A Tale of Two Priesthoods

Set Free Broken Chains

Urban myths are a dangerous thing to live by; especially in the realm of faith and history. 

One that I heard and then believed ad nauseam was “What about the priesthood of all believers?  The Church Jesus left was supposed to be pure and pristine.  One way those Catholics have it wrong is that only a select few are priests and thus they take away true freedom of the gospel and the priesthood of all believers.”

There is a further one that says, “anything from the Catholic Church that softens things up is a later development to make it look nice in the last 100 years.”

Below I will address both. 

To proclaim the gospel is a charge to all Christians and the Catholic Church affirms this as a natural unfolding of the great commission to make disciples and baptize them (Matthew 28:20).  It is just implied that it is not official likely because it is not in the midst of a mass where clergy read the words of one of the actual gospels of the Bible.  The calling of priesthood happens to all Christians upon initial justification.  But the empowerment for ones expression of the common priesthood is in what is called Confirmation. 

1305 This “character” [sacrament of Confirmation] perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio).”[122 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theolpgica III,72,5, ad 2]

In reference to the referred Confirmation, it is a matter of one having a connection with the divine through God the Holy Spirit that binds the baptized to a common fellowship with the Godhead and not just “my Holy Spirit experience”.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is proclaimed since no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except through the Spirit of God. 

But doesn’t the role of the priesthood take away from non-priests like a second class citizen placement?  Not at all.  I have bones and I have muscle.  I need one to keep me moving and another that fits in and supports passing on the blood flow.  This is consistent with the many passages in the New Testament where there are distinct gifts to the Body of Christ and how not everyone can say they are everything. 

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. [22 Lumen Gentium,1965 10 § 2]

So if one was to an argument that one side exists to the own detriment of the other, it is really the position of the Catholic Church that the servants are the clerical priests. 

1141 The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who, “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.” [Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:5,9] This “common priesthood” is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” [1 Peter 55-67AD] have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.  (11 Sacrosanctum Concilium,1965 14; Cf. 1 Pet 2:9; 2:4-5, 55-67AD)

“Aha!  But there you have the problem of how you Catholics go about ceremony that has a  form of godliness but denies the power of God thereof. Just dry religion.”

For that I would respond that such premises are incorrect and miss the good, the true and the beautiful with the following points. 

Liturgy is a word that comes from the Greek that is liturgia meaning the work of the people.  Sounds like a non-Christ centered work?  Consider that Jesus spoke of the “work” to believe in Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) which was the night he was betrayed and said of communion “Do this in remembrance of me”. 

As for the celebration of these two forms of priesthood?  It is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that is tied to the nearness of Jesus through the Eucharist.  This may be implied where Paul writes,  “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phillipians 4:5-6). The word for thanksgiving is eucharistia where we get Eucharist.  Once again, we see a participation of Christ’s priesthood who has done the direct work by suffering and death on the cross.  When we do liturgy we are doing what Jesus said with a supernatural remembrance “Do this in memory of me”.  Sacramentally, when I go to my parish in Tempe, Arizona, I do not re-sacrifice Jesus in my common priesthood but Christ lives out his sacrifice in me. 

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” [1 Peter].  The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood” [Lumen Gentium]. 

Yes, some were within the last 100 years.  The latest ones I can find are in the Catechism quoting from the Vatican II council in the 1960’s.  But one of the source quotes are from St. Thomas Aquinas from the 1200’s.  That is far before any possible “remodeling”.  Plus, for the Bible passages they are quoting that show the common priesthood, it is worth noting that such scriptures that point to  a common priesthood were approved as scripture by the Catholic Church.   If the Catholic Church is so against the priesthood of all believers, why did they call those passages as divinely inspired public revelation?  This was accomplished in the 380’s and 390’s AD with approval by popes. 

One other thing about this common priesthood of the faithful are those who are later in heaven.  There is more than biblical room that the worship before God in heaven can include such intercession ongoing. 

 When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. (Revelation 5:8).

The beauty is not that Jesus is usurped of his status as Lord, Savior and Redeemer.  The Church does not teach that.  It is that the role of the believers is one that participates in what Jesus did and does in an ongoing way.  We are “a holy priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9). It is no coincidence that Catholic means “according to the whole”.  Jesus makes it that way.     

