What is a Catholic Priest?
Souls Depend on Them for SalvationFr. John Hardon
What is a Catholic priest? He is a man ordained by Christ to continue the Savior’s work of Redemption until the end of time. He is therefore a person specially chosen to proclaim the Gospel of salvation and lead the faithful to their final destiny. But he is mainly a person who receives unique powers at ordination to consecrate and sacrifice, and to reconcile a sinful people with their God.
As one who proclaims the Good News, a priest is given the grace not only to teach the truths of revelation but inspire his hearers to follow what he teaches. As a leader of believers, he is to be the primary former and sustainer of a Christian community.
What makes a Catholic priest most distinctive, however, and by divine will sets him apart from other men is the power that Christ gives him over the Holy Eucharist and over the sins of mankind.
No one but a priest can change bread and wine into the living Christ. At his words of consecration, what had been bread and wine cease to be bread and wine, so that only the appearances remain. What becomes present is Jesus, the Son of God who became the Son of Mary, now on earth in all the fullness of His divinity and humanity, and with all the qualities that make Jesus Christ who He is.
No one but a priest can offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which the same Jesus who surrendered Himself on Calvary now offers Himself in the Mass, through the hands of His priest.
No one but a priest can absolve sinners and restore them to friendship with the Creator whom they have offended.
No wonder the Church is so concerned that priests remain faithful to their high calling. In God’s ordinary Providence, their perseverance is a condition for the perseverance of the faithful. “Like priest like people” is not a clever phrase, but the verdict of almost 2000 years of the Church’s history.
But perseverance in the priesthood is impossible without the grace of God, made available through prayer. Only priests who pray can persevere. The people must also pray, in our day as never before, for the priests of the world. On their fidelity to Christ depends the salvation of more souls than we shall ever know, until eternity.