Secunda die infra Octavam Dormitionis B.M.V. [Septa die infra Octavam S. Laurentii]
Ordinands… in my first post I touched on the process of formation, particularly in my own jurisdiction but primarily on the practical academic aspect. As we approach the retreat taking place during September’s Embertide, my thoughts have turned towards the “Scrutinies” which traditionally take place on the Ember Wednesday.
“In promotion to orders a scrutiny or examination of the candidate is to be made according to the warning of the Apostle: “Impose not hands lightly upon any man” (1 Timothy 5:22). That the practice is ancient is testified to by St. Cyprian (who died in 258) in his thirty-eighth epistle. The ninth canon of the Council of Nicæa (325) supposes the scrutiny of candidates to be already in use. Many later synods enforced and defined more exactly this scrutiny of those who aspired to orders. The present discipline is laid down by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, Cap. v, de ref.), though its observance in every detail has not been reduced to practice in all countries. A three-fold scrutiny is ordered: first, through the inquiry into the qualities of the candidates by the parish priest and teachers and by public proclamation in the Church. The information thus obtained is to be embodied in a testimonial letter to the bishop. Secondly, shortly before ordination through the bishop himself and ecclesiastical persons appointed to examine into the morals, faith, and doctrine of the candidates. Thirdly, through the ceremonial form prescribed by the Pontificale Romanum for the ordination of a deacon or priest.” [The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13]
During the Ordination after the chanting of the Litany of the Saints, the Bishop asks the Archdeacon “Scis illo esse dignos?” (Do you know them to be worthy) and in order for that question to be satisfied intelligently and honestly, the Bishop needs to determine the result of the discernment and formation that each candidate has been through. Of course, there isn’t the time to do that during the Ordination service, so the Scrutinies which traditionally take place during the prior week are the opportunity for the Bishop to examine the candidates and himself, make a final determination. By this time he has received the personal, professional and academic references, now with the candidate in person, he establishes the faith, doctrine and morals of the ordinand for himself. Afterall, and this is something regrettably many fail to appreciate the import of, he will answer to God for the men he ordains!
All of this is necessary of course, to establish that each ordinand has both a Divine and Ecclesiastical vocation, i.e. that both God and the Church have called him. The former of course begins the whole process, sometimes with a little coercion from others, but generally an ordinand senses his vocation from God. The latter is the affirmation by the Church of that vocation from God, it involves however a dialogue with the Church, a trying (testing) of vocation through mutual discernment, the Church both encourages the individual to test for himself, as well as for her own purposes too, as it is she who has the care of souls to consider and weigh the suitability of someone who is called. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” [Matt 22:14] Throughout his formation a candidate will have undergone all sorts of “testing” and this will have been observed and directed by various people on behalf of the Bishop – the Rector of Formation, the academic tutors, the retreat chaplains, spiritual directors, pastoral placements, personal references and examining chaplains etc. By the time of the Scrutinies, the Bishop will have heard from all quarters the “sentire cum Ecclesia” (the thoughts and feelings of the Church) and as the person of the Church, deduce the “sensus fidelium” (sense of the faithful) about the ordinand before him; have the majority reached the same conclusion, that he is called to be ordained?
“Vocation to the clerical state is… an act of Divine Providence whereby God selects some above others for His priesthood and prepares them with suitable gifts for the worthy exercise of priestly duties. For this reason, and because this sacrament has been instituted not so much for the recipient as for the common good of the faithful, one who is conscious of a lack of vocation or who has made insufficient inquiry or who is in serious doubt about his vocation is liable to grave sin in approaching the reception of Holy Orders.”
Halligan, The Administration of the Sacraments , 376
Sancta Dei Genitrix, Matrem Sacerdotii, ora pro nobis!
A.M.D.G. Secunda die infra Octavam Dormitionis B.M.V. [Septa die infra Octavam S. Laurentii]
Ordinands… My recent posts have been born from my own personal reflections whilst on retreat recently and although they do have a particular audience in mind, they are not meant as “sermons” though they may indeed have that “preachy air” about them!
As I stated in my first post about having been on retreat, my thoughts were and are much occupied with the upcoming ordinations at Michaelmas, especially during this holy season of Assumptiontide and the recalling of Our Lord’s love for Mary, His mother and thus the mother of all priests. So recent content has primarily been with the ordinands in mind concerning the nature of priesthood particularly, and where suitable tying in references form the liturgical year as it passes. Certainly my thinking developed in the writing of them, but being also conscious of an audience not necessarily experienced in theological discipline, I felt a need to explain some points in slightly more detail than I might otherwise have done. This of course, though perhaps making the pieces longer, certainly helped somewhat to train my thoughts in what could be an expansive area!
Some future postings will continue in a similar vein, as I have promised to explore the “spiritual reason why” to explain various rubrical actions in the liturgy i.e. why the priest “does what he does” and what his thoughts and accompanying intentions should be. Of course, much of this sort of thing would be delivered in a conventional seminary formation course such as I experienced. But being a small jurisdiction with a wide geographical remit and only limited resources, a conventional seminary formation isn’t practicable. Our candidates this year are coming from Croatia, Greece as well as the UK and are self-supporting and their time taken up with work, family and academic courses. Neither is it always possible to have that other mode of tutoring, the “training incumbent” as often our clergy are church “planters” or “start-ups” i.e. they will be the parish priest from “go”! So the hope is that my postings will compliment their academic courses and “fill in” the gaps as it were with what academia doesn’t cover… like “how to say Mass” and why!
It’s worth remembering that such a system and circumstance of clerical formation is not unlike that which existed before the Council of Trent, before there were seminaries. In those days priests were taught almost by apprenticeship, some were fortunate to attend the then great Universities and centres of learning, the majority of course were not. Whilst those who attended University certainly received a better and more concentrated theological education, the “priestly craft” was still learnt by apprenticeship, whether by an ordained professor or mentor, or if a religious by a priest of the Order, or like most others, “on the job” in a curacy after graduation.
The nearest experience in those days to what became a seminary formation was found only in monasteries, the enclosed Orders particularly. There in the densely religious atmosphere of the monastery, students for the priesthood had access to some of the best theological libraries and the routine and discipline of the daily hours of prayer of the community, as well as the wisdom of older monks in spiritual learning and insight. Unfortunately, being monasteries, these educated and disciplined clergy were ordained for the particular monastery they lived in and would serve only such faithful as came to the monastery church or went to the churches the monks served sacramentally. Before the Trent reforms, the vast majority of priests were ill-educated academically and only able to offer such services as their apprenticeship and experience had taught them. Saving those from rich enough backgrounds to have enjoyed a University education, but even these were often at the expense of spiritual sciences. Reform was needed!
