Last_Supper_Dara_Hardy2/13/17

The other day I heard a sermon preached by James MacDonald, a well-known evangelical Christian whose sermons are broadcast all over the United States by radio.  This particular sermon was focused on the importance of the Sabbath, of keeping one day of the week set aside for rest.  As you may have already read, I’ve often experienced the blessings that coincide with keeping the Sabbath, having been an active part of a Seventh Day Adventist community.  At any rate, in his sermon he discussed in detail how beneficial a day of rest can be for our spiritual and physical health, how we’re designed for this, how even though we may sleep extra hours, we can still feel chronically fatigued if we’re always acting like a busy-body.

He also mentioned what he referred to as a Protestant doctrine, namely, the priesthood of all believers.  He went on to indirectly criticize Catholics in stating how we don’t need to call anyone father, referring to the practice of Catholic priests being addressed as father.  As someone who’d identify as Catholic, I’ve felt the need to address his concerns. 

First off, I want to say that I have a lot of respect for Mr. MacDonald and the work he’s doing.  Anyone who listens to him quickly discovers how often he has feasted upon the Word of God, expressing it so passionately.  He’s helped many come, or return, to Christ.  Nonetheless, his advocation of a doctrine concerning the priesthood of all believers as something distinct from Catholics is heretical, i.e. it lacks fullness of truth –there is nothing in the Catholic church that explicitly denies this priesthood.  Rather, the Church acknowledges that some within the Church have been chosen to carry on a special ministry that not everyone is automatically able or equipped to perform, or at least as effectively when considering how those who have chosen celibacy, such as a Roman Catholic Priest, can be more available and fully present in order to help others and serve the community.  And, as most good fathers know, having children can be very demanding –fathers can readily find a schedule too full for other things.  Nonetheless, the Catechism explicitly states that the laity should participate in Christ’s priestly office, as well as prophetic and kingly.[1] 

With respect to the priesthood of all believers, Scripture informs us in the Book of Hebrews that through Christ we can confidently enter the Holy of Holies, the holiest place in the temple, in all Israelite worship, where only the High Priest could enter once per year.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  –Hebrews 10:19-22

In accordance with the priestly prescriptions given to Aaron for the Levitical priesthood in the book of Leviticus, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the bull that had been sacrificed on the altar of incense on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  Then, after burning incense to create a veil of smoke, the priest would then sprinkle the sacrificial blood on the mercy seat itself. 

“The ark of the covenant, the chest containing the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten  Commandments, was the most sacred object of the tabernacle and later in the temple in Jerusalem, where it was placed in an inner area called the Holy of Holies. Also within the ark were the golden pot of manna, such as was provided by God in the wilderness wanderings (Exodus 16:4) and Aaron’s almond rod (Numbers 17:1-13). On top of the ark was a lid called the mercy seat on which rested the cloud or visible symbol of the divine presence.”[2]

“God said that He would appear in the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:2); hence, the need for the veil. There exists a barrier between man and God. The holiness of God could not be accessed by anyone but the high priest, and then only once a year. God’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13), and He can tolerate no sin. The veil and the elaborate rituals undertaken by the priest were a reminder that man could not carelessly or irreverently enter God’s awesome presence. Before the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he had to wash himself, put on special clothing, bring burning incense to let the smoke cover his eyes from a direct view of God, and bring sacrificial blood with him to make atonement for sins (Exodus 28; Hebrews 9:7).”[3]

The sprinkling of the blood of the bull on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies was in atonement for the sins of the people of Israel.  As Christians, we know that Jesus, as the Son of God, was the perfect offering, or sacrifice, for sin.  The Levitical priesthood was superseded by Jesus and His perfect offering, His own blood poured out over Himself.  What love He has for us and how earnestly He desires to free us from the effects of sin, death itself! 

Following His life, death and resurrection, as His followers, we’re all called to this ministry, and we do this by interceding for others, acknowledging the goodness of the gift we ourselves have received –we pray that God will bestow this gift on others and that they’ll be willing to receive it.  There is no greater gift than the Merciful Blood of Jesus in atonement for our sins. 

