Annus Sacerdotalis

Annus Sacerdotalis

Rev.Dr. P. Sabu Francis

Recently I read a humorous anecdote in a church magazine about the Priests:

If his address is a few minutes longer than usual, >he sends us to sleep<. If it is short, >he hasn’t bothered<. If he raises his voice, >he is shouting<. If he speaks normally >you can’t understand a thing<. If he is away, >he is always on the road<. If he stays at home, >he is a stick in the mud<. If he is out visiting, >he is never at home<. If he is in the presbytery, > he never visits his parishioners<. If he talks of finance, >he is too fond of money<. If he doesn’t mention finance, >nobody knows what he is up to<. If he organises a Bazaar, > he wears everybody out<. If he doesn’t, >the parish is dead<. If he takes his time with people, >he goes on and on<. If he is brief, >he never listens<. If he redecorates the church, >he is spending too much money<. If he doesn’t, >he is letting everything go<. If he is young, >he is too young< If he is old, >he ought to retire< And if he dies, >well of course, nobody could ever take his place<!!!! As a whole it makes an interesting reading. Partly it is true and partly it is exaggerated. But everyone enjoys such readings and adds a line or two to it before it is handed over to the next. Because of the watering down the importance of priesthood in our times the Holy Father’s declaration >Year for the Priest< underlines particular significance. 

Since the year 1300 the Church has the tradition of declaring and celebrating >Holy Year< and as the time went by it has become part and parcel of the tradition of the Church to dedicate the year to a particular cause. Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI on the feast of >Sacred Heart of Jesus< 2009 declared the year 2009-2010 as the >Year of Priest<. Naturally Holy Father was very much inspired by the 150th death anniversary of St. John Mary Vianney. The fact that >The Year of the Priest< succeeds immediately after >The Year of St. Paul< speaks voluminously how significant is the Priesthood and what the Church has in store in spite of the turbulence and discussions connected to the >women priesthood< and >married clergy< particularly in the Catholic Church.   

All Christians are members of the Mystical Body of Christ. John 15:5 makes it clear >I am the vine, and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me<. 1 Cor 12:12 confirms; >Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts<.  As members have the natural life they too have a supernatural life. The natural life is provided by the parents and the supernatural life is provided through the Sacrament of Holy Orders by Christ himself. >It is he who gave gift to mankind; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers.  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ< Eph 4:11-12. By our baptism we are priest, prophet and king. We share in the priesthood of Christ > whom God sent to be the High Priest of the faithful we profess< Heb 3:1. 

There is only one Priest, who is Christ and only one Priesthood which is Christ’s priesthood through which He mediates between creation and Creator. Jh 14: 6 shows clearly how the mediation takes place; >I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me<.  Christ is the only mediator; >For there is one God, and there is one who brings God and mankind together, the man Christ Jesus< (1 Tim 2:5). In the encyclical Mediator Dei No. 2:3 Pope Pius XII says; “But the priestly life which the divine Redeemer had begun in His mortal Body was not finished. ...Accordingly the Church, at the bidding of her Founder continues the priestly office of Jesus Christ, especially in the liturgy”. Every member of the mystical Body of Christ shares in His Priesthood. Mediator Dei continues in No.92: “By reason of their baptism Christians are in the Mystical Body and become by common title members of Christ the Priest...”.

>All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it< 1 Cor 12:27. Priest generates supernatural life or divine life in the Mystical Body of Christ. The ordained priests are appointed to play a different function. By their ordination they are anointed to handle a specific office. Through one’s ordination one shares the priesthood of Christ. The priesthood becomes theirs through the sacrament. The priest is another Christ. >Sacerdos alter Christus<   

The call to priesthood is a call to holiness, a holiness which is an integral part of wholeness in life. Eph 1:4 tells that God himself is the cause of this holiness: >Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our own union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him<. It is God himself who invites one to this holiness; 1 Pet 1:15-16 holy in all that you do, just as God you called you is holy.  The Scripture says, “Be holy because I am holy”. Mt. 5:48 makes us share in the holiness of God; >You must be perfect- just as your heavenly Father is perfect!<   

Through the ordination a priest is set apart from the world but for the world. Rom 12:2 tells clearly; >Do not confirm yourselves the standard of this world, but let God transform you internally by the complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God- what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect<.  It is God himself who gives the grace for the work of the priest; Jh 15:4 >Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me<. The High Priest understands His priests better than anyone else, for > our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weakness. On the contrary, we have a High priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin< Heb 4:15. 

Offering sacrifice is the duty of priest. The Sacrifice of our Lord at Last Supper and at Calvary is not limited to time and space. In the sacrament of Holy Eucharist the Sacrifice of the Lord is extended to time and space. His sacrifice is our sacrifice. His offering at Calvary is made present in our altars. The Holy Mass is not a repeating of Calvary. The death and resurrection of Christ is not repeated. It is only made alive or relived in the sacrament of Eucharist. The sign is repeated. Every sacrament is a sign. Only ordained a priest can be the minister of this sign. The priest makes present the historical sacrifice of the Lord in the sacramental order of worship of the people. 1 Pet 2: 5 says; >Come as living stones, and let yourselves be used in building the spiritual temple; where you will serve as holy priests to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ<.   

The proclamation of the Word of God in words and deeds belong to the priestly life. Mt 28:19 call one to this particular and magnificent duty; >Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples; baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit<.  It is also the priestly duty to bless the people. >To bless< in many languages in its root form means >say something good<. Num 6:24-25 is a perfect example of a priestly blessing; >May the Lord bless you and take care of you; May the Lord be kind and gracious to you: May the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace<.   

A call to priesthood is a call to Diakonia, Koinonia, Eucharistia and Martyria. Diakonia calls one to care for the less fortunate members of the Body of Christ. Social commitment to the suffering, uplifting of the poor and health care to the sick are salient features of the Diakonia of the Church to which every priest is called. In this regard he follows his Master: >Here I am among you as one who serves< Lk 22:27 and > the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve< Mk 10:45. Koinonia is the communion with one another. In Acts 2: 44 we read >The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common, they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed<. Sharing is integral to Christian life and saying yes to priesthood is saying yes to Sharing. Eucharistia is the sacrament of communion. It is the sign of unity. Many become one in Christ to give thanks to the Lord. The ordained Priest presides over the Eucharist, which is a meal, memorial and sacrifice of the Lord (1 Cor 11:23-27). Martyria is the way one bears witness to Christ. Today one views it more as a self-empting; a kenosis; a form of servanthood in imitation of the Lord who >emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave< Phi 2:7.   

The vocation to priesthood is a radical commitment to a dynamic way of growing in holiness in spite of the feebleness. It is an incessant dedication to serve the people of God inviting them to be constant in sharing, und unending in bearing witness to Christ, worthy to be in communion with God and with one another to thank the Lord. The Holy Mysteries enable the priest to be at the service of God and of His people. The celebration of the Holy Mysteries itself becomes the Proclamation.