Friday, 17 April 2009

What IS the Priest?

This is a question I have been considering a lot recently, after a conversation with a priest friend. You might think it a no-brainer question, but what I am getting at is: what is it that makes an ordained priest different in vocation to a layperson who is a priest through his or her baptism? Yes he celebrates the sacraments, he does pastoral work, he preaches, and so on, but these things in themselves can be done by a priest who is not truly living out his priestly call. The priest I talked to seemed to think the essence of the priesthood lay in being an interceder, a bridge between God and men. This means having the heart of Jesus, who in John 17 prays for those whom the Father has entrusted to Him, and for all those who will believe in Him through their word. We see a beautiful example of this interceding love in the Old Testament, when Moses pleads on behalf of Israel who has abandoned God - and also later in the life of St John Vianney, who offered his whole life as a prayer for the conversion of his parish.

Pope Benedict, in his 2006 Chrism Mass (the first selection in Priests of Jesus Christ, edited by Fr Gerard Skinner), says that there is another aspect to the priesthood. "I no longer call you sevants but friends. This is the profound meaning of being a priest: becoming the friend of Jesus Christ." Of course everyone is called to be a friend of Christ, but the priest especially must have a close relationship with Jesus if he is to discern what Jesus' will is not just in his own life, but also in the life of his community.

The priest is also called to be the spouse of the Church, and a spiritual father to his people, caring for them and protecting them as Christ desired to gather Jerusalem under his arms. The fatherhood of the priest is something which is emphasised in this vocational video from Kenrick-Glennon seminary in America. Whether you like the style of the video or not (I think it's very well done), the seminarians come across as very confident in their understanding of what they are entering into, particularly their understanding of the priesthood as a giving over their lives for others. For anyone discerning the priesthood it is worth watching!


Paul said...

May I be so bold as to suggest another aspect, which is hinted at in both the post and the video? Community: specifically The Church. What is the relationship between the Ordained Priesthood and the common priesthood of all?
I think it is really, really important that any man seeking ordination as a vocation is clear about what he considers the difference and common aspects between being ordained or lay. To lay down your life for your friends and I no longer call you servants but friends are two aspects of Christ's teachings which apply just as well to his disciples as to his apostles. Therefore, it is key to be clear about the difference in degree and essence. I would suggest that one key is the role of the Church and especially the ordained man's relationship to the Church. Rahner talks of the ordained priest being an 'officer' of the Church. That is he is an official of the Church. I cannot recall who it is, but someone said there can be no priesthood without the Church and no Church without the ordained priesthood.
Hope this helps!

EA Seminarians said...

Thanks Paul for this (and for your suggestion of having devotions for the Year of the Priest): it's good to have the input of someone who's done their STB essay on this! Certainly there can be a temptation as a seminarian or (I assume) as a priest to think you're a lone ranger, without the context of the Church. I guess it's the difference between bridegroom and bachelor?

Anonymous said...

Nice post...& good reflection..

Sadie Vacantist said...

A priest is someone who sacrifices. The young blogger on that Nicky Campbell show defending the Pope seems to understand that better than your Rahner quoting confrere.

Henry said...

Our parish priest in Brighton is doing an excellent community building job by just doing the red, saying the black and following the direction being given by Pope Benedict. And encouraging his flock to come to confession regularly.

Nothing fancy. Just extraordinary.