Robin Ward on the Sacred Priesthood
At our baptism the mystic washing away of sin administered in the name of the Triune God is the first movement of divine Love coming to dwell ineffably in our souls. This should give to the new priests of Jesus Christ the fundamental orientation of their ministry: the spirit of adoration that contemplates with utter abasement the holiness of the living God; and the spirit of pastoral zeal that discerns in the soul of each and every human being the predestined temple of God most high.
It is therefore important that we speak of the priesthood as the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the name which is above every name. No priesthood instituted by men can offer God the worship that is His due; no priesthood born from the natural instinct of humankind to appease the numinous with the cult of sacrifice can satisfy the debt that justice decrees owed by the created to the Creator. Even the priesthood of Aaron, ordained by God for a time to be a sign and type of better promises to come, demonstrates by the repetition of its offerings the futility of the blood sprinkled in such profusion, and the transient satisfaction of the smoke ascending from its altars.
The Triune God revealed to us demands by the nature of His very substance the worship of sacrifice: sacrifice that acknowledges God as holy, for man shall not see me and live; sacrifice that acknowledges God as sovereign, alone author of life and being; sacrifice that acknowledges God as perfect in the plenitude of His divine life, needing nothing that He has made. Where then shall such a priest be found, to offer such worship to the One who is all-Holy? And where shall such a victim be found, whose destruction will accomplish once and for all the satisfaction for sin, and make before the throne of God that act of perfect adoration for which the whole created order cries out, and for which it was brought into being?
It was given to Abraham to prophesy: God will provide himself the lamb for the burnt offering, and in the second great mystery of the season after Pentecost we see that prophecy fulfilled in the greatest of all the exterior works of God, the sacrifice of the Eucharist, Corpus Christi. Priests of Jesus Christ offers no sacrifice of their own; rather we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is His flesh. Through His death upon the Cross the divine Son makes expiation for sin and satisfies what is owed to divine justice on our behalf. In the sacrament of the altar, Christ ordains that this sacrifice should be reiterated under sacramental signs, whereby the perfect adoration offered to God by the Cross might be perpetuated through all the generations of humankind by the priesthood of the new Covenant, priests of Jesus Christ. The great Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor puts this for us succinctly:
As Christ is pleased to represent to His Father that great sacrifice as a means of atonement and expiation for all mankind, and with special purposes and intendment for all the elect, all that serve him in holiness: so he hath appointed that the same ministry should be done upon earth too, in our manner, and according to our proportion; and therefore hath constituted and separated an order of men, who, by showing forth the Lord’s death by sacramental representation, may pray unto God after the same manner that our Lord and High-priest does, that is, offer to God and represent, in this solemn prayer and sacrament, Christ as already offered.
But the priesthood of Jesus Christ is not one simply of an external act, however august. It is a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, and as such it is established not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life. The power of this indestructible life is made manifest in the third mystery of this season, the mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Richard Hooker speaking of the humanity of Christ tells us:
And forasmuch as it is by virtue of that conjunction made the body of the Son of God, by whom also it was made a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, this giveth it a presence of force and efficacy throughout all generations of men.
It is this presence of force and efficacy throughout all the generations of humankind that we honour in the cult of the Sacred Heart. As a preacher of the gospel of Good News, and as one appointed by virtue of ordination to absolve sin, the priest declares to the people of God not past truths to edify, but living realities of grace flowing from the heart of the one who is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. May the divine Heart of Jesus be the source and summit of priesthood: a priesthood of adoration, a priesthood of intercession, a priesthood that frees wounded humanity from the bonds of sin, a priesthood which is imbued with the living and powerful mysteries proper to each state freely lived and embraced by the humility of the incarnate Son of God.
How can priests live so close to such great mysteries? Will the custody of the Ark of God be to them a blessing as it was to Obed-Edom, or a curse as it was to Uzzah? Here the priests of Jesus Christ have a powerful helper, one to whom they must stay close. Just as the Ark as a type of things to come brought blessing to the house of Obed-Edom, so the Ark of the New Covenant brings blessing to the house of Elizabeth. Just as Jesus our High Priest offers perfect adoration to the Father, so Mary the Mother of God is the perfect contemplator of the mysteries of her Son, she whom the Gospel tells us kept all these things in her heart. The heart of Mary is the mirror of priesthood, in which the priest will find all the force and efficacy of His divine life for the salvation of souls. And so each priest must pray:
O Mary, Virgin and Mother of priests, I will place myself close to thee, today and all the days of my life, there, in the very place where stood Saint John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the preferred Priest of His love; I will remain there, with thee, facing the Cross, and I will gaze upon Him, this Jesus Crucified, the only science that a priest need know, love, and preach. ‘To know only Jesus and Him crucified.’
O Mary, teach this priest of Jesus this folly of the Cross, true Wisdom in the sight of God and the solemn manifestation of His power. Teach me how one passes into Jesus Crucified; how, following the example of the Apostle, one comes to bear in oneself the wounds of the Lord Jesus. ‘I, for my part, bear in my body the wounds of the Lord Jesus.’
Thou dost answer me, O Mother, saying that I will learn this at the holy altar, the mountain of myrrh and the hill of incense; that, each morning, I will ascend with thee to enter into the wounds of Jesus Crucified.