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Feeding Line, Dividing Line PART V: One Proposal, Two Answers

Marriage-proposalThe conversion of the heart and a paradigm shift is no small thing.  Changes converts make are radical to the core of how they live, love and hope which happen only in total surrender.  The preceding moments of  tension may be a setting of ones choosing, God’s choosing or a bit of both.  When one is about to convert, the tension comes in the understanding of life as we have known and not knowing the details of what we are getting.  When Jesus told the Jews one day that to have eternal life they had to eat his flesh it was time to leap forward or backwards.

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.   But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (  John 6:59-69).

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever—  This could be the payoff if they get it.  The people in the time of Moses had manna from heaven which was the word for “What is it?”  Jesus comes as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) in a visible, sacramental context.

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum— This is not an incidental statement by John.  John made a point here that the very scene where the Law is read is where teaching happens that brings interpretation of the first five books of the Bible.

This saying is hard; who can accept it?— In my experience as a Christian in post-modern America moral relativism has often sneaked into how people make decisions on truth.  If they are grounded in the divine, truth is discovered and obeyed.  If they are grounded by the wisdom of this age then it is up for a subjective vote and the pope is in the mirror.

Does this shock you?-  This is like a spiritual soundcheck.  He then asks if they would be ready to know the big picture.  This may have been rhetorical.  The answer was no for most but Jesus is out to propose and not to impose.

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.— For those that read this verse and say it proves the Eucharist is not efficacious then they misunderstand what is being said.  Notice Jesus said here “the flesh” not “my flesh”.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus sees the disciples sleeping when they were supposed to pray.  He says there that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The flesh is weak for the disciples in the garden because they were not engaging their flesh in obedience to the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  His flesh is spiritual life for the world because Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human.

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him— This is the moment of decision.  They declined the invitation of Jesus for a communion that is oneness with God: a divine proposal.  They were along for a great ride and got free bread the day before.  Jesus proposed more.  As an addictions counselor working with clients in treatment I tell them their “addiction is outside that door doing pushups”.   In the same way the former life for even those that are complete converts is always wanting reunion.  To leave Jesus is to look at truth in the eye and say “No. Not going to do it”.

“Do you also want to leave?—  When I became a Catholic I had much joy but I still knew that following Christ still is a continual process.  At Easter Vigil the congregation reaffirms the faith that is “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic” (Nicene Creed 325).  Even for those that are baptized and confirmed there is an annual decision to make where one reaffirms the Catholic Christian faith.  And for my Protestant brothers and sisters, to leave the same Lord, faith and meaning of baptism is always up to you as well. We all have free will.

Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.—  The disciples are humble and thus tied to the wisdom of eternity rather than the wisdom of that age.  There is an objective truth, and they know Him as the all consuming reality (alethia).

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God-  They have come to a conversion point and for each of them it has come gradually in how they came,  saw and were conquered. This is the nature of discipleship.

Each disciple of Jesus has a DNA in the church that Jesus started.  Together the Body of Christ is meant to be a bride to whom Jesus is returning. Jesus is The Bridegroom proposing marriage in the context of faith and reason sacramentally.

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1336).  

Breaking More Than Bread

Eucharistic-Bread

Several years ago I remember hearing about someone switching churches for a reason that I could not connect to: a man that switched from being Baptist to Episcopalian in part because he found the liturgy to be so beautiful.  Liturgy?  Really?  You mean like formal presentation of that bread and wine with those fancy clothes?

That was my cultural bias in belittling it because I prided myself on my informal formation as a Christian. My parents did not identify themselves as Christian and I became a Christian without their guidance when I was 10 and became a church goer at 14.  I did not take into my life a habit to pray before meals and cussing was not a problem for me.  In fact, I rarely made it a point to dress nice for church because God knows my heart.  There was even a season of my life when I avoided “dry, organized church” of any kind choosing to be in a house church that was off the rails and not reverent to traditions of Christianity that had unity and history to it.  So on that liturgy anecdote “Really?” seemed to make sense.

But years later, my meandering journey in following Christ took me unexpectedly into the Catholic Church.  To stay.  I actually like it.  Another interesting point is that I wanted a Christianity to experience that was consistent with a matter of fact declaration on fresh, pristine form on how, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).  In this setting I have found this verse to be fleshed out in the most fulness.

