57. A NEW PRIESTHOOD. To do your will

Created: Thursday, 21 March 2013 Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014
57. A NEW PRIESTHOOD
To do your will

recordatorio1. Amidst the conventional Judaism, Jesus appears like a secular prophet (Mt 21, 23 – 27; Lk 24, 19), normally dressed (Jn 19, 23). This can shock. Nevertheless, as the Scripture says, “If he were in the earth, he not even would be a priest” (Hb 8, 4). He is not a Levite priest, he is a priest for ever and ever, but in a new way: “You are an eternal priest  after the pattern of  Melchizedek” (Psalm 119; Hb 7, 17). And also: “You do not ask for burnt sacrifices and sin offerings, but you have prepared my body… Here I am to do your will” (Psalm 40; Hb 10, 5 – 7). To accomplish God´s will, stated in his word, is the sacrifice of the new priesthood. With Christ everything changes. Old barriers are suppressed. “A new and living way, inaugurated for us” is opened. (Hb 10, 20). The new temple is Christ´s resurrected body (Jn 2, 19 – 21), which makes himself present in many ways, but in a special manner in the meeting of the community.
2. Jesus is “the good shepherd” (Jn 10, 11). Nevertheless, when he evangelizes, he is not alone, he shares his mission. There are the twelve (Mt 10, 1), there are the seventy two (Lk 10, 1) and there are the women who accompany Jesus (8, 1 – 3). It is to say, there is the community of disciples. It is his new family: “My mother and my brothers are those who listen God´s word and accomplish it” (Lk 8, 21). The Gospel is understood by the “little ones” (Mt 11, 25). Amidst the devastated vineyard, Jesus plants a vineyard, the fraternal community (Jn 15). The twelve must follow his example, not looking for being served, but to be servants (Mk 10, 43). In the group of the twelve, Peter has a special place (Mk 16, 18; 18, 18; Jn 21, 15 – 17). Nations will be judged in function of their assumed attitude towards the brethren of the community: “Whatever you made to one of these, my humble brethren, you made it to me” (Mt 25, 31 – 46). In the last supper Jesus prays for his disciples as follows: “I don’t ask you to retire them from the world, but to keep them from evil” (Jn 17, 15).
3. Jesus is mediator of the new alliance, written not in stone tables, but in the hearts: “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. So this one too had to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. The place where they serve is  a sketch  and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary. But  now Jesus  has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises… For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one.” “When he speaks of a new covenant,  he makes the first obsolete.”  (Hb 8, 3 – 13)
4. Jesus relies on the community mediation. It is to say, he associates the community to his priesthood. The community is the most sensible means we have to listen God´s word, to acknowledge  Christ´s presence, to perceive the Spirit’s action. It is the pool of Siloe, where the born blind heals his original blindness (Jn 9, 7), It is the place where Paul, blinded by the Lord’s light in the way to Damascus, recovers the sight and the strength (Acts 9, 3 – 19). It is the mother’s womb, where the new man is gestated “by means of the God´s alive and permanent word” ( 1 P 1, 23). It is the body of Christ,  encouraged by God´s spirit: “You are the body of Christ” (1 Co 12, 27). He acts through you
5. In the first communities there are a diversity of services, among them that of leadership or presidency (1 Ts 5, 12; 1 P 5, 1 – 2), their leaders are never called priests. These are “those who announce the gospel” The priests (Jewish or pagans) are the “ministers of the temple or the altar” (1 Co 9, 13 – 14). In certain sense, priests are all the Christians: “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 P 2, 5), “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2, 9)
6. The first Christians keep their identity among the society: they do not believe in “the gods that the Greeks have as such”, neither they observe “the Jewish superstition” (1, 1), it is said in the Letter to Diogneto, in the middle of the second century. During the first centuries, the Church does not present the typical features of an established religion: priests, temples, images, altars. Due to this, Christians are accused of impiety. They are prosecuted to the shout of  “Death for the atheistic!” About the year 300, Arnobius writes: “First of all, you accuse us of impiety, because we neither build temples, nor raise images, nor have altars.”