Christ’s entire life was an offering for His people.  He calls us to be like Him.  We’re all called to be like Christ in serving and praying for others, loving them as we love ourselves.  Therefore, we all participate in Christ’s priestly ministry through our prayers and acts of service –becoming the priesthood of all believers.  There should be no distinction among followers of Christ, whether Protestant or Catholic, because all who pray for others and make offerings, whether corporal or spiritual works of mercy, serve in a priestly ministry and mediate as Christ mediates.  Christ is the first mediator, others follow, striving to be like Him, to be Christ-like, Christian. 

Now some may fall into error in believing that because we too can mediate as Christ mediates, that takes away from Christ’s preeminent role as the first mediator.  This is like saying that one surgeon is more effective than a team performing the surgery together.  While this may be true, depending on the competency of the other surgeons or nurses, all those entrusted to such surgery are going to work together in such a way that the surgery is more likely to be effective and efficient through collective cooperation.  The co-surgeons Christ Jesus entrusted first were the Apostles.  The Apostles then appointed others through ordination to serve likewise.  However, it is fine to give all credit to the principle surgeon, and in the sense of Christ Jesus, since all things came into being through Him (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16), to suggest that another should receive more praise, respect or acclamation would simply be foolish.   

With respect to the holy men and women who followed Christ perfectly in life and who’ve since passed from this life, from the very beginning of the Church, followers have rightly believed that these men and women who’ve lived these exceptionally holy lives enter right into heaven after death.  Thus, they are more capable of mediating for others by being more directly in the presence of God –many miracles have resulted because of a request for their intercession, confirming this reality.  To deny the reality of these miracles in the history of the Church is like denying the sunrise.  But this is not to say that we can’t mediate effectively for each other on this side of life, it is simply saying that those who are on the other side, fully in the presence of God, are even more effective.  This knowledge comprises the Communion of Saints, a doctrine rightly upheld in the Catholic faith, but deteriorating in protestant communities.  Why would God will that latter-day followers be denied the truth of this reality?  Quite simply, He wouldn’t.    

With respect to the Roman Catholic priesthood, just as God first designated Aaron as a priest through the Levitical priesthood, He designated a new priesthood in the order of Malchizedek, who was the first to offer bread and wine.  This offering, or sacrifice (poiein[4] in Greek) of Malchizedek, foreshadows the sacrifice Christ offered at the Last supper, where he took bread, blessed it, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Christ Jesus is Himself the Passover Lamb that was sacrificed (Exodus 12; John 1:29).  The Apostles rightly preserved these instructions through Sacred Tradition from the beginning of the Church, and the Roman Catholic Priest rightly performs them during the Mass, when he blesses the bread and wine as it becomes Christ’s Body and Blood, a process called transubstantiation, i.e. the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearance of bread and wine remaining.  Numerous Eucharistic miracles have confirmed the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic; more than 136 of these miracles have been cataloged by Carlo Acutis, who is now being considered for canonization.[5]  

The function that the Roman Catholic Priest performs does not take away from the priesthood of all believers.  Moreover, St. Paul has stated that not all members in the Body of Christ perform the same works or have the same gifts.[6]  Thus, neither are all called to the form of priesthood that a Roman Catholic Priest observes.  However, all believers can make a priestly offering of His Body and Blood, uniting in the Spirit of Christ’s perfect atonement, by reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet… “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in atonement for my sins and the sins of the whole world.”  This prayer was given to St. Faustina Kowalska after she received visions detailing God’s unfailing love and mercy.[7]  This prayer reiterates one of the many ways that the laity are “marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them.  For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit –indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born –all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[8]   

As a Catholic, as one who has been joyfully and fruitfully involved in various protestant communities, I’m confident that one of the clearest examples we have of Christ’s work being accomplished today is through the Roman Catholic Priest, who leads one or more parishes.  Certainly, most of the Sacraments, the means through which the grace of God is made visible, are performed through that same priest, e.g. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharistic transubstantiation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Matrimony.  Conversely, ministers within various protestant communities also aim to enact these visible manifestations of God’s grace.  However, they do so having broken away from the authority that Christ Jesus gave to the Apostles (Matthew 18:18), particularly St. Peter, the first pope (Matthew 16:18), for ordering His Church, following instead the examples given through the Protestant Reformation in the wake of Martin Luther’s accusations.  Perhaps the most remarkable example of this division is that where communion services are celebrated in protestant communities, they are celebrated only symbolically.  This opposes Christ’s words (John 6:54-57; Matthew 26:26) and the Sacred Tradition that has been passed down from the Apostles since the beginning of the Church (2 Thessalonians 2:15), not to mention the many Eucharistic miracles that have confirmed His real presence.  