I have tried both in my time previously as Vicar General and now as Metropolitan to ensure as far as is practically possible to provide what candidates for the priesthood ought to know in order to make them what a priest ought to be within the limit of our resources. Compared to those able to enjoy the benefits of a conventional seminary formation, this often requires an even greater level of commitment, one might even suggest of sacrifice on the part of the candidates. Balancing work and home commitments, family and “a life” on top of discernment, part-time theological studies, spiritual exercises and retreats… it’s a huge demand on a man’s resources both material and spiritual. For a younger candidate the situation isn’t a lot better, often burdened by student debt or a limited earning potential, holding down a job, a place to live and finding the resources to complete discernment, part-time theological studies, spiritual exercises and attend retreats… By comparison “conventional” seminarians have got it made with tuition, board and lodging all thrown in! But I can’t help but wonder if the rarefied environment of such seminaries does produce by comparison the “best” priests?
I’m not trying to suggest that our candidates for the Sacred Ministry are indeed better than those being formed through a conventional seminary process. But considering all that they have to go through I think it certainly proves a man’s resolve and even character. Though the process is less than what might be ultimately desirable, candidates that pass through it are, I would opine, more worldly-wise, more in touch with what passes for “normal” life experienced by most ordinary people and thus able to relate the mysteries of the Faith to the realities of what most people have to contend with trying to be disciples of Christ in the 21st Century.
As far as possible within the limitations of cost and time, they receive an academic theological formation comparable to that received by any seminarian, often earning degrees awarded by the same accredited institutes of Higher Education/Universities as the seminaries themselves. At the very least I expect our candidates to attain the same level of academic formation that Roman Catholic permanent deacons receive, attending the very same courses. Though it is necessary of course to supplement with other courses for sciences that would ideally be in a formation programme but are lacking in most University theological programmes of study.
Hence the need too for retreats in order to provide particularly the spiritual sciences and practical elements of priestly formation, as well as the opportunity for candidates to receive spiritual direction and cultivate the discipline of the Breviary, which I don’t think it can be denied, is always best instilled through a communal rather than private experience of recitation. It’s also an opportunity too to take the candidates away from their normal busy lives and spend sometime in discernment and “being”.
The pre-ordination retreats (for there are two this year running simultaneously) will soon be upon us and naturally, though the candidates have progressed far or have already qualified ref their theological studies, these last couple of months provide the last opportunity to consolidate their knowledge before the final scrutinies and examen prior to ordination. Forgive me then if posts are slightly more biased towards this end than of a more personal nature to me, though I hope to comment on my own experiences too as we go along, when appropriate. Afterall it is an “Episcopal Journal” and it is the office of the bishop to teach, I hope to fulfil some of that sacred obligation through this medium. I hope what I write might still of be interest to a wider audience and certainly I beg your prayers for those to be ordained this coming Michaelmas.
Sancta Dei Genitrix, Matrem Sacerdotii, ora pro nobis!
A.M.D.G. In Dormitione Beatæ Mariæ Virginis [Sexta die infra Octavam S. Laurentii]
Today we celebrate the “Dormition of the Mother of God”, or the “Falling asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary” older titles for the feast more commonly known now as “the Assumption”. Fortunately our recent reflections may help us to understand the significance of this feast and that other title of Mary, the “new Eve”.
The ultimate benefit of our salvation in Christ is the restoration of creation with God – the regaining of our corporeal immortality as God had originally intended “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” [Gen 1:26; Wisdom of Solomon 2:23] i.e. originally we were intended to enjoy the eternal nature of God with Him as created corporeal beings. Indeed, God created us intending us to be family to/with Him [cf Isaiah 43:7] to share His glory. Through Adam and Eve’s fall, humanity lost its corporeal immortality, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” [Gen 3:19] How did this happen?
God told Adam and Eve; “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” [Gen 2:16-17] However, after they ate the forbidden fruit, they did not immediately fall dead! Many Christians interpret this seeming discrepancy i.e. that Adam and Eve did not immediately die, to mean that they died ‘spiritually’ that day, or that having been originally immortal, became mortal at that point. However, the text suggests that when they committed the original sin [Gen 3:6], God exacted an indirect penalty of death upon Adam and Eve. If the garden of Eden story is representative of history, humans were created to live forever in a physical body, but God removed their source of immortality on the day they sinned against Him…
In addition to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God also placed a tree in the garden called the Tree of Life [Gen 2:9]. If Adam and Eve had eaten of this tree before they sinned, they would’ve realise the immortality God desired for humanity. Upon eating of the Tree of Good and Evil, God immediately removed Adam and Eve from the garden, and placed a flaming sword to guard the tree so they could not eat from it [Gen 1:22], “…therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden”, clearly indicating that Adam was removed from the garden before he would have the opportunity to eat of the Tree of Life and become immortal. This suggests that God didn’t want them to be sinful and immortal!
On the day Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge they missed out on the opportunity of immortality because God removed their access to the Tree of Life which had been placed there for them, and without the essential elements the fruit was to provide we likewise all die, “For as in Adam all die,…” [1 Cor 15:22] So it was through disobedience that the knowledge of good and evil was wrought. Eve was deceived by the serpent who contradicted what God had said, the serpent said, “You will not certainly die,” [Gen 3:4] where God had said, “…you will certainly die.” [Gen 2:16-17] Clearly the deceptive serpent was lying; the serpent of course being the Devil – the first among the angels who turned away from God [topic for another post].
Now, some erroneously suggest that “the blame” or “guilt” was all Eve’s i.e. the woman’s; afterall, she it was who was gave in first to the Devil’s temptation and disobeyed God’s command and tempted Adam to the same. However, St Paul says, “For as in Adam all die…” because through their cooperation in disobedience, the fault was shared. Indeed, the curse spoken by God to the woman included subjugation to man, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” [Gen 3:16] The egalitarianism of contemporary society of course would probably take exception to this notion! However, notice that actually there is parity, even complementarity for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is shared by them both, man and woman and man is equally cursed, to toil and labour for food [cf Gen 3:17-19] and what is more, it is upon the man that the ultimate curse is placed for all of mankind “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” The curse of mortality is borne by Adam through it being born of Eve.
Now “Eve” was the name given by Adam to woman, “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” [Gen 3:20] Before the Fall she was known simply as “woman” (ishah אשה); when they were expelled he called her, Eve which as is common with most names has a meaning, “life” (chavah חַוָּה, “live [giving]”) as indeed Adam means “the man” i.e. humanity (ha-adam אָדָם“the earthling”). As humanity, together they were condemned, “And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” [Gen 3:22] Here the text makes plain that, had they not disobeyed God they might have eaten of the Tree of Life which fruit had not been forbidden them and God’s original desire might have been fulfilled.
So how is Our Lady the “new Eve”? Let’s not focus straight away on the element of sin, but of life. Just as Eve became the mother of humanity through the circumstances of the Fall, so Mary became the mother of salvation for humanity through the circumstances of the Incarnation. For as the mother of Christ the “new Adam” [1 Cor. 15.45], she became herself the “new Eve”. Before the Fall, Adam simply referred to Eve as “Woman”. However, after the Fall, Adam names his wife Eve, because she is the “mother of all living.” Notice that Our Lord never refers to Our Lady as “Mary” or even “Mother,” but always refers to her as “Woman” [John 2:1]. The most significant occasion on which He calls her “Woman” was during His crucifixion when He gives her to John (the Church) as “Mother” [John 19:26, 27].