7 First Christian communities have their leaders: apostles and presbyteries (Acts 15, 23), prophets and teachers (13, 1; 2 P 3, 2), bishops and deacons (Phil 1, 1). We can also heard about evangelizers and shepherds (Eph 4, 11). The words neither are permanent nor correspond exactly to the present ones. The different services appear little by little, according to the places and the needs. There are prophetesses too (Acts 21, 9) and deaconesses (Rm 16, 1). The  twelve appear in the Christian community like a special group: they guarantee the continuity of Jesus mission and they organize the life of the community (Acts 2, 42; 8, 14 – 17).In Mathew’s  election, Peter establishes the conditions that the apostle should have: to have accompanied Jesus from the beginning and to have been a witness of his resurrection (1, 21 – 22).
8. In Jerusalem’s community, together with the apostles, James, “Lord’s brother”, appears like the great leader, surrounded by the council of old men (presbyteries), according to the model of the Jewish synagogues (15, 13. 22). Among the Christians of greek language (Phil 1, 1; 1 Tm 3, 1. 8) words of general character are used: inspectors (bishops) and servants (deacons). Also, in Jerusalem’s community are elected the seven, who take care of the greek sector of the community (Acts 6, 2).
9. The apostles acknowledge the grace granted to Paul (Ga 2, 9). Christ himself has entrusted him the ministry (1 Tm 1, 12). Paul has the responsibility of the communities that he founds. In Ephesus he leaves Timothy in charge (1 Tm 1, 3) and in Crete, Titus (Tt 1, 5). The leaders of the local communities are differentiated from Paul’s personal collaborators, who he carefully chooses (Phil 2, 19 – 24). Together to the large communities, like Jerusalem or Antioch, there are the small communities (1 Co 16, 19), whose leadership could correspond to the head of the family, man or woman (Rm 16, 3 – 5); Col 4, 15). In Philippi, the community begins with a group of women (Acts 16, 12); they have a predominant roll (16, 15; Phil 4, 2)
10. In the pastoral letters, through the hands imposition of an old men counsel and the word of a prophet, some Christians, in which the community has seen a Lord’s grace, are included among the ministries or leaders (1 Tm 4, 14; Acts 14, 23). Originally, hands imposition means to elect someone raising the hand. Some election criteria are given: it is considered normal that these leaders be married, fathers of a family, who have given proof of a correct direction of his home and his children’s education ( 1 Tm 3, 1 – 13; Tt 1, 5 – 9). Paul renounces to a conjugal life with freedom and at the Gospel service, without criticizing the others, Every one has his grace; some in a way, others in another one ( 1 Co 7, 7. 25; 9, 5)
11. At the end of the first century, Saint Clement Roman, in his first letter to the Corinthians writes that the apostles “as they walk announcing in places and cities the good news and baptizing to those who obeyed God design, they established to those who were conspicuous among them – after testing them by the spirit – as bishops and deacons in whom they should believe” (42, 4). The document called Apostles Doctrine, written already perhaps in the first century, talks about “prophets and masters”. About the prophets it says: “They are your High Priests” (13, 3). It also says “Let you elect bishops and deacons… because they also deliver to you the ministry of prophets and masters” (15, 1). In the letters that Saint Ignatius of Antioch writes in his path to martyrdom (about year 107), in every community a bishop, assisted by old men (presbyteries) and deacons appear. As far as the Eucharist is concerned, it says that “only may be considered valid that one which is celebrated by the bishop or by that who has his authorization” (Esm 8, 1)
12. In the old Church, every community takes part in the election of their leaders. Cyprians claims this right even in front of the pope Stephen: “A bishop who is not desired by the people ought not to be imposed” (Ep 4, 5). Saint Leon Magnus says: “That who must preside over all, must be elected by all”. And also: “No bishop should be ordered against the desire of the Christians and without having consulted them expressly about it” (Ad Anastasium). In the primitive Church the parishes were not known. Each community had his bishop and each bishop his community”
13. Let us see Saint Polycarp election (+ 155, martyr, at 86 years old) as Smyrna bishop. Without any delay, having called to the bishops of the neighbor cities, a large crowd from cities and villages assisted. After a prolonged prayer, Polycarp raised to do the reading. Everybody was on the lookout for him: “It was the reading of the letters of Saint Paul to Timothy and Titus, in which the Apostle says how must the bishop be, and the passage accommodated so well to him, that everybody commented that Polycarp missed no one of the points that Paul requests to that one who must take care of the Church. After the reading and the bishops´ exhortation and the homily of the presbyteries , the deacons were sent to ask the people to whom they wanted, and unanimously everybody answered: Let Polycarp be our shepherd and master” (Appendix, 22 – 23). According to Saint Ireneo, Polycarp “narrated his relationship with John and with the others who had seen the Lord” (Letter t Florino, 2nd century)
