The development of priesthood within the Catholic Church from Apostolic times until the present has resulted in various improvements and changes in the sacrament of holy orders. This paper traces the roots of priesthood, the duties and responsibilities of the ordained priest, and his forms and functions in the Catholic Church. One good excerpt is the saying from Spiderman: With great power comes great responsibility. We can replace the first word in the profession of priesthood and say: With great faith comes great responsibility.
What is the Catholic Priesthood? It is a divinely instituted sacrament that Christ Himself instituted as how the same Council of Trent explains in relation to the events of the Last Supper. The Catholic priesthood is a state of life. It follows logically on what the Church teachesthat the priesthood is a sacrament that imprints an indelible character. Given that fact it must also be to say the least a permanent state of life. That requires a special divine vocation. (Hardon, 1998)
Priesthoods origin is from Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, who, according to the Hebrew Chapter of the Bible 7:26 and 8:2, [w]as holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners of the world, exalted above heavens a minister in the sanctuary which is set up not only by man but by the Lord. Being the heavenly and high priest above all men, he offered himself as a sacrifice by being crucified on the cross and conferred his priesthood to his apostles (John 20:21-23; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-18; and Acts 2:33, King James Version).
The unbroken chain of priesthood was passed on from the apostles of Christ to the first first ordained clergymen and through their successors. It was called an Apostolic Succession and was considered as a fundamental teaching on the Orthodox Church. Only through the Apostolic Succession can the clergymen receive the authority to become real representatives of Christ and the Apostles of the Church. (Orfanakos, 2008).
As successors of the Apostles and representatives of Christ in His Church, clergymen continue the work of Jesus. They teach the word of God; offer the Holy Eucharist and administer the other sacraments; they govern the Church and take care of the spiritual needs of the members of their congregations. (Orfanakos, 2008).
Being a priest is never easy. It requires time and devotion, especially great spirituality. A man who is weak from temptation in doing earthly things and desires more cannot enter this vocation of lifetime devotion to faith.
Priesthood falls under the sacrament of Holy Orders wherein a man goes through ordination and decides to do their part in serving the Church and its people. It is a ministry of meditation between man and God above as he performs the following functions: forgiveness of sins, blessings and casting away evil spirits. Priesthoods foundation began on the declaration of God about priesthood to St. Peter in the region of Caesarea Philippi: To thee I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
And whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven (Sacraments, 2008). This event also led to the formation of the priests responsibility: Feed My lambs. Feed My sheep. Feed My ewes (Sacraments, 2008). Its completion and perfection from that He breathed on them saying: Receive ye the Holy Spirit; if ye forgive a man his sins, they are forgiven to him; and you withhold forgiveness of a mans sins, they shall be held. (Sacraments, 2008)
In the old times, priesthood was considered as one of generations and mans own choice to go in such ministry wherein their way of living is not merely a basis. In contrast to the new Priesthood by Apostolic succession, Ordination involves laying of hands to those chosen people to become priest granted that a thorough examination of their past life before entering the congregation as well as their thoughts about God is done. Once they are found blameless, they are qualified and blessed to become priest all through their lives. Former priesthood was done by the use of Material oil but now, it is done through the spirit and laying on of hands (Sacraments, 2008).
According to the Assyrian Church of the east, there are certain qualities that a man must possess before entering priesthood. First he, must be blameless. If he was ever married, he should never have committed adultery. he should also be alert mentally, modest, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt at teaching; not given to wine, not hasty to strike, but patient, not quarrelsome, not greedy of lucre (Sacraments, 2008). He should also be a great father, [o]ne who rules well his own house, having his children under submission to bring them up with all purity (Sacraments, 2008). He should also a devote Catholic since birth. Similarly, deacons should also maintain a life of purity (Sacraments,2008).
A clear examination of conscience should be done by men who desire to enter this lifetime vocation. According to St. Paul, choosing priesthood is desiring to have a good work with the spirit of God (Fitzgerald, 1996). Once the decision is made, the full conviction of giving special service to the church and the people of God is expected from people who are ordained as priests.
Based on the Apostolic Customs of the church, there are three major orders of priesthood: Bishops, Priests and Deacons, each of which requires a special ordination. The Bishop is viewed as the successor of the Apostles while the Priest and the Deacon act in the name of the Bishop. Each order is distinguished by its pastoral responsibilities. Only a Bishop may ordain. Often, other titles and offices are associated with the three orders. The Orthodox Church permits men to marry before they are ordained. Since the sixth century, Bishops have been chosen from the celibate clergy (Fitzgerald, 1996).
