The Sacrament of Holy Orders

The Sacrament of Holy Orders

Read ~ Chapter 13: The Sacrament of Holy Orders

Father Anthony Nachef, STD: Youtube Instagram Facebook

The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI).

Ancient Concept of priesthood

Before the Old Testament: Before the Old Testament mediations existed in the old world (i.e. Egypt and Mesopotamia). That concept goes very much to the beginning of creation where special human beings played a role of mediation between people and the divine. Sacrificing human beings to the gods was common back then.

Old Testament and priesthood: In the Old Testament God chose one tribe among the tribes of Israel to be a priestly tribe. The role of the tribe of Levites was to be of service to God and his people. However, here the concept of priesthood, as we know from the Letter to the Hebrews, was incomplete. As the Catechism teaches “this priesthood nevertheless remains powerless to bring about salvation, needing to repeat its sacrifices ceaselessly and being unable to achieve a definitive sanctification, which only the sacrifice of Christ would accomplish.” (CCC, 1540 and Hebrews 5:3).

God is still unreachable through the Old Testament’s priesthood: God is still unreachable way up there and the priest was still a mere human being ‘floating’ between God and the people. Being merely human, those priests could not finish the job: “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office (Hebrews 7:23).”

Priesthood and mediation

Incarnation as the beginning of Christ’s priesthood: In the New Testament, Jesus Christ entered our world as the Eternal High Priest the minute he was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The fact that He was incarnate to save us makes him immediately the Priest because priesthood is all about mediation to save humanity. We read in St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy that there is only one God and one Mediator between God and man, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Mediation in the New Testament: Mediation to accomplish salvation is possible because Jesus Christ is at the same time on the level of God and on our level. On the level of God in his divinity and on the level of people in his humanity. Therefore, his mediation is unlimited and infinite in power because it reaches the divine and the human at the same time and by the same Person of the Son. In this sense we read in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus “is able for all time to save those who drew near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).”

Jesus’ mediation is ontological and redemptive: The fact that Jesus Christ entered our world (being one with the Father and one of us) enables him to have unprecedented, unique, and perfect ontological mediation. Jesus Christ did not become a priest. He was already the High Priest even though at the time of his baptism he was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He is not ‘floating’ somewhere between the Father and us; he is ontologically the Son equal to the Father and therefore his mediation is far above all mediations (Letter to the Hebrews). In this regard Pope Benedict VI teaches: “The Church’s Magisterium, faithful to divine revelation, reasserts that Jesus Christ is the mediator and the universal redeemer: ‘The Word of God, through whom all things were made, was made flesh, so that as perfect man he could save all men and sum up all things in himself. The Lord…is he whom the Father raised from the dead, exalted and placed at his right hand, constituting him judge of the living and the dead.’ This salvific mediation implies also the unicity of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, eternal high priest (cf. Heb 6:20; 9:11; 10:12-14).” (Dominus Iesus, 11)

Jesus the High Priest establishes all the sacraments: Jesus Christ is the High Priest who established all the sacraments. His baptism founded the sacrament of baptism. His sending of the Holy Spirit is the foundation of confirmation. In the Last Super, He instituted the Eucharist and the sacrament of priesthood: he himself being the High Priest, he ordained the Apostles priests at the Last Supper (Pope Paul VI emphasized that Jesus Christ, by instituting the Eucharist in the Last Supper, created the sacrament of priesthood by the same token). In Cana, He elevated marriage to be a sacrament. By sending the Holy Spirit on the apostles and giving them the authority to forgive sins, Jesus created the sacrament of reconciliation. By healing the sick He established the sacrament of holy anointing of the sick (See Letter of St. James).

Jesus’ Priesthood is shared by the priests

Two degrees of participation in Christ’s priesthood and one degree of service: From the beginning of the Church until today, the Church recognizes “two degrees in the ministerial participation in the priesthood: the episcopacy (bishops) and the presbyterate (priests).” (CCC, 1554). The diaconate is a degree of service to bishops and priests, not of participation. However, all three degrees are received through sacramental ordination.

