28. Christ, whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world, (176) has through His apostles, made their successors, the bishops, partakers of His consecration and His mission.(62*) They have legitimately handed on to different individuals in the Church various degrees of participation in this ministry. Thus the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised on different levels by those who from antiquity have been called bishops, priests and deacons.(63*) Priests, although they do not possess the highest degree of the priesthood, and although they are dependent on the bishops in the exercise of their power, nevertheless they are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity.(64*) By the power of the sacrament of Orders,(65*) in the image of Christ the eternal high Priest,(177) they are consecrated to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful and to celebrate divine worship, so that they are true priests of the New Testament.(66*) Partakers of the function of Christ the sole Mediator,(178) on their level of ministry, they announce the divine word to all. They exercise their sacred function especially in the Eucharistic worship or the celebration of the Mass by which acting in the person of Christ (67*) and proclaiming His Mystery they unite the prayers of the faithful with the sacrifice of their Head and renew and apply (68*) in the sacrifice of the Mass until the coming of the Lord(179) the only sacrifice of the New Testament namely that of Christ offering Himself once for all a spotless Victim to the Father.(180) For the sick and the sinners among the faithful, they exercise the ministry of alleviation and reconciliation and they present the needs and the prayers of the faithful to God the Father.(181) Exercising within the limits of their authority the function of Christ as Shepherd and Head,(69*) they gather together God’s family as a brotherhood all of one mind,(70*) and lead them in the Spirit, through Christ, to God the Father. In the midst of the flock they adore Him in spirit and in truth.(182) Finally, they labor in word and doctrine,(183) believing what they have read and meditated upon in the law of God, teaching what they have believed, and putting in practice in their own lives what they have taught.(71*)
Priests, prudent cooperators with the Episcopal order,(72*) its aid and instrument, called to serve the people of God, constitute one priesthood (73*) with their bishop although bound by a diversity of duties. Associated with their bishop in a spirit of trust and generosity, they make him present in a certain sense in the individual local congregations, and take upon themselves, as far as they are able, his duties and the burden of his care, and discharge them with a daily interest. And as they sanctify and govern under the bishop’s authority, that part of the Lord’s flock entrusted to them they make the universal Church visible in their own locality and bring an efficacious assistance to the building up of the whole body of Christ.(184) intent always upon the welfare of God’s children, they must strive to lend their effort to the pastoral work of the whole diocese, and even of the entire Church. On account of this sharing in their priesthood and mission, let priests sincerely look upon the bishop as their father and reverently obey him. And let the bishop regard his priests as his co-workers and as sons and friends, just as Christ called His disciples now not servants but friends.(185) All priests, both diocesan and religious, by reason of Orders and ministry, fit into this body of bishops and priests, and serve the good of the whole Church according to their vocation and the grace given to them.
In virtue of their common sacred ordination and mission, all priests are bound together in intimate brotherhood, which naturally and freely manifests itself in mutual aid, spiritual as well as material, pastoral as well as personal, in their meetings and in communion of life, of labor and charity.
Let them, as fathers in Christ, take care of the faithful whom they have begotten by baptism and their teaching.(186) Becoming from the heart a pattern to the flock,(187) let them so lead and serve their local community that it may worthily be called by that name, by which the one and entire people of God is signed, namely, the Church of God.(188) Let them remember that by their daily life and interests they are showing the face of a truly sacerdotal and pastoral ministry to the faithful and the infidel, to Catholics and non-Catholics, and that to all they bear witness to the truth and life, and as good shepherds go after those also,(189) who though baptized in the Catholic Church have fallen away from the use of the sacraments, or even from the faith.
Because the human race today is joining more and more into a civic, economic and social unity, it is that much the more necessary that priests, by combined effort and aid, under the leadership of the bishops and the Supreme Pontiff, wipe out every kind of separateness, so that the whole human race may be brought into the unity of the family of God.
176 Jn. 10:36.
177 Heb. 5:1-10, 7:24, 9:11-28.
178 1 Tim. 2:5.
179 Cf. 1 Cor. 11:26.
180 Cf. Heb. 9:11-28.
181 Heb. 5:1-4.
182 Jn. 4:24.
183 Cf. 1 Tim. 5:17.
184 Cf. Eph. 4:12.
185 Cf. Jn. 15:15.
186 Cf. 1 Cor. 4:15; 1 Pt. 1:23.
187 1 Pt. 5:3.
188 Cf 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1.
189 Cf Lk. 15:4-7.
This paragraph discusses the essential role and dignity of the priesthood.
Priests serve as an extension of the ministry of the bishop. Bishops, who possess the highest degree of the priesthood, “have legitimately handed on to different individuals in the Church various degrees of participation in this ministry,” the mission of Christ. It is the role of the priest, then, to minister to the faithful, especially at the parish level, proclaiming the gospel, teaching the faith, leading the faithful in prayer, and administering the sacraments, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist.
I have known many priests over my years of participating in the prayer and sacramental life of the Church. With rare exception, the priests I’ve known have been dedicated servants whose first priority is to serve the faithful, especially by making available to them the grace given through the sacraments. None of them have been perfect. In fact, all of them have been far from perfection, which only means that they can appreciate the struggle I share to be faithful in spite of my propensity to sin and my spiritual laziness. We are united in our desire and struggle to be faithful, and in our complete reliance on the mercy and grace of Christ for our salvation.
Pope Francis speaks of the need for the Church to be like a field hospital, caring for the spiritually injured, binding the wounds and mending the hearts of those who have fallen in the battle against sin and evil. Priests are the doctors in this field hospital. They carry in their very hands, their touch, their words the healing grace of Christ, capable of making whole the broken, of binding together the separated, and of reconciling the alienated. Like dedicated spiritual healthcare workers, the best don’t wait for the wounded to come to them. Rather, they go out and search for those who have lost their way or become so injured in the soul that they have lost hope of ever being close to God or to a people again.
I recall when my mother was in the hospital, in her last days, I arranged for an elderly monsignor to visit her and pray for her and administer the sacraments to her. My mother had been distanced from the Church for many years, but here in her last days she was able to receive the sacraments and hear the prayers of the Church for the salvation of her soul. I will forever be grateful to that old priest, and to all priests who have been there for me in my life, sometimes at a moment’s notice.
Here is a lovely video on the priesthood. It’s over 18 minutes, but it’s worth it:
Pray for our priests. Pray for vocations to the priesthood.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.