Who arose and took the child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.-- MATT. ii. 21,
And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.-- MATT. ii. n. (Gospel of Epiphany.)
Introduction: St. Joseph is the patron of priests. He was the divinely appointed guardian over the infancy and childhood of our Lord. But wonderful and lofty as were the dignity and office thus conferred upon the holy patriarch, they did not bestow such powers over the Lord as are given to the priests of the New Law, who under the Eucharistic species are able to call down upon our daily altars the body and blood of Christ, to offer them in sacrifice, and administer them to the faithful.
Our Lord Himself was the first priest of the New Dispensation, and the Magi in offering Him incense bore witness to His sacerdotal character. The Saviour exercised the office of His priesthood when He offered Himself in sacrifice. This great act of Christ is perpetuated by the Christian priesthood.
I. The dignity and power of the ministers of the Church. 1. The dignity of the priesthood is seen in this, that it gives power over the real body of Christ; that is, the power of consecrating, offering, and administering the Holy Eucharist. 2. The authority of the priestly office consists in jurisdiction over the mystical body of Christ; that is, in the power to teach and rule the faithful.
II. The power and dignity of the priesthood are conferred in ordination. 1. Meaning of the name " ordination." This Sacrament is called Orders, because it constitutes various grades of rank and function in the sacred ministry relative to the Blessed Sacrament. 2. The external sign of this Sacrament consists in the imposition of hands and the delivery of the sacred instruments proper to the order received, conjoined with the words of ordination. 3. The internal grace. The Sacrament of Orders imprints an indelible character on the soul and confers a special grace for the discharge of the duties of the sacred ministry.
III. Minister and subject of Orders. I. The minister of this sacrament is the Bishop. 2. The qualifications for Holy Orders are proper age, sufficient knowledge, freedom from impediments, etc.
Conclusion: 1. Gratitude to God for the Sacrament of Holy Orders on which the administration of most of the Sacraments depends. 2. The burden of the priesthood is heavy and responsible. The faithful should pray for their own pastors, and ask the Lord that He send more laborers into His harvest (Matt. ix. 38).
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II
The Sacrament of Orders
Why the Sacrament of Orders should be explained
From an attentive consideration of the nature of the other sacraments we shall find little difficulty in perceiving that so dependent are they all on the Sacrament of Orders that without its intervention some could not exist or be administered, while others would be stripped of the religious rites and solemn ceremonies and of that exterior respect which should accompany their administration. The pastor, therefore, following up his exposition of the sacraments, will deem it a duty to bestow on the Sacrament of Orders an attention proportioned to its importance. This exposition cannot fail to prove salutary, in the first place, to the pastor himself; in the next place, to those who may have embraced the ecclesiastical state; and finally, to the faithful at large.
To the pastor himself, because while explaining this Sacrament to others, he himself is excited to stir up within him the grace which he
received at his ordination; to others whom the Lord has called to his sanctuary, by inspiring them with the same love of piety and imparting to them a knowledge of those things which will qualify them the more easily to advance to higher orders; to the faithful at large, by making known to them the respect due to the ministers of religion. It also not infrequently occurs that among the faithful there are many who intend their children for the ministry while yet young, and some who are themselves candidates for that holy state; and it is proper that such persons should not be entirely unacquainted with its nature and obligations (Concerning the duties of Clerics, see the sessions of the Council of Trent de reformantione. On Orders as a Sacrament, see the same council sess. 13. On each of the orders, see the Fourth council of Carthage, 398 A.D.).
Dignity of the Sacrament
The faithful then are to be made acquainted with the exalted dignity and excellence of this Sacrament in its highest degree, which is the priesthood. Priests and bishops are, as it were, the interpreters and heralds of God, commissioned in his name to teach mankind the law of God and the precepts of a Christian life; they are the representatives of God upon earth. It is impossible, therefore, to conceive a more exalted dignity, or a function more sacred. Justly, then, are they called not only angels (Mal. ii. 7) but gods (Ps. lxxxi. 6), holding as they do the place and power and authority of God on earth. But the priesthood, at all times an elevated office, transcends in the New Law all others in dignity. The power of consecrating and offering the body and blood of our Lord and of remitting sin, with which the priesthood of the New Law is invested, is such as cannot be comprehended by the human mind, still less is it equalled by, or likened to, anything on earth. Again, as Christ was sent by the Father (John viii. 36), and the Apostles and Disciples by Christ (Matt. xxviii. 19), even so are priests invested with the same power, and sent "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephes. iv. 12)."
