations, like anyone else. Jesus himself did not heal all the sick, feed all the hungry or touch the lives of everyone who came to him. Nor can the priest. He has to learn to leave some things undone. When Jesus chose to visit Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 19. 1-10), he decided that this man needed him there and then. The others were left disappointed. In his pastoral care, the priest will have to make such decisions, and his priorities should be the same as those of Jesus. He cannot possibly do this alone, nor should he, but the little he does manage to achieve will often bear more fruit than he could possibly imagine.

It is often difficult for the priest to be at home in the presbytery long enough to be available for callers. He has so much else to do. He visits the sick in their homes and in hospital, bringing them the healing touch of the Lord. He cares for the dying, leads the funeral Liturgy and comforts the bereaved; this is often a difficult ministry.

In a parish, the sacraments will provide the key moments in the weekly ministry of any priest. He celebrates Mass every day in the Church, as well as the occasional Mass in another parish.  Every Sunday is centered on several celebrations of the Eucharist, the high point of the life of the Catholic community. Often on a Sunday there are also infants to be baptized. During the week he is called upon to anoint the sick in a hospital or at home. Usually on a Saturday he is available at set times for the sacrament of reconciliation, but he is always ready to celebrate this great sacrament whenever asked. On Saturdays too there are often weddings, and  Quinceañera celebrations. Many of these sacraments require a lot of preparation, for the priest himself and the catechists who work with him, and for those who are to receive them.

In the Eucharist he is the living icon or image of Jesus as our great High Priest offering himself to the Father, as our Head uniting his body to himself in his sacrifice, and as our Good Shepherd nourishing his flock with the sacrificial gift of himself. The Eucharist is the heart of the life and ministry of the priest and of the community he serves. Everything else he does flows from it and leads back to it, and it is there above all that we see the parish priest’s role most clearly.