But this is not just a matter of just a ceremony for ceremony’s sake.  This is the full realization of what is to take the message of John 3:16, thank God for His sacrifice of His Son and infuse it relationally into ones soul and body.  In the Old Testament they had a bread sacrifice to God called the todah.  In the Greek translation from Hebrew they used the word eucharesteo.  This is where we get Eucharist where Jesus is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Did I still accept Jesus at 10 with a simple prayer? Yes.  But with The Eucharist it is blown into 3D and it draws me to a unified walk with Church in light of salvation history.

Late invention?  The accounts of having the Eucharist in the Early Church Fathers writings are numerous.  But one can see something profound with Jesus on the day of the resurrection.  Two disciples of Jesus come upon him on the road to Emmaus but do not recognize him right away.  He takes the fog away eventually like he does for anyone who seeks him honestly.

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-35).

Safe to assume that they consumed the bread?  Almost.  Once Jesus gave thanks and consecrated, his presence is extended in the bread.  They knew him in the breaking of the bread.

Klasis is the Greek word for the actual breaking of bread.  In a solemn way this happens in a holy, fellowship time.  But there is another breaking of the bread can then be done in smaller settings that are not as formal.  There is room to build relationally with one another that does not take away from Jesus.

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke (klasis) bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46).  This is beautiful, compliments the pillar of above about fellowship and is a sanctified time because of the primary breaking of the bread in the sacrifice reflecting The Sacrifice on the cross.  It is in the institution of the Eucharist that Christ gives us the source and summit of our faith as we walk in God and together.

This is where Jesus expressed something that was to have meaning but must be apprehended (like getting the “jist” of something) and comprehending.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me (John 6: 54-57).

Here, all of the crowd save the 12 disciples walk away.  The twelve maybe apprehend and others will not soften to such an offensive mystery.  But the two men on the road to Emmasaus?  Many other Christians through the ages such as Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic?  Different story.  But now I can tell you it is my story as well.

Continuity of Good News

new-beginning

PARAGRAPHS 74-141 OF CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

1. What are the central themes or ideas the Catechism is communicating in this week’s readings?

The central themes communicated in the first week’s reading from the Catechism are about the existence of God and  the transmission of Sacred Tradition in harmony with the Magisterium and Sacred Scripture.  To compliment the manifold experience of the believer in those points, there is a brief introduction to proper biblical hermeneutics.

There is also an important theme of the believer responding in taking in the truth of the above and specifically regarding scripture. The tone is set for all in the Church to participate in the deposit of faith.

The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ (para.133).

It cannot be plainer than that.  And by using the quote from St. Jerome of the 4th century, one can see the responsibility the Catholic Church puts on people to study the Bible for themselves.

2. What does this contribute to our understanding of who God is, and who we are as His children?

This teaches us that the Church in the trifecta of the Magisterium, Tradition and Scripture stand as an ongoing instrument of proposing His enduring love in salvation to be accepted in the gospel.  This gospel is applicable to all peoples in all generations. The figurative translation of “catholic” is universal while the literal one is “according to the whole”.  In this reading there are indications of both definitions as they are appropriated in and through the Church founded and maintained by Jesus free from all dogmatic error as shown below.

The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church – and through her in the world – leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness” (para.74).

The beautiful inference here is that the proposal of God’s love is in fatherly and nuptial language. I can anticipate later how liturgical language comes in as part of our response to the proposal.  This also contributes to my understanding of God where it involves proposing versus imposing.   And this proposition is best presented in the character of Christ as demonstrated in the Penn Jillete clip played in class.

3. What was it about these sections of the Catechism that resonated with me, personally?  Why?

Coming out of Protestantism there was a constant duel with either/or paradigms one God’s election and man’s free will in soteriology. However, I find the approach in these paragraphs of the CCC to be altogether holistic and with humility to the mystery of God’s grace.  But that is not to say that it is entirely a mystery.  The message in the Gospel is the unveiling of God’s nature and explicit in the flesh and blood historical Savior.