14. The Cannon of the Chalcedony council (year 451), current in the West up to the XII century, translates in juridical terms the conception and the practice of the ministry in the primitive Church: it declares void and invalid the absolute ordination, it is to say, the ordination of a candidate disassociated from a community: “Nobody can be absolutely ordinate neither as priest nor as deacon… if he is not clearly assigned to a local community in the city or in the field, in a martyrium (the grave of a venerated martyr) or in a monastery” (PG 104,558)
15. Since the III century, in the Church the ordination is talked about to indicate the incorporation of a Christian to the order of the ministers. In the roman world this term was used for the nomination of the imperial functionaries. With the edict of Milan (year 313), Constantine decrees the tolerance of the Christian worship. Christian priests are equated to the pagans ones; from the State, economic aids are granted to them; Sunday becomes the day of rest for all the society. With the edict of Thessalonica (year 380), Theodosius proclaims the Christianity as the State’s official religion. The emperor intervenes and interferes in the Church’s business. The bishops gain the rank of functionaries with the pertinent privileges. Things, which in the past were found repugnant, since they recalled the pagan worship, are introduced: the use of incense, candles instead of oil lamps, altar instead of table, temple instead of meeting rooms, priestly vestments instead of the normal attire. Bishops are high priests; presbyteries, second class priests or simply priests (centuries IV-V)
16. Now the main tension is not established between the Church and the world (Rm 12, 2), but between the clergy and the secular. The Church is conceived like an institution invested of power (hierarchy) in front of the Christian people reduced to a mass without any competence. Pope Gelasius (492 – 496) defines the situation with his doctrine of the two powers: priesthood and empire. In the West, before the pressure of the invasions from the north, the Church is the only institution that survives. The clergy monopolizes education and culture. With which, more and more the secular is the one who has no education, the one who even does not understand Latin and, therefore, he can not understand the liturgy any more, reaching so the roll of a silent listener.
17. As far as in the IV century, like a reaction to the surrounding paganism, ascetic tradition of the monastic condition appears. The organizers of this way of life were in the East the Egyptian Pacomio (+346) and Basilio of Cesarea (+ 379); in the West, Ambrosio (+379), Agustin (+430) and, above all, Benito of Nursia (+ about 560). The typically Christian way of life of the primitive Church, the pertinence to the Church as a member, is not any more what counts. Now what counts is the liberation from the world, from the earthly possessions and from the marriage. The clergy get away from the normal life and they give shape to their own status of life with their immunity, their privileges and their own clothing. According to the Decree of Graciano (1142), the first class of the two status of the Church is composed by priests and monks; second class, the secular.
18. In 1179, the old Chalcedony conception is abandoned and what counts is the benefit: “Nobody can ordinate anyone if subsistence is not ensured” (Third council of Letrán, cannon 5). The feudal structure of the society conditions the figure of the ministry. The priest’s ecclesial link becomes dependency from the feudal lord, ecclesiastic or civilian, who ensures the benefit. At the same time, the new conceptions upon the law take to a distinction, according to which anyone who had been ordinate owns the priestly function personally (legal authority of ordination), even in the case in which a Christian community is not entrusted to him (legal authority of jurisdiction)
19. Little by little inconceivable practices in the old Church are imposed: for instance, the private mass, without community. The priest is dedicated almost exclusively to celebrate masses. In the churches the altars are multiplied. The laws of the Old Testament about he priesthood and the monastic tradition determine the ministry’s medieval figure. The priest’s distinctive sign is his relationship with the worship. The priest is someone isolated from the world, even from the Christians. Celibacy will be the adequate expression for that isolation. The priest, not the community, is the mediator between God and men
20. The law of the celibacy was promulgated in the Latin Church, in a explicit manner, in cannons 6 and 7 of the second council of Letrán (1139). Such a law was the result of a long story (from the end of the IV century), in which there only was a law of continence for the married priest (Pope Siricius letter, 385; DS 185), Sexual intercourse was forbidden before receiving communion. At the end of the IV century, when the Western churches began to celebrate daily mass, the required continence to the married priests became a permanent situation.