Those who are to recive Orders must be specially called.
This office, therefore, is not to be rashly imposed on any one. It is to be intrusted only to those who, by the sanctity of their lives, by their knowledge, their faith, and their prudence, are capable of sustaining its weight: "Neither doth any man take the honor to himself," says the Apostle, "but he that is called by God, as Aaron was (Heb. v. 4)." This call from God we recognize in the call of the lawful ministers of His Church. Of those who would arrogantly obtrude themselves into the sanctuary the Lord has said:
"I did not send prophets, yet they ran (Jerem. xxiii. 21)." Such sacrilegious intruders bring the greatest misery on themselves, and the heaviest calamities on the Church of God (See dist. 23, multis in capitibus). But as in every undertaking the end proposed is of the highest importance (when the end is good, everything proceeds well), the candidate for the ministry should first of all be admonished to propose to himself no motive unworthy of so exalted a station,-- an admonition which demands particular attention in these our days, when the faithful are but too unmindful of its spirit. There are those who aspire to the priesthood with a view to secure to themselves a livelihood, who, like worldlings in matters of trade or commerce, look to nothing but sordid gain. True, the natural and divine law command that, to use the words of the Apostle, "they that serve the altar, partake with the altar (I Cor. ix. 13)"; but to approach the altar for gain, this indeed were a sacrilege of the blackest die. Others there are whom a love of honors and a spirit of ambition conduct to the altar, others whom the gold of the sanctuary attracts; and of this we require no other proof than that they have no idea of embracing the ecclesiastical state except for the sake of some rich ecclesiastical benefice. These are they whom the Lord denounces as hirelings (John x. 12), who, as we read in Ezekiel, feed themselves, and not the sheep (Ezek. xxxiv. 2). Their turpitude and profligacy have not only tarnished the lustre and degraded the dignity of the sacerdotal character in the eyes of the faithful, but the priesthood brings to them in its train the same rewards which the Apostleship brought to Judas--eternal perdition.
But they who, in obedience to the legitimate call of God, undertake the priestly office solely with a view to promote His glory, are truly said to enter "by the door." The obligation of promoting His glory is not confined to them alone; for this were all men created; this the faithful in particular, consecrated as they have been by baptism to God, should promote with their whole hearts, their whole souls, and with all their strength. Not enough, therefore, that the candidate for holy orders should propose to himself to seek in all things the glory of God, a duty common alike to all men, and particularly incumbent on the faithful: he must also be resolved to serve God in holiness and righteousness, in the particular sphere in which his ministry is to be exercised. As in an army all obey the command of the general, while among them some hold the place of colonel, some of captain, and others stations of subordinate rank; so in the Church all without distinction should be earnest in the pursuit of piety and innocence, the principal means of rendering homage to God. To those, however, who are admitted to the Sacrament of Orders, special offices belong; on them special functions devolve,--to offer sacrifice for themselves and for all the people; to instruct others in the law of God; to exhort and form them to a faithful and ready compliance with its injunctions; and to administer the sacraments, the sources of grace. In a word, set apart from the rest of the people, they are engaged in a ministry the most sacred and the most exalted.
The Power conferred by the Sacrament of Orders is Twofold,
of Jurisdiction and of Orders
Having explained these matters to the faithful, the pastor will next proceed to expound those things which are peculiar to this Sacrament, that thus the candidate for orders may be enabled to form a just estimate of the nature of the office to which he aspires, and to know the extent of the power conferred by Almighty God on His Church and her ministers. This power is twofold,--of jurisdiction and of orders. The power of orders has reference to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist; that of jurisdiction to His mystical body, the Church, for to this latter belong the government of his spiritual kingdom on earth and the direction of the faithful in the way of salvation. In the power of Orders is included not only that of consecrating the Holy Eucharist, but also of preparing the soul for its worthy reception, and whatever else has reference to the sacred mysteries. Of this the Scriptures afford numerous proofs, among which the most striking and weighty are contained in the words recorded by St. John and St. Matthew on this subject. "As the Father hath sent me," says the Redeemer, "I also send you. . . . Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained (John xx. 21, 22, 23)." Again, "Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven (Matt. xviii. 18)." These passages, if expounded by the pastor from the doctrine, and on the authority of the Fathers, will shed considerable light on this important subject.