I would also like to highlight much of my entire Christian journey before and after becoming a Catholic has been centered in Acts 2:42.  In paragraph 84 of the CCC, I see an ideal of the early Church called to grow under the guardianship of the Magisterium.

The apostles entrusted the “Sacred deposit” of the faith (the depositum fidei),45 contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. “By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the “teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” [Acts 2:42]. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful (para. 84).

Reading this is a humbling blow to the restorationist man I used to be.  The part on “the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” is a verse (Acts 2:42) that I used to think I had figured out.  Now I read this and remember that my instructor points to the four sections of the Catechism of The Catholic Church and shows how they nail each of those line items of scripture.  When I consider how the Church has nailed those essentials continually for two thousand years I am humbled that I could have found Acts 2:42 in its proper implementation at a Catholic (or possibly Orthodox) parish down the street when I noticed this verse in 1989.

As I reflect on the “should” there, I am inspired all the more to at least be a bridge to ecumenism and hopefully be even more effective in seeing my separated brethren come into the fulness of the truth in the Catholic Church.

From my degree in the social sciences I would say there is no logical explanation that this institution would last for two thousand years against so much opposition and much less be able to guard the “Sacred deposit”  so well.  But it has.  The oak tree looks different from the seed but the DNA is the same.

As I write this in my beginning of a two year journey in the Kino Catechetical Institute, and possibly seven if I go towards the diaconate ministry, I can do no less than cover my mouth and ask for God to teach me all that I can proclaim his love.

Tradition—Not Just For Fiddler On The Roof.

handing_down_the_key_pc_400_clr

As a new Catholic, one of the things that I appreciate the most of the Church is the universality to the world in the application of her liturgy and sacraments.  This Tradition, despite some of the anti-Catholic hysteria that is out there, is not from way later but early in history.  Today I am reflecting how this Tradition is universal, prophetic and effective for an authentic Christian life.

Irreneus about 195 AD said—

“For though languages differ throughout the world, the content of the Tradition is one and the same. The Churches established in Germany have no other faith or Tradition, nor do those of the Iberians, nor those of the Celts, nor those of the East, of Egypt, of Libya, nor those established at the center of the world. . .” The Church’s message “is true and solid, in which one and the same way of salvation appears throughout the whole world (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 174).”

Were all of the books in his time that were read in the mass what we have in the Bible today?  No.  But those books that were read in some areas but not others were certainly not contradicting those that were.  First Clement and the Epistle of Barnabas would still point to a Christianity that was apostolic in succession and eucharistic in practice.

The reference to “throughout the whole world” is important not only in light of Church history but salvation history.  Malachi wrote the following passage that makes room for a valid sacrifice to God in the future that would be beyond the confines of a levitical priesthood.

“From the rising of the sun to its setting,

my name is great among the nations;

Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere,

and a pure offering;

For my name is great among the nations,

says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11).

Up to the time of Malachi, any offerings to God had to be in a constructed tabernacle in an ordered way with animal sacrifice and centered on one ethnicity.  With Jesus and his salvation re-presented in the mass the de facto segregation of salvation history is over.

As zealous as I am to be a new Catholic in continuation of my long-term life as a Christian, I recognize an emphasis in this week’s homework that the Catholic Church is not an end to itself but a means to the end that comes in relationship to Jesus.

Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.” Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith (CCC, para. 169).  As Augustine put it, ‘I would not believe in the Gospels were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church’ (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 5:6)

For those that have left the Catholic Church saying that they could not have a relationship with Jesus and/or the Bible, I would challenge them to consider how much of the practices and teachings were either passed on properly or practiced.

Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature (CCC, para.150).

Did you both go to mass and pay attention?  If you did, there is an ordered lectionary where you would get four separate readings from the Bible each Sunday.

Did you try the Rosary in its fullness?  This sacramental that is inspired by the Sacred Tradition relies on 20 mysteries centered on rich Christology.  19 out of 20 are explicitly in Scripture.

Did you lack a sense of the Holy Spirit?  With no danger of contradicting the continuity of Sacred Tradition there has been a living charismatic renewal since at least the 1960’s in the Catholic Church.  And even if you do not have a Pentecostal temperament the witness of the Catholic Church is very much centered on the pursuit and fruits of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

There is nothing stopping the individual but themselves.

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/whats-your-authority