Ordination cannot be erased or repeated: All degrees bestow on the candidate the seal of the Holy Spirit that will imprint on their character which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ the High Priest forever (see CCC, 1570 and 1581). The Council of Trent strongly stated that “the sacrament of Holy Orders…confer an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.” (DS, 1767)

Jesus the High Priest shares his priesthood with St. Peter and the Apostles and then with the Popes and the Bishops: Since the actions of Christ have eternal values, the ordination of St. Peter and the Apostles must continue in the Church until the end of time. The Popes (successors of St Peter) and all the Bishops (successors of the Apostles) extend Christ’s priesthood in our history. Vatican II teaches: “Just as in the Gospel…St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together.” (Lumen Gentium 22)

In the Acts of the Apostles, the election of St. Matthias to take the place of Judas who betrayed Jesus, serves as a primary example how the Apostles knew the priestly mission of Christ must be extended until his Second Coming. Later on, St. Paul himself ordained Timothy and Titus to share in the apostolic mission. Then, as early as the year 99 AD, Pope St. Clement I testifies to this unbroken succession. Today, we can trace the ordination of Bishops in an unbroken line to the original Apostles and to St. peter himself (CCC, 1555-1560).

Jesus the High Priest shares his priesthood with ordained ministers: There is only one Priest, Jesus Christ. He shares his priesthood with all bishops, priests, and deacons of all time and enables the to act on behalf of the Person of Christ (in Persona Christi). St. Thomas Aquinas says: “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.” (Hebr. 8,4)

Priesthood is a ministry to serve not a personal capacity: Our priesthood is not a personal capacity, but an indelible seal we received at ordination that will be imprinted on our character forever. We are priests forever in the order of Melchizedek (figure of priesthood in the Old Testament fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament). As Vatican II confirms, the office of priesthood “which the Lord committed to the pastors of his people is in the strict sense of the term a service.” (LG, 24)

Acting on behalf of the Person of Christ: When a priest celebrates the sacraments he is acting on behalf of the person of Christ. When I baptize a child, I say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The “I” refers to Christ. When I am giving an absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and I say, “Through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from all your sins…,” the “I” refers to Christ. It does not refer to me in person. I am just sharing in the priesthood of Christ and acting on His behalf (in persona Christi). St. Thomas aquinas summarizes this by saying: “Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was afigure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ.” (STH III, 22, 4c)

Guaranteed sacramental grace because of Jesus’ Priesthood: The Holy Spirit is the agent at work in the priest and the Church to make Christ’s redemption take place. The sacraments, because Christ is the one who is performing them and because the Holy Spirit comes down on all of them, are always valid and 100% guaranteed. We call this ex opere operato in Latin. It means that the very same celebration automatically implies the presence of the Christ’s grace. Even though the minister might be a sinner, “the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace.” (CCC, 1550) This infidelity, however, harms the mission of the Church and causes scandals among the faithful.

Jesus’ Priesthood shared by weak and sinful men: Because of infinite love, wisdom, and mercy, Jesus Christ wanted and allowed weak and sinful human beings to exercise his Priesthood. In all their limitations, priests share in the Priesthood of Christ to re-enact his redemption in Church through the Sacraments. The priest acting on behalf of the Person of Christ is an unworthy instrument of Christ. No one will ever deserve to share in Christ’s priesthood.