Greatness of this Power
This power far transcends that which was given to those who, under the law of nature, exercised a special superintendence over sacred things (C. of Trent, sess. 22, cap. I; Irenaeus, lib. 7, c. 34; Aug. lib. 19, de civit. Dei, cap. 23). The age anterior to the written law must have had its priesthood, a priesthood invested with spiritual power. That it had a law cannot be questioned; and so intimately interwoven are these two things with one another that, take away one, you of necessity remove the other (Heb. vii. 12). Since, then, prompted by the dictates of the instinctive feelings of his nature man recognizes the worship of God as a duty, it follows as a necessary consequence that under every form of government some persons must have been constituted the official guardians of sacred things, the legitimate ministers of the divine worship; and of such persons the power might in a certain sense be called spiritual.
With this power the priesthood of the Old Law was also invested; but although superior in dignity to that exercised under the law of nature, it was far inferior to the spiritual power enjoyed under the Gospel dispensation. The power with which the Christian priesthood is clothed is a heavenly power, raised above that of angels. It has its source not in the Levitical priesthood, but in Christ the Lord, who was a priest not according to Aaron, but according to the order of Melchisedech (Heb. vii. II). He it is who, endowed with supreme authority to grant pardon and grace, has bequeathed this power to His Church, a power limited, however, in its extent, and attached to the sacraments.
Name of this Scarament
To exercise this power, therefore, ministers are appointed and solemnly consecrated, and this solemn consecration is denominated " Ordination," or " the Sacrament of Orders." To designate this Sacrament, the word "Orders" has been made use of by the Holy Fathers, because its signification is very comprehensive, and therefore well adapted to convey an idea of the dignity and excellence of the ministers of God. Understood in its strict and proper acceptation, "order" is the disposition of superior and subordinate parts, which when united present a combination so harmonious as to stand in mutual and accordant relations. Comprising, then, as the ministry does, many gradations and various functions, and disposed, as all these gradations and functions are, with the greatest regularity, this Sacrament is very appropriately called "the Sacrament of Orders."
Orders, A Sacrament
That Holy Orders are to be numbered among the sacraments of the Church, the Council of Trent establishes on the same principle to which we have so often referred in proving the other sacraments. A sacrament is a sensible sign of an invisible grace, and with these characters Holy Orders are invested. Their external forms are a sensible sign of the grace and power which they confer on the receiver. Holy Orders, therefore, are really and truly a sacrament (Sess. 23, de ordine.). Hence the bishop, handing to the candidate for priest's orders a chalice which contains wine and water, and a paten with bread, says: "Receive the power of offering Sacrifice," etc., words which, according to the uniform interpretation of the Church, impart power, when the proper matter is supplied, of consecrating the Holy Eucharist, and impress a character on the soul. To this power is annexed grace duly and lawfully to discharge the priestly office, according to these words of the Apostle: "I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee, by the imposition of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of sobriety (2 Tim. i. 6, 7)."
The Minister of the Sacrament of Ordes is a Bishop
That to the Bishop belongs exclusively the administration of this Sacrament is a matter of certainty, and is easily proved by the authority of Scripture, by traditional evidence the most unequivocal, by the unanimous attestation of all the Holy Fathers, by the decrees of Councils, and by the practice of the Universal Church. Some Abbots, it is true, were occasionally permitted to confer Minor Orders; all, however, admit that even this is the proper office of the Bishop, to whom, and to whom alone, it is lawful to confer the other Orders. Sub-deacons, Deacons, and Priests are ordained by one Bishop only; but according to Apostolic tradition, a tradition which has always been preserved in the Church, he himself is consecrated by three Bishops.
Necessity of Extreme Caution in Promoting to Orders
We now come to explain the qualifications necessary in the candidate for Orders, particularly for priesthood. From what we have said on this subject, it will not be difficult to decide what should also be the qualifications of those who are to be admitted to other Orders, according to their respective offices and comparative dignities. That too much precaution cannot be used in promoting to orders is obvious from this consideration alone,-- the other sacraments impart grace for the sanctification and salvation of those who receive them; Holy Orders for the good of the Church, and therefore for the salvation of all her children. Hence it is that Orders are conferred on certain appointed days only,--days on which, according to the most ancient practice of the Church, a solemn fast is observed, to obtain from God by holy and devout prayer ministers not unworthy of their high calling, qualified to exercise the transcendent power with which they are to be invested, with propriety and to the edification of His Church.