The heart of liturgical worship is the Mass. Just as the redemptive work of Jesus reached its culminating point on Calvary by His death on the Cross, so too, the liturgical action, which continues His work in the world, has its climax in the Mass, which renews and perpetuates on our alters the Sacrifice of the Cross.  Jesus has willed that the precious fruits of redemption, which He merited on Calvary for the whole human race, be applied and transmitted to each of the faithful in a particular way by their participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.  This fountain of grace which Jesus opened on Calvary continues to pour over our altars; all the faithful are obliged to approach it at least once a week by attending Sunday Mass, but we may approach it even daily, each time we are present at the Holy Sacrifice. Holy mass is truly the “fountain of life.”  By offering and immolating Himself continually on our altars, Jesus repeats to us, “If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7, 37).

“The August sacrifice of the altar,” says the encyclical Mediator Dei, “is not merely a commemoration of the Passion and death of Christ, but is a true and proper sacrifice, in which, by immolating Himself in an unbloody manner, the Great High Priest renews His previous act on the Cross.”  The Victim is the same, so is the Priest; nothing but the manner of offering is different –bloody on the Cross, unbloody on the altar.  If we do not see in the Mass, as Mary did on Calvary, the torn Body of Christ and the Blood flowing from His wounds, we do have, by virtue of the Consecration, the real presence of this Body and Blood.  Moreover, as this divine presence becomes actualized under two distinct species, the bloody death on Calvary is mystically renewed by the real separation of the Body and Blood of the Savior.[9]

 

Now it may be true that many priests are living unholy lives, living without charity, wherein ministers from other communities would seem more suited to perform sacramental functions. History has many examples of imperfect priests, and ministers, who have caused scandal and wounded the image of the Bride of Christ.  In such cases, the priest, or minister, should be removed from office, and many practices are now in place to prevent such abuses of authority throughout Christendom.  Nonetheless, even though a president of the United States may be the most corrupt citizen, for as long as they remain in office, they can perform the functions of it.  Thus, even though a priest may be serving as a head of a parish while living in sin, the sacramental functions they perform are still valid by virtue of the office they hold within the Church. 

As mentioned earlier, a Roman Catholic priest is celibate.  This enables him to be more fully present and available to the people of God, just as Christ was to His people.  This freedom enables the priest to have more time to perform works of mercy, whether corporal, such as feeding the hungry, or spiritual, such as spreading the Good News, whether through counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant or admonishing sinners.  Addressing such a priest as Father, or a sister who serves Him in a similar way through a consecrated life, potentially being called Mother, are terms of endearment.  Indeed, these brothers and sisters are worthy of our extra respect because of their sacrifice, and our use of these terms of endearment shouldn’t be a stumbling block any more than referring to a physician as a doctor should be.  Do not good physicians also serve in a fatherly role, and is not the title “doctor,” a title of respect and honor?  How much more important are those who address spiritual illnesses that infect us and jeopardize our opportunity for eternal life? 

When Christ instructed someone not to call any man Rabbi, father or Master (Matt 23:8-10), he intended to convey that God should be the ultimate source for authority in our lives, to Him alone must we answer in the end.  Similarly, consider Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s discourse on the matter during a homily given on 3/14/17 through EWTN:

“And the title of father… this was something used because the word, the terminology for a sect within the Pharisee movement, was to use the word House.  A House was a sect.  So there was the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel.  These were the two great teachers at the time of Christ and Gamaliel belonged to the House of Hillel.  And, these two houses argued a fair amount between themselves on various points.  And, the head of the house was therefore the father.  And what Christ is warning about in a Palestinian-Jewish context is that you don’t go around starting new sects.  You don’t go around starting new religions where you get to be your own pope, for yourself and everybody else.  One pope is enough, we don’t want another.  And, starting your own sect and your own denomination, well that’s not what Christ wants.