How to face the sinfulness of the ministers: When we come across priests that are sinful, how can people maintain a balance between the sinfulness of the priest and the 100% guaranteed grace of the sacraments? The sinfulness of the priest prevents people sometimes from approaching the sacraments and push them out of the Church doors. We need to be committed to always receive the sacraments because the Priesthood of Christ is still giving us his divine grace that is not effected by the worthiness of the ministers. St Augustine forcefully states: “As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ’s gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth. . . . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.” (PL 35, 1422)

Priesthood comes directly from Christ not from the Church

Priesthood comes from Christ to be exercised in the Catholic Church: The seal that the priest receives from Christ at ordination can never be taken away from the priest because the priesthood is received from Christ not the Church. Therefore, the priest has a big responsibility in fulfilling his priestly ministry: even though priesthood is a direct gift from Christ, it must always be exercised in the Church, for the service of the Church, and according to the rules and laws of the Church. Through this sacrament the condidate receives the Holy Spirit who “permits the exercise of a “sacred power’ which can come only from Christ through the Church.” (CCC, 1538)

The Church makes sure that the candidate is ordained according to the Apostolic succession as establsihed by Christ on St. Peter’s, the Apostles and their successors. In this regard, the second Vatican Council teaches that Christ “formed his Apostles after the manner of a college or a stable group, over which he placed Peter chosen from among them.” (Lumen gentium 19)

Priesthood cannot be taken away from any ordained priest: An example of how priesthood cannot be taken away from the priest. Suppose a priest leaves the exercise of his priestly ministry and gets married without the consent of the Church or the necessary process of laicization. The Church automatically asks that priest not to celebrate the sacraments. One day he decides to celebrate Mass, even though the Church asked him not to. Will the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? Yes, because the priesthood comes from Christ, not from the Church. However, he is not permitted to celebrate Mass. In this case the sacrament of the Eucharist is valid, but not licit. In this sense The Catechism teaches: “It is true that someone validly ordained can, for grave reasons, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.” (CCC, 1583)

Validity of the sacrament of priesthood: According to the Catholic Church’s teaching, two conditions must be present for the Sacrament of Priesthood to be valid. One, the candidate must be male. The second, he must be ordained by a bishop who was ordained in line with the Apostolic Succession. Apostolic succession is the governing authority of the Church that was established by Christ himself on the Apostles who are under the leadership of St. Peter and in communion with him. It is an uninterrupted succion of the 12 Apostles and their successors down through the centuries in the Catholic hierarchy.

Orthodox Churches have a valid priesthood: Our brethren in the Orthodox Churches have valid ordinations because they never broke away from the Apostolic Succession. Even though in the year 1059 the Roman Catholic Church split from the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church never stopped valid ordinations of bishops according to the successions of the Apostles. Therefore, every single sacrament that any Orthodox priest or bishop performs is a valid sacrament. Hopefully one day we will all be reunited as one Church where we can have a full communion, not only communion in sacris (in the sacraments).

A spiritual note: Despite the priests’ weaknesses, sacraments are still instruments of the Priesthood of Christ. Parishioners are invited to support their priests, pray for them, love them, forgive them, invite them to be part of their lives (of course unless they are criminal abusers). That is a sign that you really support God’s plan in providing priests to celebrate the sacraments. In the Acts of the Apostles St. Paul reminds the importance of the role of the community in the life of those who “by the laying on of hands” have received the Sacrament of the Priesthood. All over the world today, the laying on of hands and the Sacrament of Priesthood continue despite all difficulties and scandals. Those of you who are thinking of becoming priests, it is very possible that the Spirit of Christ is talking to you.

By Fr. Antoine (Anthony) Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)

Capítulo 13: El Sacramento de los Órdenes Sagradas

         El Antiguo Testamento y el Sacerdocio: Antes del Antiguo Testamento vemos el antiguo mundo en donde había sacerdotes en Egipto, Mesopotamia. El concepto va hacia al comienzo de la creación en donde humanos especiales jugaban una parte de meditación entre gente y el divino. En el Antiguo Testamento vemos que Dios si elijo un tribu entre los tribus de Israel para se convertirán en un tribu sacerdotal. La parte del tribu de los Levíticos era servir a Dios y le gente. Sin embargo, aquí el concepto del sacerdocio, como leemos en la carta a los Hebreos, fue incompleto. Dios todavía sigue inalcanzable y el sacerdote es un mero humano que flota entre Dios y su gente. Eso cambió en el Nuevo Testamento 