Notice that Christ refers relationally to His Mother as “Woman,” which recalls Adam’s pre-Fall title for Eve, but when He refers to the Apostle’s relationship with Our Lady He uses the title “Mother.” Tradition tells us that John took Our Lady into his home in Ephesus and cared for her until her dormition (falling asleep). Christ called the disciples “brothers,” he told them that God was their “Father,” and he gave Mary to them as their “Mother.”
So as Eve was the mother of mortal life, so Mary as the “new Eve” is mother of immortal life… Just as through Adam came death, so in Christ the “new Adam” comes eternal life, reconciliation with God forever; the fruit of the Tree of the Cross is the fruit of the Tree of Life… (more to follow)…
Sancta Dei Genitrix, Mater omnium credentium, ora pro nobis!
A.M.D.G. Quarta die infra Octavam S. Laurentii Commemoratio: Ss. Hippoliti et Cassiani Martyrum
Yesterday’s reflection ended with the conclusion that the ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant replaces that of the Old Covenant, not to offer ritualistic sacrifices but to offer “the” ultimate atoning Sacrifice of Calvary through the high priesthood of Christ to receive here in our contemporary time, the fruits of His redeeming sacrifice, the Eucharist. It is important to emphasise and remember here that the Church has never suggested that the Mass is a repetition of Calvary – it is not, it is a witnessing again, irrespective of time and place of that same, single, “once only once and once for all” Sacrifice of Calvary. It is a re-presentation, a renewal of the effects, the benefits, the merits, the fruit, of that “one and the same” historical event i.e. the atonement for sin, the restoration of creation and the confection of the Eucharist, the means of eternal life.
The difference between Calvary and the Mass are the external accidentals, i.e. the manner of the oblation of the one and the other “sola offerendi ratione diversa” [Council of Trent]. On the Cross, Christ offered His incarnated physical self, there His blood flowed from His crucified body; on the Altar He offers His death already suffered, but now in an unbloody manner, Christ does not die again on the Altar. Thus the Mass represents this past event i.e. Calvary: but it is one with the sacrifice of the Cross as the victim and the priest are the same i.e Christ, but it is not literally the Crucifixion. The late Bishop Michael Evans wrote, “The word “memorial” is very important in Eucharistic theology, and means far more than simply a recalling or remembering. For the Jews, celebrating a memorial involves evoking the past and reliving it in such a way that a past event is made effective and fruitful here and now.” [Is Jesus really present in the Eucharist?] We needs must be careful with such notions however, to make clear that the efficacy of the Mass itself is not diminished by our concept of “memorial”. The Mass itself is a sacrifice, by which the infinite merits of Christ’s death, gained on the Cross, are applied to souls here-and-now.
The Mass is a literal visible sacrifice, which represents and ‘applies the merits’ of the literal, once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross. In other words, the Mass is itself a sacrificial offering of worship i.e. of adoration, thanksgiving, prayer and expiation by the created to the Creator in fulfilment of the Law “to love God” [Deut. 6:4-5; Levit. 19:18; Matt 22:35–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25-28], joined to the commemoration or “showing forth” [1 Cor. 11:26] of the Sacrifice of Christ upon Calvary – the purest offering of adoration, thanksgiving, prayer and atonement by and at the behest of the great high priest who instituted and commanded His Apostles so to do “in mei memóriam faciétis” [Luke 22: 19]. The twofold consecration of the bread and then the wine, “show forth” the physical death of Christ by the separation of His body from His blood shed upon the Cross. Uniting the worship of God to the commemoration of the Cross, manifests the ultimate act of offering to God by humanity [Heb 2:17] as God made-man [Matt. 1:22-23], by God made-man in Christ’s voluntary offering and outpouring of love toward God [Heb 9:12] and neighbour [John 15:13 ditto references to the Greatest Commandment above]. In this way it may be said that the “fulfilment of the Law and of the Prophets” [Matt 5:17] is fulfilled in Christ, by His saving sacrificial act of love (kenosis – self-emptying) on the Cross.
As the Council of Trent defined in its 22nd Session, Canon III: “If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.”
As noted above, the “ends of the Mass” i.e. the purposes for which it is offered, are to adore God – adoration, to give Him thanks – thanksgiving, to make satisfaction for sin – atonement and to ask for new graces – petition, the ends for which Christ died upon the Cross. Worship, or adoration of course, is a sign of our dependence upon our Creator and His absolute dominion over us, His creatures. It was the effect of Original Sin that repudiated this reliance and subjection of humanity to God; all this has been restored by Christ on the Cross in His ultimate act of adoration and thanksgiving. We experience this restoration of humanity with God through our Baptism and actualise it through our individual receipt of the Eucharist. But of these four purposes of the Mass only two are directly beneficial to the whole Church; the satisfaction for sin and the petition of new graces; it is these that are usually meant as “the fruit” of the Mass.
As an old Manual of Devotion says; Without God’s holy grace we cannot perform one supernatural act, nor conceive one good thought, nor advance one step on the road that leads to life everlasting. “Without me,” says Christ, “you can do nothing.” [John 15:5] And St. Paul adds: “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” [2 Cor 3:5]
Our wants, temporal and eternal, are countless: graces to repent of our many sins; graces to sin no more; graces to live to love and die in His friendship; the grace for final perseverance. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Jesus obtains all for us. On our Altars, where His death and passion are represented and renewed, Jesus obtains of His father all graces and blessings we need for soul and body. Jesus is the “beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased” [Matt 3:17] and “is heard on account of his own reverence.” [Heb. 5:7] In the Holy Mass, Jesus Himself is our advocate as well as our high priest. He presents our wants and petitions to His Father, and with the petitions His Precious Blood as a price to obtain them. The Church ends every prayer, and asks everything, “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” because of Jesus we have everything. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” [Rom. 8:32] St. Jerome says: “Assuredly the Lord grants all the favours for which we petition Him in the Mass, provided they be suitable to us; and, what is far more admirable, He very often grants us that for which we do not petition Him, provided we place no obstacle to His holy designs.”
So these graces are called the fruit of the Mass and are applied generally in a threefold division:
The General Fruit – that is the benefit for the whole Church – Militant (on earth), Expectant (waiting judgement) and even Triumphant (the blessed saints). This fruit is in union with Our Lord’s self-oblation for all mankind and the celebrant obviously cannot alter or direct it.
The Special Fruit – also called the “ministerial fruit”, that the benefit to those who in any way cooperate in offering the particular Mass; this it is which, in the application of the priest’s intention, is primarily and mainly operative (i.e. for another person).
The Most Special Fruit – that is the personal share of the celebrating priest as being Christ the offerer of the Sacrifice. Though this fruit, being personal to the celebrant, cannot be alienated and applied to others he may apply it for the acquisition of some grace of which he himself stands in need.