Qualification for the Priesthood
In the candidate for priesthood, therefore, integrity of life is a first and essential qualification, not only because to procure, or even to permit, his ordination while his conscience is burdened with the weight of mortal sin is to aggravate his former guilt by an additional crime of the deepest enormity, but also because it is his duty to enlighten the darkness of others by the lustre of his virtue and the bright example of innocence of life. The lessons addressed by the Apostle to Titus and to Timothy (Tit. i. and I Tim. iii) should therefore supply the pastor with matter for instruction; nor should he omit to observe that while by the command of God bodily defects disqualified for the ministry of the altar in the Old Law, in the Christian dispensation such exclusion rests principally on the deformities of the mind. The candidate for Orders, therefore, in accordance with the holy practice of the Catholic Church, will first study diligently to purify his conscience from sin in the Sacrament of Penance.
In the priest we also look not merely for that portion of knowledge which is necessary to the proper administration of the sacraments; more is expected,-- an intimate acquaintance with the science of the Sacred Volume should fit him to instruct the faithful in the mysteries of religion and in the precepts of the Gospel, to reclaim from sin, and to excite to piety and virtue. The due consecration and administration of the sacraments and the instruction of those who are committed to his care in the way of salvation constitute two important duties of the pastor. "The lips of the priest," says Malachy, "shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth: because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts (Malach. ii. 7)." For a due consecration and administration of the sacraments a moderate share of knowledge suffices; but to instruct the faithful in all the truths and duties of religion demands considerable ability and extensive knowledge. In all priests, however, deep learning is not demanded; it is sufficient that each should possess competent knowledge to discharge the duties of his own particular office in the ministry.
On whom Orders are not to be conferred
The Sacrament of Orders is not to be conferred on very young or on insane persons, because such do not enjoy the use of reason; if administered, however, it no doubt impresses a character. The age required for the reception of the different Orders may be easily known by consulting the decrees of the Council of Trent. Persons obligated to render certain stipulated services to others, and therefore not at their own disposal, are inadmissible to Orders; persons accustomed to shed blood, and homicides, are also excluded from the ecclesiastical state by an ecclesiastical law, and are irregular. The same law excludes those whose admission into the ministry may and must bring contempt on religion; and hence illegitimate children, and all who are born out of lawful wedlock, are disqualified for the sacred ministry. Finally, persons who are maimed, or who labor under any remarkable personal deformity, are also excluded; such defects offend the eye, and frequently incapacitate for the discharge of the duties of the ministry (See Codex Juris Canonici, cans. 968 ff).
Effects of the Sacrament of Orders
Having explained these matters, it remains that the pastor unfold the effects of this Sacrament. It is clear, as we have already said, that the Sacrament of Orders, although primarily instituted for the advantage and edification of the Church, imparts to him who receives it with the proper dispositions a grace which qualifies and enables him to discharge with fidelity the duties which it imposes, and among which is to be numbered the administration of the sacraments. As baptism qualifies for their reception, so Orders qualify for their administration. Orders also confer another grace, which is a special power in reference to the Holy Eucharist; a power full and perfect in the priest, who alone can consecrate the body and blood of our Lord, but in the subordinate ministers greater or less in proportion to their approximation to the sacred mysteries of the altar. This power is also denominated a spiritual character, which by a certain interior mark impressed on the soul distinguishes the ecclesiastic from the rest of the faithful, and devotes him specially to the divine service. This the Apostle seems to have had in view when he thus addressed Timothy: "Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood (I Tim. iv. 14)." Again, "I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee, by the imposition of my hands (2 Tim. i. 6)." On the Sacrament of Orders let so much suffice. Our purpose has been to lay before the pastor the most important particulars upon the subject in order to supply him; with matter upon which he may draw for the instruction of the faithful and their advancement in Christian piety.
Sermons: Holy Orders by the Very Rev. James J. Fox, D.D.
The grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is the life of the Christian soul and the life of that society of souls established by Jesus Christ which we call the Church. To generate, strengthen, and preserve that life in the individual and in the society Christ instituted the sacraments as the channels of special forms of that grace, to meet the great occasions and needs of the soul. Two of these sacraments have for their object to propagate and continue, throughout the passing generations of men, the divine society itself. One of these is Matrimony; the other is Holy Orders. Holy Orders is a Sacrament, for under visible signs employed in ordination a special grace is conveyed; what the nature of that grace is we shall consider in this instruction.