El Nuevo Testamento y el Sacerdocio: En el Nuevo Testamento, Jesucristo entró a nuestro mundo como el Sumo Eterno Sacerdote el momento que fue concebido en la vientre de la Virgen Maria. El hecho que él fue encarnado para salvarnos inmediatamente lo hace el sacerdote porque ser un sacerdote es tiene que ver con la mediación para salvarnos. Leemos en la carta a Timoteo porque solo hay un solo Dios y un mediador entre Dios y el hombre, nuestro salvador Jesucristo. La razón es porque Jesucristo es la mismo tiempo en el nivel de Dios y en nuestro nivel. En el nivel de Dios en su diversidad y en el nivel de la gente en su humanidad. Por lo tanto, su mediación es ilimitada porque alcanza el divino y el humano al mismo tiempo en la misma Persona del Hijo.  

Mediación ontológica: El hecho que Jesucristo entró a nuestro mundo siendo uno con Dios y uno de nosotros lo permite tener una mediación ontológica perfecta. Jesucristo no se hizo un sacerdote; él hay era un sacerdote aunque al tiempo de su bautismo fue ungido por el Espíritu Santo. Él está “flotando” en algún lado entre el Padre y nosotros; él es ontológicamente el Hijo y por lo tanto su mediaciones es más arriba que todas la mediaciones (Carta a los Hebreos).  

Jesucristo el Sumo Sacerdote Establece todos los Sacramentos: Jesucristo es el único Sumo Sacerdote quién estableció todos los sacramentos. Su bautismo fundó el sacramento del bautismo. Su mandado del Espíritu Santo es la fundación de la confirmación. En la última cena, él instituyó la Eucaristía. En Caná, él elevó el matrimonio para ser un sacramento. Enviando el Espíritu Santo en los Apóstoles y dándoles la autoridad de perdonar lo pecados, Jesús pudo crear el sacramento de la reconciliación. Curando los enfermos él estableció el sacramento de la Santa Uncion. Él mismo siendo Sacerdote, él ordenado a los Apóstoles sacerdotes en la última cena (El Papa Pablo VI enfatizó que Jesucristo, por instituyendo la Eucaristía en la Última Cena, él creó el sacramento del sacerdocio por el mismo token). 

El Único Sacerdocio de Cristo que se comparte con todos los Ministros Ordenados: Hay solo un sacerdote, Jesucristo. Este sacerdote comparte y va compartir su sacerdocio con todos los obispos, sacerdotes y diáconos de todo el tiempo. El sacramento del sacerdocio es el regalo que permite los sacerdotes compartir el sacerdocio con Cristo y actuar de parte de la persona de Cristo (en Persona Cristiana). Nuestro sacerdocio no solo es una capacidad personal, pero un sello indeleble que se imprimirá en nuestro carácter para siempre. Somos sacerdotes para siempre pero en el orden de Melquisedec.  

El sello que recibe el sacerdote de Cristo nunca puede ser quitado del sacerdote porque el sacerdocio se recibe de Cristo y no de la Iglesia. Por lo tanto, el sacerdote tiene una gran responsabilidad  en ejercitar su ministerio sacerdotal: aunque el sacerdocio es un regalo directo de Cristo, siempre deber ser ejercitado en la Iglesia, para el servicio de la Iglesia y de acuerdo a las reglas y leyes de la Iglesia Católica.  

Un ejemplo del sacerdocio no se puede quitar del sacerdote. Supongan que un sacerdote deja su ministerio sacerdotal y se casa sin el consentimiento de los superiores o el proceso necesario de laicización. Un día él decide celebra misa, aunque la Iglesia no le pido que lo hiciera. ¿Se convertirá el pan y el vino a la sangre y pan de Cristo? Si, porque el sacerdocio viene de Cristo, no de la Iglesia. Sin embargo, no está permitido celebrar la Misa. El sacramento es válido, pero no lícito.   