A.M.D.G. Tertia die infra Octavam S. Laurentii Commemoratio: S. Clarae Virginis
Sacrifice… St Lawrence, whom we celebrate this week with an Octave, gives us another insight ref the incarnational aspect of the priesthood and indeed of the Apostolic sharing of the “bitter cup”.
St Ambrose of Milan says that Lawrence met His Holiness Sixtus II on his way to his execution. “Where are you going, my dear father, without your son? Where are you hurrying off to, holy priest, without your deacon? Before you never mounted the altar of sacrifice without your servant, and now you wish to do it without me?” Of course, Pope Sixtus was not on his way to offer Mass, Lawrence was referring to his execution… Lawrence was expressing the sharing by Sixtus in that “bitter cup” the “cup of salvation”, the “cup of trembling” and the “cup of wrath” [as discussed previously here], the Pope was about to “taste death” literally sharing in the sacrifice of Christ, for Christ by his martyrdom. Depicted in Fra Angelico’s painting is the presentation at Lawrence’s subdiaconal ordination of Pope Sixtus presenting “the cup”, a chalice and paten, signifying the invitation to share through major Orders, the Apostolic ministry and thereby the mystery of Christ’s high priesthood upon the Cross.
So now finally(!) we come to something of a conclusion ref our recent reflections. We’ve discussed something of the nature and character of the priesthood – the first obligation of the priest to be a Christian at prayer, walking daily with God pursuing personal holiness and sanctification, interceding through prayer on behalf of God’s people, most especially the Church through the recitation of the Divine Office. We’ve reflected on the true nature of humanity in the created order, that we are “body, soul and spirit” and that God works through His creation salvifically and that human beings have the potential to “spiritualise the material and materialise the spiritual”, hence the establishment by God and Christ of a ministerial priesthood. Now we come to the purpose of the New Testament ministerial priesthood; the realisation of the fruit of Christ’s redemption, the Eucharist.
It is sometimes suggested that “there is no need for a priesthood” echoing some erroneously believe the sentiments of the author of Hebrews concerning the efficacy of the high priesthood of Christ, “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” [Heb 7:26-27] For whilst indeed, the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross of Calvary does indeed negate the need for regular expiatory sacrifices common under the Old Covenant, even so the ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant exists for another purpose.
The ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant exists to confect and present to us the means by which we receive eternal life. Primarily, it exists to share in and offer the Eucharist, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, by participating in the high priesthood of Christ and making manifest the “flesh and blood of the Son of Man”. [John 6:53-54] “He who hears you, hears me” [Luke 10:16] Our Lord said to the Apostles, the new ministerial priesthood. For Christ makes plain that it is only in the reception of the Eucharist that the promise of eternal life and the redemption of humanity is realised, “Truly, truly, I say to you… He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” By instituting the Apostolic ministry, Christ established the means by which His body and blood would be made available to the faithful. He who became one of us to save us, continues to present Himself in bread and wine through those chosen [John 6:70; John 15:16; John 13:18], consecrated [Acts 1:15-26; Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3] and set apart [Romans 15:16; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Cor. 5:20] to cooperate with Him in fulfilling the promises He made when He walked among us.
So it is that we understand the ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant to be the physical, material means by which the high priesthood of Christ is effected as in like fashion, it is in the consecrated species of bread and wine that we receive His Body and Blood and thus the fruit of our redemption, the Eucharist. As St John Chrysostom wrote, “We priests are simply the instruments and ministers of the veritable sacrifice. The Lord Himself is He who sanctifies the material gifts offered for the sacrifice, and who makes them a source of sanctification for us.” “When, therefore,” he adds, “you see the sacred minister lifting up to heaven the holy offering, think not that he whom you behold is the real priest; but rising above visible objects, consider the hand of Jesus Christ stretched out invisibly. Through Him everything is done.” [Hom. 60 ad Pop. Antioch] Similarly and more plainly here St John Chrysostom explains the relationship of the contemporary priest and that sharing in the Apostles’ ministry discussed before, “I wish to add something that is plainly awe-inspiring, but do not be astonished or upset. This Sacrifice, no matter who offers it, be it Peter or Paul, is always the same as that which Christ gave His disciples and which priests now offer: The offering of today is in no way inferior to that which Christ offered, because it is not men who sanctify the offering of today; it is the same Christ who sanctified His own. For just as the words which God spoke are the very same as those which the priest now speaks, so too the oblation is the very same.” [“Homilies on the Second Epistle to Timothy,” 2,4, c. 397 A.D.]
So then, the ministerial priesthood exists to make manifest the high priesthood of Christ. “The priest who imitates that which Christ did, truly takes the place of Christ, and offers there in the Church a true and perfect sacrifice to God the Father.” [St. Cyprian wrote to the Ephesians circa 258 A.D.] The earthly and mortal priest becomes the means by which Christ Himself offers Himself as food for the faithful. It is Christ Himself who stands before the Altar, who offers Himself in the person of the priest to God, His father as the perfect victim for the propitiation of sin; Who breathes eternal life into the species of bread and wine at the words of consecration, transforming them “This is MY Body”, “This is MY Blood”; that same “logos”, that same “ruach” that breathed life into creation [Gen 1:2; John 1:1], that breathed life into man [Isa 42:5; Ezek 37:5 Job 33:4].
Thus, as St Ambrose says, “Jesus Christ is your inheritance, O ye ministers of the Lord. Jesus Christ is your sole domain. His Name is your wealth. His Name your income. His Name constitutes your stipend, a stipend not of money but of grace. Your heritage is not dried up by heat, nor devastated by storms. The sun shall not burn thee by day, neither the moon by night. Keep then the portion which you have chosen, for it is the good portion, which the possessions of the world cannot equal.”
The first duty of the priest is to pray; to walk with God, to become holy;
The ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant is like to but replaces the Old Covenant ministerial priesthood and Christ’s atoning Sacrifice on the Cross replaces the high priesthood;
The fruit of Christ’s redemption is eternal life, we are promised eternal life through the Eucharist;
God works through His creation like “Emmanuel” to effect salvation, the ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant is necessary to effect our salvation manifesting in our reality the high priesthood of Christ to confect the Eucharist;
Today is a very special feast day for me as it is the Patronal Feast of the Oratory of St John Vianney, the priestly fraternity that I belong to. It seems wholly appropriate then to continue reflecting on the priesthood as we have these past few days.
