Wednesday, May 18, 2005


In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul us that a "Priest stands daily at his ministry." He declares that a Priest is one who offers sacrifice. What does that mean? What is a Priest?

On Holy Thursday night our Savior offered, Sacramentally, the first Mass. In an unbloody manner, He offered the same Sacrifice of Himself which He would offer the next day on the Cross of Calvary in a bloody manner. Then He ordained the Apostles to be Priests of the New and Eternal Covenant, the Church. Ever since, the most respected of men have been the Priests of Jesus Christ.

I remember my days as an altar boy in Philadelphia. The Priest was larger than life. Men tipped their hats to him on the streets. As the women of the Gospels ministered to the Lord, so too good Catholic women didn't know what to do next for "Father." He Baptized us, heard our Confessions, gave us Holy Communion, and offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass daily. He was there when we were sick, had an ever open ear to our problems and always presented himself as a man of God. Never did he utter a word that was contrary to the teachings of the Church. He dressed like a Priest, looked like a priest, and acted like a Priest. Truly, he was an "ambassador of Christ" [2 Cor. 5: 20].

In its document on the ministry of Priests, Vatican II says, "The Priest receives a special Sacrament by which, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, he is conformed to Christ the Priest in such a way that he can act, in Persona Christi, that is, in the very Person of Jesus Christ."

Being "conformed to Christ" means that the Priest must identify with Jesus Christ and not with the pagan world. He must be an alter Christus ----- another Christ. Vatican II reaffirmed this definition. When people see the Priest, they must see a reflection of the Lord. They must see His charity, His patience, His love, and, of course, they must see His purity.

The Council taught that the Priest is conformed to Christ in such a way that he can act "in the Person of Christ." This is Sacramental identification with Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest. My friends, we are living in days of grave crisis. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, "a filth has entered the Church." Grave shame has come to the Priesthood because of the evil lust of a few. Despite this shame, what a profound privilege it is to be a Priest! When he says, "This is my Body," or "I absolve you," or "May Almighty God bless you," the Priest is not acting in the place of, or as a representative of, but rather, he acts, "in the very Person of Jesus Christ."

Pope Pius XII put it beautifully in his encyclical letter Mediator Dei: "The indelible mark on the souls of Priests comes with the power of the Priesthood and it conforms them to Christ. Their hands have been consecrated so that whatever they bless may be blessed, whatever they consecrate may become holy and sacred in the name of the Lord Jesus. Only the Priest can offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Let all who would live in Christ flock to their Priests. By them they will be supplied with the comfort and food of the spiritual life. From them they will obtain the medicine of salvation ensuring their care and happy recovery from the fatal sickness of their sins. The Priest finally will bless their homes, consecrate their families, and help them as they breathe their last across the threshold of eternal happiness."

This is the Priest of Jesus Christ! This is who he must be! May God grant that we never forget it! Let us pray that the day will return when the Priest will have regained that which was lost because a few have forgotten who they are. Perhaps, the day will come again when we tip our hats to the Priest of Jesus Christ!

Father Richard J. Rego


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