There are, as you know, several steps or grades to be successively received in the Sacrament of Holy Orders: four introductory ones, called minor orders; two others, approaching more intimately to the priesthood itself, and the episcopate. Now the soul of all is the priesthood; to it the others are related as to the centre; for in it the others exist. The priesthood is too, one may say, the very heart of the Church, from whose action the life-giving grace of Christ is circulated through all her members. The Society of Jesus Christ, the Church, is the union of God and His people. That union finds itself completed in the office of the priesthood. The priest is at once the man of the people and the man of God. Let us examine under these two aspects the office to which he is chosen and ordained by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The priest is the man of the people; their agent, to borrow the phrase of St. Paul, in the things that appertain to God.
I. What we call religious worship consists in acknowledging by suitable actions, internal and external, the majesty, power, holiness of the Almighty, and our complete dependence on Him as our creator and our end. Among all the various external actions which man employs to embody that worship, the most universal, the most significant, is that called sacrifice. Sacrifice of various kinds was the chief element of worship in the ancient law which God gave to the Israelites, to instruct them how they should honor Him in a way pleasing to Himself. These sacrifices consisted of the fruits of the earth, and of animals which were consumed in order to testify that He in whose honor they were offered up is the sovereign law of heaven and earth, the Master of life and death. But the Old Law was in every way imperfect; all its rites and ceremonies were but figures of the new covenant of the Gospel. Its various sacrifices were but
foreshadowings of the one great sacrifice of the New Law. You know what that sacrifice is. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself up, once for all, on the altar of the Cross, as a sufficient expiation for all men throughout the ages; a victim perfectly worthy of the infinite majesty and holiness of God. Thereafter it was impossible that ever again the blood of sheep or oxen could be pleasing to the Almighty. The only sacrifice worthy of the New Testament was the one holy, unspotted victim offered up by the Saviour himself. But, then, was the religion that He established to be deprived of the chief element of divine worship? No; for, as you know, our Lord provided at His Last Supper that the supreme sacrifice which He was to offer on the morrow, from the Cross of Calvary, should continue to be offered up daily in His Church, from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, till the end of time. As His religion was to be embodied in a living visible society, so it should have a living visible priesthood to offer up a living, visible sacrifice. When He had given His Apostles His body and the chalice of Hia blood, that was to be shed for them and for many to the remission of sins, He appointed them priests, to continue the mystical sacrifice,--"Do this in commemoration of me." And in virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders that power is handed down in the Church from man to man, from generation to generation.
Christ continues as the invisible High Priest to offer the Holy Mass to God; His visible representative on earth is the priest, who at the same time is the representative of the people, on whose behalf the sacrifice is carried out. He is not merely chosen and appointed; he is consecrated by the Sacrament which imparts to him a share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This character is not something merely attached to his personality, as an office; it enters into and forms a feature of his very soul, never to be effaced in time or eternity. No wonder that the Church has surrounded the ordination of a priest with the most impressive ceremonies of her ritual. While the candidate lies prostrate before the altar the clergy and the people raise their voices to implore the mercy and grace of God for the chosen one, that he may worthily receive the great commission from on high. The Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier, is invoked to come down upon him. As the rite proceeds, the Bishop addresses him with solemn warning and weighty counsel, reminding him of the tremendous mysteries he will handle in his new office. Bishop and assistants implore the Almighty to bless, to sanctify, and to consecrate the man to the service of the things of heaven. As external signs of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the instruments of the sacrifice are placed in his hands, and the Bishop's hand is extended over him. The power of consecrating and offering the Holy Mass is communicated to him, as it was by the Saviour himself to the Apostles. Finally he is endowed with the power to forgive sins. Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven. Then, when the ordination is completed, this member of the Church is constituted her minister, the agent of his brethren, to represent them and act in their name in the things of God. "For every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Heb. v. i). Henceforth, as he stands at the altar to perform the great sacrifice, he will not be a mere private individual; he will be the public minister and representative of the entire Christian family.
