Querida Amazonia 87-88: What Priests Do

Pope Francis, in his post-synodal exhortation , summarizes what priests do and what nobody else can do. And why:

87. The way of shaping priestly life and ministry is not monolithic; it develops distinctive traits in different parts of the world. This is why it is important to determine what is most specific to a priest, what cannot be delegated. The answer lies in the sacrament of Holy Orders, which configures him to Christ the priest. The first conclusion, then, is that the exclusive character received in Holy Orders qualifies the priest alone to preside at the Eucharist.[Cf. CDF, Letter Sacerdotium Ministeriale to Bishops of the Catholic Church on certain questions concerning the minister of the Eucharist (6 August 1983): AAS 75 (1983), 1001-1009]

This is an old piece of orthodoxy. The questions remain: who gets in, and how?

That is his particular, principal and non-delegable function. There are those who think that what distinguishes the priest is power, the fact that he is the highest authority in the community. Yet Saint John Paul II explained that, although the priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, this function is not meant to be superior to the others, but rather is “totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”.[Mulieris Dignitatem 27]

This is a significant statement. I’m sure that there’s more behind it. But it tells us we’ve moved beyond clergy as “professional” Christians. The idea in the New Testament is that everyone is called to the mission of service. Priests are responsible for spiritual care and feeding. Or as St John Paul II terms it, “holiness.”

St Thomas:

When the priest is said to be a sign of “Christ the head”, this refers principally to the fact that Christ is the source of all grace: he is the head of the Church because “he has the power of pouring out grace upon all the members of the Church”.[St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, q. 8, a.1, resp.]

The priest is a sign:

88. The priest is a sign of that head and wellspring of grace above all when he celebrates the Eucharist, the source and summit of the entire Christian life.[Cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis 5; Ecclesia de Eucharistia 26]

The sacraments are means of developing holiness:

That is his great power, a power that can only be received in the sacrament of Holy Orders. For this reason, only the priest can say: “This is my body”. There are other words too, that he alone can speak: “I absolve you from your sins”. Because sacramental forgiveness is at the service of a worthy celebration of the Eucharist. These two sacraments lie at the heart of the priest’s exclusive identity.[It is also proper to the priest to administer the Anointing of the Sick, because it is intimately linked to the forgiveness of sins: “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:15)]

The tradition behind anointing is not quite as old as the presidency at the Eucharist. But it is quite old, about a millennium. Where does this lead? In the following paragraphs we’ll see how this helps ministry in the Amazon. And importantly, the cultivation of holiness in Amazonian Christians.

This document is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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