I ended yesterday by remarking how St John Vianney was an “exemplar” of the priestly vocation. Reading the life of the Curé d’Ars (as he is also known) we notice immediately his dedication to God, like Enoch he “walked with God” on a daily basis. Like Enoch he was surrounded by sinful people, yet he obeyed and trusted in God, “… he kept clear of sin, when sinful ways were easy…” [cf Sirach 31:8-11] and he achieved great things thereby, the salvation of those he served. The teachings of St John Vianney also beautifully convey the incarnational aspect of the ministerial priesthood, “If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God; but the priest holds His place.” By that he means that the priest – made in the image and likeness of God unlike the angel, is also the mediator between God and Man and again unlike the angel, has the ability to present God incarnate in the holy Eucharist. “See the power of the priest; out of a piece of bread the word of a priest makes a God. It is more than creating the world.” For those thinking this is “blasphemous” understand that a more humble man you could not have met than the Curé and allow me to explain further what he means…
I remarked to someone once expressing this incarnational teaching of the Curé another way, “If you had the choice, if the Curé himself were to appear here and I were here to hear your confession, who would you go to?” The reply, “The Curé!” “Ah,” I replied, “but the Curé would not be able to give you absolution.” Back came the stunned response, “Why not?” “Because he is dead. I am alive!” Despite all the holiness of the Curé, despite the fact that he is a Saint, he would be unable to impart God’s absolution because he is not alive! Only in this physical existence can the promise of God’s absolution promised through the Apostolic ministry [cf John 20:19-23] be realised. This simple truth is the same even for us to receive the ultimate benefit of our salvation eternal life, i.e. the Eucharist, for only “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [cf John 6:53-54] St John Vianney again, “When the priest remits sins, he does not say, “God pardons you”; he says, “I absolve you.” At the Consecration, he does not say, “This is the Body of Our Lord;” he says, “This is My Body.”
As we noted yesterday, God works through His creation to restore it, hence why God became Man in Christ. In like fashion then, the high priesthood of Christ works through the ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant, just as under the Old Covenant the means of atonement worked through the ministerial priesthood of the Sons of Levi. The difference is, that whereas before the priesthood was patrilineal i.e. descended from a particular tribe of the chosen people of Israel, the sons of Aaron in the tribe of Levi [cf Exodus 28:1-4; Numbers 25:13], now the priesthood is called out of those who have been freed from sin, who have become by adoption “children of God” [John 1:12, 13] and have been “chosen” [John 15:16].
Obviously, as before, the stewards of God’s mysteries must themselves strive after holiness, hence the first obligation to pray – to achieve personal sanctity by walking with God, by living out a relationship with Him, by discerning His will and by offering intercession for those He loves. But how is this possible for mere men? Here we must understand our own place in the created order. Remember that we are made in the “image and likeness of God” [cf Genesis 1:26, 27], what does this mean?
In Genesis 2:7 “Jehovah God formed man with the dust of the ground.” With this act, God created man’s body. The verse continues, “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” “Breath” is derived from the Hebrew word neshamah which, significantly, is translated “spirit” in Proverbs 20:27: “The spirit [neshamah] of man is the lamp of Jehovah.” We can thus infer, that God’s breathing into man the breath of life produced man’s spirit. Zechariah 12:1 corroborates the creation of man’s spirit by telling us that just as Jehovah stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth, He also formed the spirit of man within him. Genesis 2:7 concludes “And man became a living soul.” The soul (man’s intrinsic person) was the issue of the breath of God entering into the nostrils of the body of dust. The biblical record of the three-step creation of man clearly reveals him to be tripartite. Hebrews 4:12 “The word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow.”
Paul similarly describes that which makes us human, “I pray to God that your whole spirit and soul and body may be made blameless until the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Thess 5:23] Here The “spirit” is the highest part of man, that which assimilates him to God; renders him capable of religion, and susceptible of being acted upon by the Spirit of God. The “soul” is the inferior part of his mental nature, the seat of the passions and desires, of the natural propensities. The “body” is the corporeal frame. In other words, we are made up of our physical bodies, our soul (psyche) is what interprets our sense sensations experienced by our bodies and our spirit is that which makes us alive and aware and enables us to rationalise above our senses; the spirit is what makes us of God who is Spirit. Essentially then we are “tripartite” beings i.e. spirit, soul, and body in order to enable us to contact and live within the spiritual, psychological and physical realms, respectively.
Firstly, with his human spirit, man can worship God, serve God, and know God intuitively. Second, the soul is that part which forms the personality of man and enables him to contact and function within the psychological realm. Finally, the physical body with its five senses enables man to relate to and communicate with the physical world. In our own time “soul” and “spirit” have become regarded as interchangeable, understandable in the sense that neither seem sense perceptible or rather physically experiential. But the fact that we are able to interpret what we experience through our senses betrays our soul, we might call it our “mind”, our “will”. But our spiritual intellect enables us to rationalise above our sense experience, our spiritual intuition has the capacity to know and discern apart from human reason or circumstantial experience.
With regard then to the possibility of men acting as mediators between God and men, between heaven and earth? Let us recall St John Vianney’s point above. Unlike the angels who are only spiritual beings, and animals who are only physical beings, the unique tripartite nature of man enables him to experience both spiritual and material things. Not only that, but man can effectand affect both spiritual and material things, he is imago mundi a microcosm of the universe itself, a mini-model of creation and god-like; the only other being in the universe able to manipulate the spiritual and the material world is, God. Man can spiritualise the material and materialise the spiritual. He is in every way a mediator.
If we recall the observation that St John Vianney could “read into men’s souls” we might understand that he could intuitively understand another person’s passions and lusts, he recognised the predilections that were preventing them from developing their spiritual intellect and he became famous for accurate diagnosis betrayed by the penances and spiritual direction that he gave those who sought him out (20’000 pilgrims per annum by the time of his death). Here the Curé demonstrates what can be achieved by a man completely self-aware to all that he is as God created him. Who pursues holiness of life by walking daily with God, a man of prayer uniting his will with God’s in the discernment of God’s will and purpose for his life. A man who can be truly a mediator between God and men, communicating with both and enabling the latter to realise for themselves all that God desires them to be. “The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the Sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you.” Curé d’Ars
I remarked before how the priesthood is in danger from the process of emasculation that is currently prevalent in all areas of the Church. Through the contemporary mindset that confuses soul and spirit as one and interchangeable, humanity is losing sight and realisation of itself. “Me, myself and I” the motto of the ego is left to interpret everything subjectively, employing only the bodily senses to make sense of the world, regarding only physical empirical evidence as “proof”. The spirit is still visible though, the realisation of spiritual intellect is still discernible in forms of art, music, painting and even in science and technology, in the materialisation of ideas onto paper into buildings and physical structures… but no more is this recognised as “of the spirit” but simply of the “soul” driven by passions and lusts and sensuality. Even higher aspirations such as “equality” are driven by the selfish desire of souls wanting to give freedom to the expression of their passions, which is why objective reason and debate are no more and subjective reasoning and impassioned belligerency are the modus operandi of campaigners.
Within the Church itself, this confusion has resulted in a situation where few are properly catechised and have been left to the “whims and fancies” of new doctrines derived from secular ideologies and principles that are in fact fundamentally at odds with the very nature of the created order itself. As Paul prophesied, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” [2 Tim 4:3-4] Through the general propensity of contemporary theologians jettisoning the wisdom of past ages to replace it with their own subjective hypothesises attempting to blend the Gospel with the fast-paced Zeitgeist of the secular world, Christianity itself is losing sight of the true reality of the created order. Ironically, in an attempt to appeal to the souls of men, they have compromised the awareness of spiritual intellect! As a result the same is true of spiritual directors, theology schools and most of the institutions responsible for the formation of priests.