The oneness of the Father, notice how He says that, you have one Father in heaven.  Later in the Last Supper discourse in John 17, Jesus says keep them one by your name Father.  Calling God Our Father and recognizing Him as our One Father, this is meant to be a source of unity so that they may know that the Father sent Jesus.  And that kind of division in the church is what Christ is speaking against with this title.  That’s why later on when St Paul writes to the Corinthians, in 1st Corinthians 4:15, you have only one father, it is I who begot you, by my preaching of the gospel.  There’s no problem in the Greek world with calling the leaders father, Paul insists on it.  St. John writing to people in Asia Minor also said there’s a group of men that he calls fathers in Chapter 2 verse 12 and following, in his first epistle.  So, they don’t have a problem with that.  But what Christ has a problem with is those who would start other sects, with men who call themselves fathers of that new sect, because then that focuses the attention on their brand-new insight, their new movement, their new idea, their new theology.  We don’t do that.  These are the things that flow from human pride.  And Christ wants all of us [to be faithful]; we are here because we have chosen to be faithful to Christ.  But we have to remember the old adage, the higher we climb in the spiritual life, the higher the devil climbs after us.” [10]

 

Thus, Jesus didn’t intend that children cease from calling their dad, father or papa.  Likewise, ordained priests and consecrated religious sisters who serve in fatherly and motherly roles may rightly be referred to as father or mother.  Are they the ultimate source of authority, are they God?  Surely not.  If they’re corrupt, should we respect and follow them?  Certainly not.  And, this situation can apply to earthly parents as well.  Moreover, in such cases, children can be removed from their parents by organizations like Child Protective Services.        

We know that Christ chose certain men to be disciples, to be co-surgeons in the work of restoring broken hearts.  We know that he calls all followers to love Him first and foremost, and others as ourselves.  Through the Holy Spirit, we enter His ministry of healing hearts, becoming co-mediators in the priesthood of all believers through our prayers and works of mercy, whether spiritual or corporal.  However, while on this side of eternity, some are more visible and active while serving in this capacity by virtue of their sacrifices and desire to serve in a special way, some of these we may refer to as father or brother, sister or mother.  And yet, the reality of this situation does not mean that others are less important or cannot become as visible and active in this capacity while not performing the same offering and presenting the same gifts.  However, we ought to respect those that have been ordained, who follow His example of celibacy, adhering to the leadership authority of those He appointed first, as well as the right succession of those who followed, nearly two millennia ago. 

 

[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Paragraph 4. CHRIST’S FAITHFUL –HIERARCHY, LAITY, CONSECRATED LIFE.  Online.  http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2A.HTM

[2] What is the mercy seat?  GotQuestions.org.  Online.  https://www.gotquestions.org/mercy-seat.html

[3] What was the Holy of Holies?  GotQuestions.org.  Online.  https://www.gotquestions.org/Holy-of-Holies.html

[4] Evert, Jason.  Is the Mass a Sacrifice.  Catholic Answers.  March 14, 2016.  Online.  https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/is-the-mass-a-sacrifice

[5] Cassandra, Adam.  Young Creator of ‘Eucharistic Miracles’ Exhibit Can Be a Role Model for Students.  The Cardinal Newman Society.  December 9th, 2016.  Online.  https://cardinalnewmansociety.org/young-creator-eucharistic-miracles-exhibit-can-role-model-students/

[6] Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

[7] The Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  EWTN.  Online.  http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/Mercy/dmmap.htm

[8] The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Paragraph 4. CHRIST’S FAITHFUL –HIERARCHY, LAITY, CONSECRATED LIFE.  Section 901.  Online.  http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2A.HTM

[9] Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.  Divine Intimacy.  Print.  Baronius Press Ltd.  London, 2008. Pg. 478.

[10] Today’s Homily.  Daily Catholic Mass -2017-03-14 -Fr. Mitch.  EWTN.  Online.  http://www.ewtn.com/multimedia/video.asp

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