He takes in his hands the divine Victim, and in the name of the entire Church, with her head, Jesus Christ, presents it, sacrifices it before the throne of the Most High. While the sacrifice of the Mass is the same sacrifice as that of the Cross, repeated in a mystical manner, yet in regard to the position of the Church there is a difference between the two. The sacrifice of the Cross was offered up by Jesus Christ alone; in the action of that sacrifice the Church had no active part. But in the Mass the Church does participate in the sacrificial action. It is her sacrifice to God; it is her gift, which has been placed at her disposal by her divine Founder in order that she may be able to present to the Creator a worship worthy of His infinite majesty. Now the Church, made up of an immense number of persons, must act through individuals as her agents or representatives; and the priest is the agent of the Church, acting in her name as he celebrates the sacred mysteries. Just as the act of a ruler or of an ambassador is the act of the nation which he represents, so the sacrificial action of the priest is the act of us all in our character as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. She and you all act by his hand, pray with his lips. Listen to the prayers of the Mass and you will observe that the priest is not using the words "I" and "my," but "me" and "our" and "us." At the beginning of the collect he says: "Let us pray." Opening the Canon or most solemn part of the Mass he prays: " We humbly beseech thee, most merciful Father, that thou wouldst vouchsafe to accept and bless these gifts, this holy unspotted sacrifice which in the first place we offer thee for thy holy Catholic Church." Whether a congregation be present or not, while exercising his office the priest speaks for us all and is the personification of all,-- one person in whom all are united. If the ruler or ambassador of a country be great because the country is great, how high is the priestly dignity of Him in whose person is united the entire Church throughout the world! of him who, chosen from among men, is anointed and consecrated to treat with God in the name of all his brethren, and who is received and approved by God as an acceptable person duly qualified to discharge this majestic office.
II. While Holy Orders consecrates the priest to be the representative of the people before God, it constitutes him at the same time to be the coadjutor or agent of God towards men. " Let a man so account of us," says St. Paul, "as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God" (i Cor. iv. i). The priest, as we have seen, is the representative of the people as he stands at the altar to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass; and from this aspect of his function his dignity surpasses that attached to any other human office. But it is immeasurably enhanced by the role which, in the same sublime action, he plays as the minister and representative of God. In order that His religion and His people might forever be provided with a worthy sacrifice which should be pleasing to God, even though God had already received on the altar of the Cross a Victim that for the future disqualified all other victims, the products of the earth, from being any longer suitable gifts to lay upon the altar-- Jesus Christ in His boundless love bequeathed Himself, His living personality, Body and Blood, to be at the disposal of His Church in order that her worship of the Almighty might be perfect and wholly acceptable to God. Christ, indeed, having died once, dieth now no more. Nevertheless, by a mystery of His omnipotence He continues in the Mass that same sacrifice which, in blood and death, was consummated on Calvary. He sitteth in glory at the right hand of the Father.
Yet by the power which He imparted to His Apostles, and which flows in an unbroken channel down the ages, in virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, to the priest today the minister of God pronounces the awful words of consecration; and forthwith the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world, is present on the altar. The words of God's minister pierce the heavens and the Son of God obeys the call of man, who is His representative. In the Old Testament we read of the encounter of Elias with the false prophets. That man of God laid his gift on the stone, raised his eyes and voice to heaven, imploring God to vouchsafe to give a sign in favor of His servant. Immediately, to the astonishment of the bystanders, flames shot down from the skies and consumed the victim. This wonder sinks into insignificance when compared to the answer which God makes to the call of the priest. He sends not fire to consume the host, but He sends down once more His only beloved Son to be the holy, unspotted Host, to be raised again from earth to heaven, to bring down, in return, mercy and grace on the children of men. At the words of the Blessed Virgin: "Be it done unto me according to thy word," the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity descended on this earth; "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." At the words of the priest, not once, but day after day, year after year, all over the world, the Word, clothed in the flesh which He drew from His immaculate mother, descends among us, bestows Himself on us, that for us and for all the faithful, living and dead, we may have an offering worthy to present before the throne of the Eternal Majesty.
What are the other gifts of God which His minister dispenses? The first is divine truth and doctrine. Faith, as the Apostle says, comes from hearing; and how shall men hear unless there be a preacher? And how shall any preach unless they be sent? The commission to preach was given by Christ to His Apostles. "Go forth and teach the nations." By the grace of Holy Orders the priest shares in that commission; in that Sacrament he is ordained to dispense the truths of faith and expound the precepts of Christ's law to the people. The human qualifications of the preacher may be brilliant or they may be mediocre, but it is not from his human gifts that he derives his authority. It is in virtue of the imposition of hands in the Sacrament of Holy Orders that he can stand before his people to lay down the law of Christian life with the
all-powerful sanction: " Thus saith the Lord." It is that same power which authorizes him to apply to himself the declaration of Christ: "My doctrine is not my doctrine, but the doctrine of him that sent me." Thus the priest is God's minister, who in His name enables us to fulfil the first condition of salvation, which is to know God, to learn the truths which He has revealed in order that we may worthily live in His service and love.