To concludes today’s reflection, a sage quote from the Curé, “When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion.” Sadly, in part deliberately, in part through ignorance, the contemporary Church is realising this end as people forget what their own true nature is about, so vocations of all kinds are impoverished and the priesthood affected… (more soon…)
Continuing my reflections from my retreat… Yesterday I reflected on how the invitation by Christ to the Apostles, “…Are you able to drink the cup that I drink…?” [Mark 10:35-40; Matthew 20:20-23] is shared by bishops in the continuation of that same Apostolic ministry, and in turn is asked by them of those about to be ordained priests. Then I remarked how the true nature of priesthood is masked today by a lack of understanding generally about its character and purpose, such that many are in fact emasculating it and in so doing distorting God’s will and purpose for many in the realisation of other vocations.
The first question I ask most candidates for priesthood is, “What is the first duty of the priest?” By which I mean, what is his purpose, what is his first obligation? The answer is always “to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass” often accompanied with a smile or sometimes a quizzical look as if the question is odd! “No,” I always reply, “the first duty of the priest is to pray. It is the same for any Christian.” For a priest is a “mediator” between God and human beings, he is one who offers sacrifices and intercedes for the people. The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me” [Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7] and of the Summary of the Law, Our Lord says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” [Mark 12:30; Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27] So it is then that the priest in fulfilment of the Law needs must express obedience to this command if he is to be an effective mediator with God, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” [Heb 11:6] The priest must offer in true charity first that worship of almighty God that is the chief expression of recognising God as the source and summit of all our being, a sacrifice of prayer and praise to the Divine, to Him “from whom all good things come.” [cf James 1:17]
Now notice the statement “must believe that He is” it means of a stronger faith than the mere assent to God’s existence. This statement in verse 6 follows on the heels of an illustration in Genesis regarding Enoch. Only a short sentence, “Enoch walked faithfully with God,” in Genesis 5:22 and repeated in Genesis 5:24 reveals why he was so special to his God. For God was an every day reality to him. It is the kind of faith that those who have it will seek God out. That is the kind of faith that Enoch had. People who really believe that “God is”, they seek Him out. They search Him out. That has to include talking to Him. The priest has to truly believe in and walk with, God.
So “seeking God” means that one approaches nearer to God, seeks Him, or he walks with Him. It signifies fellowship with Him. The Bible shows three stages of coming to God. The first is at God’s calling when one begins to draw near. It results in justification and the imputing of Christ’s righteousness. It occurs when one discerns and answers both the general call of God i.e. to humanity to have a relationship with Him, and the particular calling of God i.e. the fulfilment of His will and purpose and the raison d’être of the specific individual. The second is more continuous, occurring during sanctification, as a person seeks to be like God, conform to His image, and have His laws written, engraved, into his character. This is expressed by the committing of oneself to the ongoing discernment of His will and purpose. The third stage occurs at the general resurrection of the dead when the individual is glorified. The whole point of the preceding process, i.e. to become holy, to become transfigured, to become worthy of eternal life with God.
It is for this reason that the Church binds upon all her Sacred Ministers in major Orders the obligation to recite the Divine Office or “Prayer of the Church” to sanctify the day and all human activity. Why? From all eternity the Godhead was praised with ineffable praise by the Trinity itself, the three divine Persons as an expression of true and Divine Charity. From the first moment of creation the choirs of angels sang God’s praises, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” [Isaias 6: 3]. Adam and Eve had “created in them the knowledge of the Spirit of God that they might praise the name which He has sanctified and glory in His wondrous acts” [Ecclesiasticus 17: 6-8] So then, a priest who loves God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength will be first and foremost a man of prayer, he will walk daily with God, he will offer prayer not only for himself as an expression of his own faith but also on behalf of those he is called to serve in emulation of Christ Himself.
As Fr E Quigley writes in his study of the Roman Breviary, “The Divine Office”: ‘In the New Law our Saviour is the model of prayer, the true adorer of His Father. He alone can truly worthily adore and praise because He alone has the necessary perfection. Night and day He set example to His followers. He warned them to watch and pray; He taught them how to pray; He gave them a form of prayer; He prayed in life and at death. His apostles, trained in the practices of the synagogue, were perfected by the example and the exhortations of Christ. This teaching and example are shown in effect when the assembled apostles were “at the third hour of the day” praying [Acts 2: 15]; when about the sixth hour Peter went to pray [Acts 10: 9]. In the Acts of Apostles we see how Peter and John went at the ninth hour to the temple to pray. St. Paul in prison sang God’s praises at midnight, and he insists on his converts singing in their assembly psalms and hymns [Eph 5: 19; Col. 3: 16; I Cor. 14: 26].’
Now most people appreciate that a priest therefore should be “a man of prayer” but key to understanding the particular role and purpose of the priesthood requires us to be familiar with the Old Covenant, for Our Lord says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” [Matt 5:17] Now remember that we lost our corporeal immortality which God had first intended for us when He made the world, through the disobedience of Adam and Eve and so sin necessitates our salvation and affects our reconciliation with God. When we say “the resurrection of the body” in the Creed we are expressing the desire for complete reconciliation with God, the restoration of creation with Him, so that we may regain that corporeal immortality originally intended for us.
In the Old Testament, God institutes both a general priesthood and a ministerial priesthood; God made his people “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” [Ex 19:6; cf. Isa 61:6] and within the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi was chosen to be set apart for the liturgical service of offering sacrifice as priests [cf. Num 1:48-53; Josh 13:33]. The ancient Jewish priesthood which functioned at the temple in Jerusalem offered animal sacrifices at various times throughout the year for a variety of reasons, but in every generation, one priest would be singled out to perform the functions of the high priest (Hebrew kohen gadol). His primary task was the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) service, its central themes are atonement and repentance. The Other unique task of the high priest included the offering of a daily meal sacrifice.
God promised on the Day of Atonement to cleanse His people from all of their sins. It is this distinguishing feature that made this Day unique. “For on this Day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the LORD” [Leviticus 16:30]. God had redeemed His people; He subsequently required them to be cleansed from their sin. Leviticus 16 describes the most complex yearly ritual for the purification and riddance of sin in all of Scripture. On this day referred to in Leviticus 16:30 God permitted Israel’s high priest to enter into the Holy of Holies. He allowed entrance into His holy presence only one day during the calendar year. If anyone other than the high priest entered, or if anyone attempted to enter His immediate presence at any other time, they were killed as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron. [Leviticus 16:1 refers to the incident in Leviticus 10:1-7]
In the New Testament, we find Peter referring to a priesthood of all believers, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” [1 Peter 2:9] We also find Paul describes those enjoined in the Apostles’ ministry, “… as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.” [1 Cor 4:1] So here we see by comparison the fulfilment of the old Law of the Old Covenant in the New… So what of the high priest and the “Day of Atonement”? Here of course we come to the very crux of our faith, Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is the Eternal High Priest who offered Himself on the Cross as the true Paschal Lamb and Unblemished Victim for our redemption in one atoning sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross; on “The” Day of Atonement. The New Testament depicts Jesus as the “great high priest” of the New Covenant who, instead of offering the ritual animal sacrifices prescribed by the Jewish Law, offers Himself on the cross as the true and perfect atoning sacrifice.