Bishop is the highest order of priesthood. The name episcopos was given to the successors of the Apostles (Acts 20:28; 1 timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:7, King James Version). The term episcopos means overseer and is also called as the Archpriest. This makes him the chief of the priest within a specific territory. There are many bishops worldwide and they are all equal among themselves since they own the same degree of priesthood. However, they are graded in their titles which depend on their administrative power.
Priest occupies the second order of the Holy Priesthood. He is in charge of the community to which he gives spiritual services and where he administers all the sacraments, except ordination. He is the main celebrant during the Eucharist and leads the whole community of God into prayer and blesses them in the name of the Lord .
The third order belongs to the Deacon or diakonos which means assistant (Matthew 20:26; Acts 6:1-7 King James Version). His main responsibility is to assist the priest during the celebration of sacraments and other church services. He often recites the litanies, gospel readings and other prayers .
The Catholic priesthood is an institution necessary for Christianity. According to Fr. Hardon (1998), without priesthood, Christianity would cease to exist. If there is no priesthood, Jesus Christ would not be present in the Eucharist. It is also the duty of priests to give penance to sinners and anoint the sick and dying in the world. They are also the ones who reveal the divine truth to the world. In a world without priesthood, Christianity would be a memory but no longer a reality. It would cease to exist on earth in this admittedly, difficult valley of tears (Hardon, 1998).
Controversies in Catholic Priesthood
The last part of this research discusses the office of priesthood as retrieved from the Jesus is Lord website which will give a clearer view of what the office of priesthood really is:
In the early 1970s, we who gloried in being priests were shocked to read the word of one of our best Roman Catholic Scripture scholars, Raymond E. Brown: When we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, it is striking that while there are pagan priests and Jewish priests on the scene, no individual Christian is ever specifically identified as a priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the high priesthood of Jesus by comparing his death and entry into heaven with the actions of the Jewish high priest who went into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle once a year with a offering for himself and for the sins of his people (Hebrews 9:6-7).
But it is noteworthy that the author of Hebrews does not associate the priesthood of Jesus with the Eucharist or the Last Supper; neither does he suggest that other Christians are priests in the likeness of Jesus. In fact, the once-for-all atmosphere that surrounds the priesthood of Jesus in Hebrews 10:12-14, has been offered as an explanation of why there are no Christian priests in the New Testament period.
Later in the same chapter Brown argues for a priesthood like that of the Levitical class in the Old Testament. He makes his case for the development of such a doctrine by means of tradition. Even those of us who knew very little of the Bible knew that the Pharisees counted tradition superior to the clear Word of God. Brown did more to demolish the conviction that we were indeed priests than to ease our troubled minds.
Now I see that what Brown stated in the section quoted is biblically and absolutely true. Other than the royal priesthood, which applies to all true believers in Christ, there is no office of priesthood in the New Testament. Rather, as Hebrews states so clearly of the Old Testament priests, And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:23-25) Unchangeable priesthood means just that in the Greek: aparabatos means nontransferable. The reason it cannot be transferred to men is that its essence is Christs own, ..who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens (verse 26). (Bennett, 2008)
There are many claims regarding the divinity and authenticity of Priesthood and being a priest. Depending on ones religion and belief, I can say that Priesthood is one noble job that will continuously challenge every mans faith and their capacity to handle responsibility guaranteed by strong faith and conviction to God.
Bennett, Richard (2008) The Priesthood. Introduction to the Priesthood by a Converted Priest retrieved January 15, 2008 from: http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/priestho.htm
Fitzgerald, Thomas (1996). The Sacraments (Holy Orders). Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Department of Religious Education. Retrieved, January 15, 2008 from: http://www.annunciationwi.com/Main/Our_Faith_Articles/Sacraments.html
Hardon, John A. (1998) What is the Catholic Priesthood. Inter Mirifica Archives. Retrieved December 15, 2008 from:
Orfanakos, Peter (2008). The Sacrament of the Holy Priesthood. Retrieved, January 15, 2008 from: www.annunciationwi.com/Main/Our_Faith_Articles/Priesthood_Orfanakos.html
Sacraments: Priesthood (2008). Assyrian Church of the East. Retrieved January 15, 2008 from: http://www.assyrianchurch.com.au/priesthood.htm