Live in the service of God. To do so we must participate in His own life, which is communicated to us by the grace of Jesus Christ. A new-born child is brought to the priest. The infant is alive indeed with the life of the earth, but he is as yet unborn to God. The priest is the dispenser of the divine life of faith; he baptizes the infant; a transformation is operated in that soul; it is marked for time and eternity with a stamp indicating that it has become a member of Christ's family and following. By the operation of God's minister the child is reborn to the Kingdom of Heaven.
When in later years that soul, by the suicidal act of mortal sin, has killed the divine life within it, the dispenser of the mysteries of God again intervenes to restore the dead soul. The man kneels before him in the Sacrament of Penance. The priest says: "I absolve thee" in the name of the blessed Trinity. As Lazarus in his sepulchre heard the voice of the Master, so the dead soul feels once more the life of grace within it; it comes forth from the sepulchre of everlasting death and lives again to God.
When the man approaches the term of his earthly journey and is about to enter on the last dark struggle, the minister of God has another gift of divine mercy to impart for the occasion. He administers the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, to cleanse the soul and strengthen it for the passage, and in the name of God he bids it set forth in holy hope to meet its Redeemer and its Judge: "Go forth, Christian soul."
Finally, the supreme gift of God, which He bestows on us by the hands of His minister, is not merely His grace, but Himself, the author of grace. Here He reaches, as it were, the utmost that His mercy can perform. The priest, in His name, places on our tongue the living Bread that came down from heaven; the Body and Blood of the Saviour to be the food of our souls here and the pledge of immortality. "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day" (John vi. 55). And having given us, through the priest, this final gift He may say to us: " What more could I have done for you that I have not done?"
III. Besides the order of the priesthood there are, as you know, other grades or orders, which, however, all relate to the priesthood and converge around it as their centre. Each of them ordains the recipient to exercise some function that appertains to the eucharistic sacrifice. In what are called the minor orders, the porter is appointed to open and close, and see to the decency of the visible temple of wood and stone. The lector, or reader, prepares the invisible temples of souls by instructing them in the word of God, while the exorcist co-operates by banishing from them the spirits of evil. The acolyte is ordained to prepare the altar, light the candles, and present the wine for the Sacrament. Then come the higher orders of subdeacon and deacon, who immediately assist the priest in the sacred mystery of the Mass and in the distribution of Christ's Body and Blood to the faithful. Finally, we have the episcopate, the fulness of the priesthood, by which is imparted the power of perpetuating the priesthood of the New Law, in order that the sacrifice and the sacraments instituted by our divine Saviour may continue in the Church till the end of time.
Thus, my dear brethren, by the Sacrament of Holy Orders there is constituted in the visible Church, around the eucharistic throne, an ordered hierarchy of persons, resembling the heavenly hierarchy of cherubim and seraphim, thrones and dominations, angels and archangels, who serve and worship around the Eternal on high. And this earthly hierarchy mingles its voice with that of the celestial choirs, as the priest in the Mass, speaking for the entire Church, prays: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest."
These considerations on the nature of Holy Orders enable us, my brethren, to understand more clearly the unity of the Church, the manner in which Jesus Christ is, not in a mere figure of speech but in very truth, her head and her life by His living presence on the altar. We understand, too, from the nature of the priest's office what the holy sacrifice is in the worship of the Almighty; how in the person of the priest we all take part in that sublime action. And therefore in order to assist worthily at holy Mass, we too ought, as we enter the church door, to leave behind us all thoughts of earth, all sinful attachments, that our hearts may be worthy of the immaculate Lamb which we are about to offer, and pleasing to the divine majesty to whom we present the priceless gift. Remembering the dignity of the priesthood, and that those on whom it has fallen are but poor, weak, sinful human beings like ourselves, we understand that it is our duty to help them by our prayers; to beg earnestly that God may sustain them by His grace against temptations of what kind soever, and enable them ever worthily and efficaciously to dispense to the souls intrusted to them gifts of God unto life everlasting. Amen.