So then, the New Testament says that as high priest, Jesus has made the Church “a kingdom of priests for his God and Father.” [Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:5,9] All who are baptised are given a share in the priesthood of Christ; that is, they are conformed to Christ and made capable of offering true worship and praise to God as Christians “to offer up spiritual sacrifices” [1 Peter 2:5]. “The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church #1546] So then the ministerial priesthood is properly understood to be at the service of the ‘priesthood of all believers’. As St Gregory the Great might put it, speaking as he was of his own ministry as a bishop, to be a “servant of the servants of God”. To be “stewards of the mysteries” and ultimately to both represent Christ and re-present Him in His atoning sacrifice, the Eucharist.
Remembering then that our faith is ultimately about the forgiveness of sin, so that we might have eternal life with God, let us recall how the fruits of Christ’s redemption are to be realised. How are we to receive the eternal life, won for us by Him? How, especially when our high priest has “passed into the heavens” Hebrews [4:14]? It is of course at this point that the need for a ministerial priesthood becomes evident. “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:53-54] The ultimate benefit of our salvation in Christ is the restoration of creation with God – the regaining of our corporeal immortality as God had originally intended. We see how our faith is “incarnational” – God made Man in Christ restores the physical material creation to the Creator by atoning completely for sin which had prevented the realisation of God’s desire for us, to be with Him for eternity. How then are we to receive eternal life except by incarnational means!
So it is then that, that as before, God uses His creation to effect His supreme love for us and desire for us to be with Him forever. Here then is where the ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant comes in. In order for the words of Christ to be made true [cf John 6:53] we need to receive as physical persons that physical reality of the Eucharist, of the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. The Catholic priesthood then is a share in the priesthood of Christ and traces its historical origins to the Twelve Apostles appointed by Christ at the Last Supper who were commanded to “do this in memory of me.”
Tomorrow is the feast of St John Vianney, a more perfect example of priestly dedication and service by a man we would be hard pushed to find, one who understood intimately this incarnational need for the ministerial priesthood…
A.M.D.G. In Transfiguratione Domini Nostri Jesu Christi
Continuing from yesterday, a sharing of my reflections whilst on retreat last month…
July, like all the months of the year, is traditionally dedicated to a particular devotion. July is dedicated to the “Precious Blood” recalling the blood spilt in sacrifice by Christ upon the Cross. These devotional titles are to encourage us to reflect on aspects of the Incarnation, particularly on how our redemption was affected thereby, through Christ’s, “Emmanuel’s” (God-made-man’s) own blood. For me this year, this month in my personal reflections recalled to mind the Sons of Zebedee [cf Mark 3:17], “… You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink…?” [Mark 10:35-40; Matthew 20:20-23]
I am ever conscious as a bishop that this “bitter cup” is also “my portion and my cup” [Psalm 16:5-11] for what and who am I but an apostle like those blessed Apostles sent by Christ who founded the Church and thus called to share like them in all things? St. Clement in the first century explicitly states that the Apostles appointed bishops as successors of their ministry and St. Irenaeus and Tertullian testify similarly in the second century what had become the tradition of the Church [St Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 A.D. 80; St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III, 3, 1; cf. Tertullian, De Praescr., 20, 4-8: PL 2, 32] and the book of Acts itself describes too this sharing and handing on of responsibility in the appointment of overseers and presbyters for the Church [cf Acts 13:2-3; Acts 20:28] and Paul [cf 1 Tim 5:17; Gal 2:9] who of course adds to Timothy, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his Kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables. But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry.” [2 Tim 4:1-5] Tradition tells us that James, son of Zebedee was the first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom, as recorded in Acts 12:2; he tasted first, as would all the Apostles, that “bitter cup” [his brother, John the Evangelist, would be the last of the Twelve literally to “taste” it too, but be initially spared his life, to be imprisoned and later retire to Ephesus].
So what is this “bitter cup”? None other than the “chalice of our salvation” (Ps 116:13). This cup was so awful that Jesus prayed three times, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” [Mat 26:39,42,44]. Even though the cup was bitter beyond description, and too dreadful to fully express, yet Jesus resolutely determined to drink it [Luke 22:42] in anguish sweating blood [Luke 22:44], knowing that it was the appointed prelude to glory. Therefore, when Peter sought to defend Him in the garden, Jesus said to him, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” [John 18:11]. The triumph of Jesus’ Resurrection was to be accomplished only by drinking “the cup of trembling,” or “cup of His wrath” [Isa 51:17,22; Zech 12:2]. In drinking from this cup, Jesus would absorb the shock of the curse of God [Gal 3:13] i.e that is the due penalty of sin. He would “taste death” [Heb 2:9] in a way impossible for any one of us.
It was a cup from which all of the wicked were originally destined to drink, and was described by the Psalmist, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” [Ps 75:8]. Thus the cup Jesus was to drink was associated with Divine wrath, with the judgement of sin and the cursing of sinners, Jeremiah referred to such a cup as “this cup of the wine of wrath” [Jer 25:15]. Jesus asks James and John (the Sons of Zebedee) if they are able to drink “of the cup” that He will drink of. He does not ask them if they will be able to drink of a cup like His cup, but from His cup.
Thus Our Lord is referring to the portion of sufferings that He will leave behind that the Apostles in their turn must endure, as Paul says “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” [Col 1:24] Though unlike the Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, these sufferings are not redemptive of themselves, but they will be difficult to bear for His followers and nonetheless may be counted towards salvation, if not directly of the world but in conjunction with His suffering for the world, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” [Matt 10:22] For “Whoever listens to you listens to me…” [Lk 10:16] Thus those whom He had called to be His Apostles and who in their turn have chosen successors in their apostolic charge, share in this same invitation to participate with Christ in the salvation of the world, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…” [cf John 15:16]
So my personal reflections have dwelt much upon the significance of this invitation, this sharing in the Apostolic ministry which includes the “bitter cup” to which I am enjoined by my episcopal consecration and into which I will bring those to be ordained to share-in, with me, as co-workers (presbyters, deacons) after the manner of the Apostles. Most especially those whom I will ordain as priests who will offer the Sacrifice of the Mass wherein they especially will taste, after a manner, this “cup of salvation”, this “cup of trembling” and this “cup of wrath” for as St Paul says “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” [I Cor 11:26]. While many Christians may be called to suffering, not all are called and chosen to share in this particular way.
Here we begin to touch upon the very real nature of priesthood, an element I am afraid is not much thought about any more in our contemporary rationalist world and of which I am sorry to say (for those who may find it disagreeable) the modern Rite(s) of the Mass fail miserably to convey; the true incarnational character of the priesthood. Reflecting today personally on the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord brought home to me again the very real import and unique character of the priesthood. By this (and what follows in my sharing of thoughts) I do not mean to assert a form of “clericalism” about the Sacred Ministry, there are many complimentary ministries as St Paul says [cf I Corinthians 12. 2-11] that contribute invaluably to the whole process of theosis, i.e. divinisation through the Church of our humanity; but each of them has a peculiarly unique character.
