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The Holy Priesthood

By Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
June 23, 1995

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we read of the call of the two first Apostles, St. Peter and his brother St. Andrew, by Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ:

“As He was walking by the sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). And He said to them, ‘Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets, and followed Him” (Matt. 4:18).

That which Jesus Christ did some 1900 years ago, He has continued to do in every age, that is, to call men to leave all things behind to follow Him and to become “fishers of men.”

In this pastoral letter, let us admire the goodness and mercy of God in the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders by which men are ordained to continue the mission begun by Christ here on earth — to glorify the Father (by the renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary at Holy Mass) and to work for the salvation of souls (by the administration of the Sacraments and by preaching the Gospel).

When we consider the Sacrament of Orders, the very first question which comes to our minds is, what is a priest? A priest is properly defined as an alter Christus — another Christ. He continues the life of Christ here on earth by his earthly ministry; by his priestly ordination, he acts in persona Christi (in the Person of Christ). St. Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Hebrews:

“For every high priest, taken from among men, is appointed for men in the things pertaining to God....” (Hebrews 5:1)

And what are these “things pertaining to God”? First and foremost, the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — the unbloody renewal of Calvary. Sacrifice is something synonymous with religion; for without sacrifice, there is no religion. In the Old Testament, we frequently find reference to the offering of sacrifices to God to atone for sin. In the Book of Exodus, we read of Moses:

“And he took the blood and sprinkled it upon the people, and he said: ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words’” (Exodus 24:8).

How similar are these words of Moses, “This is the blood of the covenant,” to the words of Christ at the Last Supper, “This is the Chalice of My Blood.” Yet, these Old Testament sacrifices were but a prefigurement of the one and only acceptable sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the unbloody renewal of that same sacrifice at Holy Mass. At the Last Supper, Our Divine Lord took bread and wine and by His Almighty power changed it into His Body and Blood, when He said:

“Take and eat; This is My Body....

“All of you drink of this; for this is My Blood of the New Covenant, which is being shed for many unto the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:26).

And immediately after the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into His Body and Blood, Our Lord commanded His disciples,

“Do this for a commemoration of Me” (Luke 22:19).

By these words, Christ commanded His Apostles, His first priests, to do exactly the same thing as He did — to change mere bread and wine into His Own Body and Blood. And we know that the Apostles fulfilled this command, for St. Paul in his first Epistle to the Corinthians reminds them that,

“As often as you shall eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

And that,

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the sharing of the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?” (1 Cor. 10:16).

What a wonderful condescension! Our Lord gave to His Apostles, and through them by the Sacrament of Orders, to those ordained to the priesthood in the future, the power to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to consecrate bread and wine into His Own Body and Blood. The Council of Trent was very clear on this matter:

“Although Christ our Lord was to offer himself once to his Eternal Father on the altar of the Cross by actually dying to obtain for us eternal redemption, yet as His priesthood was not to become extinct by His death, in order to leave His Church a visible sacrifice suited to the present condition of men, a sacrifice which might at the same time represent to us the bloody sacrifice consummated on the Cross, preserve the memory of it to the end of the world, and apply the salutary fruits of it for the remission of the sins which we daily commit; at His last supper, on the very night on which He was betrayed, giving proof that He was established a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered to God His Body and Blood, under the appearances of bread and wine, and, under the same symbols, gave them to the apostles, whom He constituted at the same time priests of the New Law. By these words , ‘Do ye this in remembrance of Me,’ He commissioned them and their successors in the priesthood to consecrate and offer His Body and Blood, as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught.”

And further on the Council declares that Our Lord, appeased by the oblation of the Sacrifice of Mass, grants us His graces and the remission of sin. It says:

“It is one and the same victim; the one that offers sacrifice is the same one who, after having sacrificed Himself on the Cross, offers Himself now by the ministry of the priest; there is no difference except in the manner of offering.”

The sacrificial nature of the priesthood and the doctrine that the priest acts in the Person of Christ are very important aspects for us to remember, especially in our times, when the modern Church has mutilated the Mass and has replaced it with the Novus Ordo (the New Modern Mass). In the true Mass, the priest consecrates the Sacred Species by the power he has from his sacred ordination, by which he acts in the Person of Christ. Thus the priest says in the Consecration at Mass, “This is My Body;” “This is the Chalice of My Blood,” and not, “This is the Body of Christ,” nor “This is the Chalice of His Blood.” In the Novus Ordo Mass, we find a new definition of the Mass in the General Preface, which reads:

“The Lord’s Supper is the assembly or gathering together of the people of God, with a priest presiding to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. For this reason the promise of Christ is particularly true of a local congregation of the Church: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in their midst’” (General Instruction to the Novus Ordo, April 6, 1969).

Notice the terminology “priest presiding” and the Scriptural reference, “where two or three are gathered in My Name.” In the Novus Ordo, no longer does the priest offer the Holy Sacrifice and consecrate the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in persona Christi (in the Person of Christ); now he merely presides over the assembly, and the assembly, the people gathered together, bring about a spiritual presence of Christ. This new definition of the Mass is a Lutheran definition!

When we read in ecclesiastical history of the destruction of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Germany by Martin Luther, and in England by Archbishop Cramner, we find that history has repeated itself in the late 1960’s with the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae, but on a far wider scale. And included in this repetition of history is the serious doubt that exists in the “ordinations” which take place in the Conciliar Church of Vatican II.

With this new definition of the Mass according to Luther, the very aspect of the priesthood has changed. This was one of the reasons that Pope Leo XIII declared in his Apostolic Constitution, Apostolicae Curae, the Anglican orders to be invalid — the lack of intention to ordain the priests to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Once again, let us appreciate the inestimable gift of the holy priesthood, by which we have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The secondary role of the priest is the salvation of souls, especially by the administration of the sacraments. In the Gospel of St. John, we read how our Divine Lord, after His Resurrection, appeared to His Apostles:

“He therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed upon them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained’” (John 20:21).

Here, we must reiterate that the priest, acting in the Person of Christ, says, “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis,” — “I absolve thee from thy sins,” and not, “Christ absolves thee from thy sins.” By his ordination, the priest identifies himself with Christ. Where would we be spiritually without the Sacrament of Penance? How burdened our souls would be without the reassurance and certainty offered us by the words of the priest:

“Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis....” (I absolve thee from thy sins).

In the beginning of our spiritual life, it was the priest who cleansed our souls of original sin and gave us the life of God — sanctifying grace — through the sacrament of Baptism. By this most necessary sacrament, we become children of God and heirs of heaven, as Our Lord said:

“Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

And when our lives draw to their end, once again, the priest is there to assist and support us by means of the sacrament of Extreme Unction. In the Epistle of St. James, we find the scriptural reference for this sacrament:

“Is any one among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up and if he be in sins they shall be forgiven them” (James 5:14).

Having briefly considered the necessary role of the priesthood in the Church, is it any wonder, then, why the devil hates priests, why he would desire their downfall, why he would do his utmost to divert young men from pursuing their vocation to the priesthood? Let us pray for our priests, and also pray that God will send more laborers into His harvest! This month of June marks the 10th anniversary of my priestly ordination. Please remember me in your prayers on June 27, the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

In Christo Jesu et Maria Immaculata,
Most Rev. Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

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