21. Council of Trent (1545 – 1563), reacting to the critics of the reformers, defends the existent ecclesiastic  order. The minister of the Church is the priest, who is, above all, the man of the sacraments (DS 957). Ordination is an efficient sign that inserts into the ecclesial hierarchy: “it bestows the grace” (DS 959) and “stamps a character” (DS 960). Deaconate is only a step towards the priesthood. Seminaries institution is decreed. Christ´s priesthood was necessary, since perfection could not be reached “due to the uselessness of the Levite priesthood” (DS 938)
22. Vatican Council I (1869 – 1870) declares as dogma Pope’s infallibility (DS 3074). The infallibility is a divine attribute, and what the popes must do is to try not to fail. When the Pope losses his temporal power, his spiritual power is reaffirmed. In a special way, a worship to the papal personality is then developed, the papism, the obedience to the Pope above all,  even over God´s word. “You know that those who are considered like heads of the nations, dominate them as absolute lords”, “it ought not to be so between you. That who wants to be great among you, let he be your servant” (Mk 10, 43)
23. Vatican Council II (1962 – 1965) place the ecclesial ministry in the frame of the community. It is a service among other ones “to shepherd God´s people and to make it grow always” (LG 18). Ecclesial ministry “is practised is several orders by those who already from the old times are called bishops, presbyteries and deacons” (LG 28), There is “an essential difference and not only gradual” (LG 18) between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood although among all baptized people “a true equality” (LG 32) exists.
24. The bishops are “apostles successors” (CD 2), they have “the plenitude of the sacrament of the ordination (LG 21), they have received “the ministry of the community with their contributors, the presbyteries and the deacons” (LG 20), together with the Pope, Peter’s successor, “they constitute a unique apostolic college”. The presbyteries are “contributors of the Episcopal order” (CD 28), shepherds of God´s people, they act “like in person of Christ´s head” (PO 2). Their mission “is not limited only to take care of the faithful individually, but it also properly extends to make a true Christian community” (PO 6), “any priestly ministry participates of the same universal amplitude of the mission trusted by Christ to the disciples” (PO 10). The deacons are ordained “not in order to the priesthood, but in order to the ministry” (LG 29). The deaconate is re-established “like a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy” (LG 29)
25. The Vatican Council II values, the priestly celibate like “source of spiritual fertility”, acknowledges that “it is not demanded by the priesthood nature itself, as it appears in the practice of the primitive Church and in the tradition of the eastern Churches”; nevertheless, it confirms the legislation current in the Latin Church (PO 16). Certainly, celibacy (assumed like imitation and following of Christ) is a radical option by which the disciple stays fully available to the service of the Gospel (Mt 19, 12). However, if Christ entrusted the apostolic ministry to married men (and non-married ones) and the apostles, on their time, made the same, the church may and should act in the same manner. Although he puts out his personal option and his preference, Saint Paul says: “As far as the celibacy, I have no mandate from the Lord” (1 Co 7, 25)
26. According to the Canonical Law (1983), “only the baptized man receives validly the sacred ordination” (c. 1024). Catholic Church Catechism explains it as follows: “Lord Jesus elected men to form the twelve apostles college and the apostles made the same when they elected their contributors” (n. 1577). Nevertheless, in the ecumenical dialogue it is more and more affirmed that, from human and Christian dignity point of view, there is no theological reason to exclude women from the ordained ministry,: in Christ “there is not any more neither jew nor greek, slave nor free, man nor woman” (Ga 3, 29)
27. At the beginning of the third millennium, the Pope is requested to exercise his function in a really evangelic and ecumenical manner: to proclaim God´s word, the whole word and not any more that the word, without imposing it by force. If he made it so, he would do it “amidst of the prosecution”, at the end,. risks of the function (Mc 10, 30). Nevertheless, it would be a Peter’s successor who would look like the first one, like a witness of Christ´s gospel. The rest of the shepherds ought to do the same: “Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty  but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock” (1 P 5, 2 – 4).
* Dialogue: In our times, is the priest figure in crisis?, which most important questions are raised at this respect?, is it necessary to revise tradition in the light of the Scriptures?