It is, I feel, a great pity in our time that the Sacred Ministry has come to be perceived as the sole or ultimate expression of all the various ministries, rather than a particular vocation, a particular ministry. I can’t help but wonder if that is why so many have failed to prove themselves as priests, who perhaps may actually have been called to another form of ministry altogether? I also think its why so many inappropriate “ministries” have been invented that emasculate the priesthood in an attempt to fashion from it, in an attempt to reclaim by extension some kind of ministry? For example, “Eucharistic Ministers” – surely only consecrated hands that can consecrate, should handle the consecrated species? Surely, if there is a priest there to say Mass, shouldn’t he distribute the Communion? All too often, that which was permitted to be used “in extremis” i.e. in grave or extreme circumstances, has come to be “the norm” and with it has brought demands that have enabled or clamour for further malpractice. It is a shame that time has aggregated to the priesthood additional ministries that properly belong separately from it, or may be exercised by others in cooperation with it, which have clouded its true nature and purpose.
This clouding of the true nature, character and purpose of the priesthood has brought about a very real danger to the Church as a whole. Potentially there are priestly vocations being missed! Potentially there are vocations to other ministries being missed! Potentially the Church (as institution) is not realising fully all the benefits of God’s Grace as His chosen one’s are failing to realise their true, unique, individual vocations! As I often say in my homilies, we are each uniquely called by God and endowed by Him with gifts, talents, abilities for a specific purpose of His. We were all willed by Him into existence for some purpose known only to Him [cf Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:16] and shared sparingly with us, that in discerning His purpose for ourselves and in the process humbling our will to His, we may realise both in this life and for eternity that true “peace” for the soul “which the world cannot give” [cf Philippians 4:7] but which we are invited to receive in following Jesus [John 14:27] who tells us, like He did to Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor, “noli timere” – be not afraid… words that those preparing for ordination should continually hold in their hearts as they begin to realise the uniqueness of their particular vocation… Of which more tomorrow!
My thoughts are currently preoccupied with the upcoming ordinations fast approaching this Michaelmastide (actually, just prior, on St Matthew’s day) and the need to prepare particularly the deacons to be priested on this occasion. It happens to be a significant anniversary for me too, personally, and having just completed the first year of my episcopate last May, I have been somewhat distracted of late and in an almost paralysingly reflective mood.
At the beginning of JulyI spent some time in quiet reflection at Belmont Abbey and just last week at Sarum College in the Cathedral Close at Salisbury. I was joined on both occasions and indeed was blessed to have the company of friends, also to realise acquaintances and establish new relationships. I was also blessed to be able to share in the daily round of Office and Mass with Benedictines, at Belmont Abbey obviously, also at the recently founded Howton Grove Priory (a Convent and the home of digitalnun) and in Salisbury with another recently established Priory, the new home of the monks formerly of Elmore Abbey. Additionally in Salisbury there was the added delight (though if somewhat soporific after a long day of walking, talking and reflecting) of Cathedral Evensong, sung by a most proficient choir (in place of the Cathedral’s own who were away), enabling me to drift and pray in the midst of music by Richard Ayleward, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Herbert Howellsand the master, Thomas Tallis (of whom David Starkey’s current series on the BBC provided an accurate and balanced portrayal).
It was rather an auspicious time to have visited both houses of monks respectively, Belmont was just about to host the General Chapter of the English Benedictine Congregation and the Priory at Salisbury had just been visited by one of its more famous oblates, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby! It had also transpired that the Abbot of Belmont had trained in Rome with an episcopal colleague (my equivalent as Metropolitan in the USA) back in the 70’s. I was also able to celebrate American Independence Day with the newest member of the community at Howton Grove too, a postulant from America!
There were many highlights to my experiences during this time away, not least of course sharing in the faith journeys and experiences of those in whose company I was in, whether my particular companions for the duration or some of the people I met. Just like a pilgrimage, visiting holy places even on retreat always involves others, reminding us that we experience the spiritual life, just like the material life, not in isolation but in company with others. There were naturally times spent in solitary, important times for reflection and prayer, but at meal times, communal prayer times and in socialising there too the incarnational aspects of our relationship with God and each other were made plain and the Lord still seemed “to speak” to me. As is so often the case, there is “nothing new under the sun” and just as when we re-read a portion of Scripture and find hidden or deeper meaning, so too in the interaction with others discussing faith we can find different insights and perspectives on very similar experiences. Though we experience life very much subjectively and as individuals, yet often the scenarios and circumstances are not so unique.
It can be easy for anyone to feel that their particular experience of this life is completely unique, but one of the wonders of the Catholic Faith is the knowledge that numerous saints before have gone through something of whatever it is we think we are uniquely experiencing now. I have often found it a great comfort to know that somewhere a saint in light, one of the blessed who has gone before, knows something of what it is I am feeling. Particularly for me, those who also shared in the burden of the priestly office, and now after this “first year of our episcopate”, most especially those who were burdened as I am with the weight of the “summum sacerdotium” (fullness of the priesthood). I can honestly say, and I certainly don’t mean impiously, that I can still to this day feel the weight of the Book of the Gospels that rested upon my shoulders during the Rite of Consecration.
However, sharing in the faith stories of others and reflecting on my own, I was buoyed to recognise the presence of God in other’s lives and thus also in my own. True, my companions and I spoke much as if our conversations would put the very world “to rights” but even in our commiserating, there were definite signs of God’s presence and through our discourse we were able to awaken each other to His presence. Each conversation then resulted with a positive disposition to continue to strive and to hold one another in prayer to that end!
My time was spent with fellow Catholics – Roman and Anglican and despite some perceptible cultural differences, I was truly in the company of likeminded people. True, there was much variance perceptible between members even of the same denomination, reminding me that even among the people of God, our many and various individual perceptions and experiences can yet coalesce into a greater whole. This provided me with some comfort, for even though consecrated to one particular portion of the flock, I cannot help but feel my ministry as a contemporary Apostle is for the whole Church, for there is but “one Lord, one faith and one baptism” [Ephesians 4:5] and irrespective of our circumstances there is but “one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.
I am not making any claim to a “universal jurisdiction” here, but rather the knowledge that I was consecrated and set apart by God for His people, irrespective of jurisdiction. I thus can’t help but feel some responsibility, some concern for the spiritual welfare of other Christians irrespective of denomination. Clearly, the company I was with, despite our different circumstances, some appreciably difficult as well as different, yet our spiritual and doctrinal commonality in expression of the Faith proved under it all our unity. That I drew some comfort from, even if ironically it was proof that no matter which side of the fence, the grass is neither greener nor necessarily healthier!
I wrote at the beginning though that my thoughts have been primarily taken up with the upcoming ordinations, so more of that in part II…