In this series of essays Father Manny considers the nature of The Sacraments and reflects upon their meaning in our lives.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders: Priesthood
As a young priest I remember sitting in the Church praying before the Blessed Sacrament. The parish priest had been on sick leave for some weeks and suddenly it occurred to me that the Eucharist reserved in the Tabernacle must have been consecrated at Mass by me. This came as a shock. I suddenly realised that I had always just presumed that one of the other priests was responsible for this Real Presence of Christ. It may seem a little bizarre but I was filled with an extraordinary sense of wonder and unworthiness. This Real and wonderful Presence of Christ had been brought about through my priestly ministry. In fact if it were not for the presence of the priest in the community there would be no sacrament of reconciliation, no anointing of the sick and no celebration of the Eucharist.
The priest has a unique and irreplaceable mission in the life of the Church. Indeed without the priest there would be no Church. Just as a human body needs to be fed and nourished so the Eucharist feeds and nourishes the Church, the Body of Christ. ‘The priest makes the Eucharist, the Eucharist makes the Church’. To be a priest is a great privilege and a gift from God. A gift for which no man, is worthy, and which reveals the great love and humility of Christ.
In the period after the Second Vatican Council there was a rediscovery of the priesthood of all the baptised. There was a greater realisation of the fact that we are all a priestly people called to communicate the presence of Christ to the world. This rediscovery was right and good. However it was accompanied by a perhaps unforeseen consequence, the devaluing of the ordained priesthood. The two priesthoods were perceived by some as being in competition rather than being complementary. Not everyone realised that the ordained priest exists to help and enable all the baptised to live out to the full their baptismal priesthood.
The Vatican Council expressed this relationship in its decree on the Church:
“Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial priesthood are none the less ordered one to another, each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ”.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders like all the sacraments is a gift from God. It differs in its very essence from baptismal priesthood and should in its own right be cherished and valued. To do otherwise is to fail to appreciate the Lord’s generosity.
Whilst on pilgrimage in Lourdes I asked some pilgrims to pray for vocations to the priesthood. Afterwards, a good, practising Catholic mother came to me and said that she felt that she couldn’t pray for vocations. When I asked her why, she replied that she wouldn’t want such a life for her son and so in conscience didn’t feel that she could pray for this to be the life of some other mother’s son. Whilst I admired her honesty I was saddened by her inability to appreciate the greatness of the gift of priesthood and that the sacrifice involved was more than worth it. This conversation crystallized my belief that the shortage of vocations to the priesthood is essentially because of a lack of faith. It is a symptom of our unwillingness to trust the Lord. When Jesus called The Twelve by the Sea of Galilee he was calling them not only to a great adventure but also to great sacrifice and even martyrdom. Yet he still called them and he is still calling men today. When we pray for vocations we pray for generosity not just amongst our young people but also in our own hearts, that we may all be open to the Lord’s call in every aspect of our lives. To be able to say yes, regardless of who is being called. To rejoice if a son or grandson has a priestly vocation. All of us must play our part through prayer and sacrifice to ensure that the Lord of the harvest sends us workers to work in His vineyard.
Priesthood is basically very simple. It is about prayer and people, the love of God and the service of His people. What more noble and fulfilling calling is there? Please pray and work for vocations to the priesthood and let us do so out of love for the Church and with trust in Almighty God.
Rev. Emmanuel Gribben