La Validez del Sacramento del Sacerdocio: Dos condiciones deben ser presente para el sacramento del sacerdocio. Una, el candidato necesita ser masculino. Él necesita que ser ordenado por un obispo que fue ordenado en línea con la Sucesión Apostólica. Nuestros hermanos en la Iglesia Ortodoxa tienen ordenaciones válidas porque nunca se separaron de la Sucesión Apostólica. Aunque en el año 1059 la Iglesia Romana se separaron de la Iglesia Ortodoxa, la Iglesia Ortodoxa nunca paro ordenaciones válidas de los obispos de acuerdo a los sucesiones de los Apóstoles. Por lo tanto, cada sacramento que cualquier sacerdote o obispo Ortodoxo realiza es un sacramento válido. Ojalá un día podremos reunirnos como una Iglesia en donde podemos tener comunión completa, no solo comunión en sacris (en los sacramentos).  

Actuando en la Persona de Cristo: Cuando un sacerdote actúa en los sacramentos el hasta actuando de parte de la persona de Cristo. Cuando bautizó un niño, yo digo “Yo te bautizo en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo”. “Yo” refere a Cristo. Cuando esto dando una absolución del sacramento de la reconciliación y digo “Por el ministerio de la iglesia que Dios de conceda el perdón y la paz y yo te absuelvo de todos tus pecados…,”.“Yo” refere a Cristo. No refere a mi en persona. Yo solo estoy compartiendo el sacerdocio de Cristo. 

Gracia Sacramental Garantizado por el Sacerdocio de Jesús: Por su amor y misericordia infinita, Jesucristo quería y permite al ser humano débil y pecador ejercitar su sacerdocio. Con todas sus limitaciones, los sacerdotes comparten un sacerdocio de Cristo para ser su redención presente en la iglesia por el sacramento. El Espíritu Santo es el agente que está trabajando en el sacerdote y la Iglesia para serlo suceder. Los sacramentos, porque Cristo es el que los está realizando, siempre son válidos y 100% garantizado. El sacerdote actuando de parte de la persona de Cristo (en persona Cristiana) es un instrumento indigno de Cristo .

Cuando nos encontramos con sacerdotes que son pecadores, ¿Cómo puede la gente mantener un balance entre la pecaminosidad del sacerdote y la gracia 100% garantizada de los sacramentos? La pecaminosidad del sacerdote previene la gente de acercandose a los sacramentos y los alejan de las puertas de la Iglesia. Necesitamos ser comprometido a siempre recibir lo sacramentos porque el sacerdocio de Cristo todavía te está dando su gracia divina aunque los sacerdotes no son dignos. Nadie es digno de ser un sacerdote.

A pesar de la pecadosidad y debilidad de los sacerdotes, ellos todavía siguen siendo instrumentos del sacerdocio de Cristo. Las personas parroquial vida son invitados apoyar sus sacerdotes y rezar por ellos, amarlos, perdónalos, y invitarlos que sean parte de sus vidas. Esa es una señal de que realmente apoyas el plan de Dios al proporcionar sacerdotes para celebrar los sacramentos. Hemos visto eso en los Hechos de los Apóstoles, donde San Pablo recuerda la importancia de la parte de la comunidad en la vida de aquellos que “por la imposición de manos” han recibido el sacramento del sacerdocio a otros miembros que se unen a la iglesia . En todo el mundo de hoy, la imposición de manos y el sacramento del sacerdocio continúan a pesar de todas las dificultades. Aquellos de ustedes que están pensando en convertirse en sacerdotes tal vez es el Espíritu de Cristo hablando con ustedes.

By Father Antoine (Anthony) Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)