Monday, January 17, 2011

Catholic Priests - in persona Christi

Much of the problem that exists between Catholics and Protestants, is that our Protestant brothers and sisters have looked upon Christianity as a buffet, and not as a 10 course sit down meal served by Our Saviour.  That has happened because the senses of mystery, including timelessness and adoration of Jesus, has been lost.  But, in fact, who can blame them for moving in that direction?  So many of the members of the Catholic Church who have always known and practiced the truth of the mystery of the divinity in ritual and prayer have not been good keepers and purveyors of this mystery.  Shame on us, and shame on them.

Take the Catholic priesthood.  The priesthood is a link to our Jewish brethren, and to the Great High Priest, Jesus.  The ministerial priesthood is one of the great examples of the presence of Jesus Christ here on earth to this day.

Last week, something caught my eye at morning mass.  At 7 am, there was a family with 6 boys ranging in age from 3-13 or so, and another family with two girls and a boy from about 5-8 or so.  At communion time, the family of three children came over to the other side of the chapel, so that they could present themselves to the priest for a blessing as they had not yet received their first Holy Communion.  After Mass, the celebrant, Father Clement Agamba stayed near the altar for a few minutes to greet the boys in the other family and shake their hands.  These young boys then took time to pray kneeling in front of the alter and assisted in blowing out the candles. 

This Sunday, I went to mass at Our Lady of Fatima parish nearby, and there saw little children jumping over to the line of Father Ray Ratzenburger so that they could receive communion from him or a blessing.

It brought to mind one Sunday morning when my own children were quite small, and we attended St. Justin's Parish in London, Ontario. The priest there was Father Pat Mellon, in his college days a big strapping tight end for the University of Western Ontario Mustangs, now deceased for many years.  On this particular Sunday a little boy turned to his mother just after Father Pat passed him by and said in a loud voice: "There's God, Mummy."

At first blush these incidents are cute, and speak to the innocence of little children, but do they say more?  Do these little children in that innocence know more than we do spiritually?  Are they just not yet tainted by worldly knowledge?  Jesus told us to come to Him as the little children.

I think the little ones have lessons to remind us of, if not to teach us of outright.

God had the Jews institute a ministerial priesthood to stand between the people and God imperfectly and ceremonially.  When Jesus walked the earth, He did so as our High Priest, and so like the Jews he offered sacrifice, once and for all, to God for our sins.  He stood in the gap as man and as God.  Only God could come face to face with God, and only man could meet us here on the earth, since we could not be in the unblemished, and pure presence of God and survive.

But, He who was God every bit as much as He was man, chose to have man participate in His atoning sacrifice.  How, you ask?  Though as God he was every bit as capable as we were of nailing himself to the Cross, we had to do it, to participate in this atonement.  We too, had to take Him down from the Cross, lay Him in a tomb, and go back to the tomb and see that He had risen from the dead, none of which was practically necessary for the God of the universe.  And if one of us had been the only person on the planet at the time, the one would have had to do all those tasks.  That's love, His not ours.

Our Protestant brothers and sisters say that His sacrifice was sufficient of itself, and we, as faithful Catholics should say a resounding Amen.  Our Protestant brothers and sisters also say that only Christ can forgive our sins, to which we should again say a resounding Amen.

But, Christ gave his authority to the Apostles, with the intention of it continuing.  So, we say in the Catholic Church that our priests, including Bishops and Cardinals are operating in persona christi, as it relates to the administration of the sacraments.

So, when a priest hears a confession, it is not he as himself, but he as Christ, Christ with skin on as it were, offering absolution, and conferring the graces of confession on the penitent.

When a priest comes to the altar of the Lord and offers the sacrifice for us during Mass, he is not doing it on his own, and he is not offering a new sacrifice.  He is presenting again, and still the one sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, in the substance and form that Jesus prescribed at the last supper.  In the persona of Our Saviour, this priest offers the elements to God for God to change them into the Body and Blood of Jesus so that we the members of the royal priesthood in attendance, can obey Jesus words to us to take and eat, and take and drink.

Children are not caught up in time and space, as we are.  Therefor, they see things as they really are, not as we believe them to be as we get older and jaded by life in the trenches.

We have been jaded by priests who have not taken their vows of chastity and continence seriously, and have fallen to temptation.  Though the statistics show that the percentage of priests who fall into sexual sin is not greater than other parts of society, their sin destroys for many the image of in persona christi.  They are called to live lives of holiness, like Jesus, and to present Him to us.  When a priest leaves the priesthood to marry, or commits a crime, or even when he tries to be just one of the boys, rather than being set apart, we all suffer.  (The problem is not being one of the boys, but being just one of the boys.)

We are their families, you and me.  They have a responsibility to be Christlike for us, to show us the way, but it is not all on their shoulders.  WE owe them the responsibility to pray diligently for them, because the temptations are great, and without proper prayer cover from the faithful, the road is very hard indeed, not impossible, but very hard.

Father, as a great gift to us, you call many men to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, and many listen to and follow that call.  Sadly, some have fallen by the wayside, and without our prayerful support more will fall.  But, that is not as it should be Father, and so we, the royal priests, intercede on their behalf with you Father, for their protection, for their encouragement, for their sanctity.

Mother Mary, surround these precious brothers of ours with your mantle of protection, as they strive daily to represent your Son, Jesus for us in daily life.

Saint Michael and our guardian angels, come defend them (and us) in battle, Be their (and our) safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him we humbly pray, and do thou o prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of their (and our) souls.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

"Children are not caught up in time and space, as we are. Therefor, they see things as they really are, not as we believe them to be as we get older and jaded by life in the trenches"

Children sit on the lap of a jolly old man in a shopping center and believe him to be Santa Claus. Many children also fervently believe in fairies, and Unicorns.

Thus your argument is that Santa Claus, Unicorns and fairies are as real as god. Actually, I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

The concept of "In persona Christi" is a clever method of manupulating and dominating the laity. I do not believe it. Sorry.