The Liturgical Core of Priesthood
By: Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo
Friday November 20, 2009 from 7:00 pm – 9:00pm
New Temple, New Offering, New Priesthood:
The coming of the Lord into our world and his self-insertion into the history of our humanity is not just a “happening” among other relevant or less relevant events, but it is the radical and uniquely pivotal and central act of divine intervention. A defining moment of that intervention, and a major lordly sign of the establishment of a new covenant between God and his people, was the cleansing of the temple of Jerusalem by Lord Jesus, in the wake of the Jewish Passover celebrations:
“… The Jews … said to him: ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up’…But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.” (John 2: 18-22.)
The offering of gifts and sacrifices to Divinity was a worshiping act that was practiced by many cultures of antiquity; most of all by the people of Israel; the main purpose was tripartite: a) Atonement for men’s sins; b) Praise and thanksgiving to God; c) Memorial celebration of redemptive events. Furthermore, the proper offering of sacrifices entailed two requirements: the provision of a sacred altar in a temple, and a consecrated class of priests. Thus, for Jesus to envisage the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, with its sacrifices and priesthood, should entail likewise the provision for the new People of God not only of a new temple, but also of a new sacrifice, and a new priesthood.
I- The New Temple: Two locations identify and embody the features of the New Temple: Golgotha, where a cross carried a slain tortured body with the pierced side of Jesus, the Son of God, and a tomb that became empty when the dead body of Jesus the Lord was raised to divine glory. The altar, in every church seriously Christian, is the table where the sacrifice is slain and offered to God. As it happened in historical factuality, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain on the cross. Thus, that cross became the altar upon which the new sacrifice was offered. The fate of that sacrifice is much brighter. Indeed, that tortured body was carried to a tomb, from where he was risen to eternal glory on the third day. Therefore, a cross with the icon of the Crucified and glorified Lord, in the vicinity of the altar, signifying the empty tomb, are the visible features of every church building, worthy to be a new temple and to properly host the offering of the sacrificed Lamb of God.
The Cross, hanging on the center of the Sanctuary of a Christian church is certainly not mere artistic decoration, but an Icon that represents the instrument of our salvation. The Crucifix attached to the Cross is certainly not a mere informative reminder of a tragic historic event, but a holy representation of how our Lord endured the suffering and death for our redemption, to be an effective sacrament in our Divine Liturgy. Mary, the virgin mother, was there, with John the beloved disciple, looking at the crucified son, inviting all of us, including the celebrant, to stand with her and offer to the Heavenly Father the satisfactory sacrifice, vicarious for the entire human race.
On the Last Supper, before he died, the Lord established the Divine Eucharist, the Sacrament of his Body and Blood; this he did in the prospect of his death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb. Therefore, whereas the Last Supper gives us the structure and fundamentals of the liturgical celebrations, the cross in Golgotha and the empty tomb are the historic reference for the features and modalities of the New Temple. Moreover, the body that was slain on the cross and rose to glory is the New Temple itself.
II- The New Offering: Lord Jesus, the night before he died, taught his disciples how to celebrate his redemptive memorial, in the pattern of bread and wine, ordering them to reiterate his own sacrificial Eucharist until his second coming. Indeed, the crucified Lord himself is the vicarious sacrifice for our disobedience, and his blood is offered for the forgiveness of our sins: “For if the blood of goats and bulls…can sanctify those who are defiled…, how much more will the blood of Christ… cleanse our consciences.” (Heb. 9: 13-14). Whereas the historic sacrifice of the divine Lamb occurred on the evening of Holy Friday, completed with the Resurrection early Sunday, the sacramental offering of the same divine Lamb in the Eucharistic celebration as the Lord himself taught us and ordered us to do.
In both celebration of the Eucharist, in the Upper Room of Jerusalem, and on the table in Emmaus, the basic features of the celebration are as performed by the Lord: He took the bread then the chalice, he offered prayers of blessing and of thanksgiving, he broke the bread, then he gave for communion what he asserts to be His Body and His Blood, ordering us to reiterate what he did in memory of himself and in unity with him and his church. This is the founding act of the Christian Eucharist, the Paschal Lamb of the New Testament, the Manna of immortality, the new central act of worship for the faithful of the New Testament.
III- The New Priesthood: Jesus ordered his disciples: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24 & 25), providing his faithful, everywhere under the sun, with those who are qualified to become his ministers, granted to be participants in his priesthood, and mandated to celebrate his eternal sacrifice for his people. For all what happened in human history, nothing is greater in meaning, value, and impact, than the sacrifice of Jesus the Lord; thus, of all human endeavors, nothing is greater in relevance and implications than the priestly celebration of the divine Qurbana.
The Priesthood as Mediation: The Letter to the Hebrews gives us the classic formulation of the essence of priesthood: “Every High Priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. …’ (Heb. 5:1) “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption…” (Heb. 9:11-12), “For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant…” (Heb 9:15). Therefore, the Christian priest, fulfilling the command of Jesus the High Priest of the new covenant, celebrates the Eucharist as mediator, between the people and the heavenly throne. Consequently, the liturgical function of mediation is expressed also in ceremonial positions and movements of the celebrant, when offering the divine Eucharistic sacrifice, and that the building of the sanctuary is made suitable accordingly.
The priesthood in the Catholic Church is an order intrinsically connected with the ecclesial communion as established by the Lord, both in regard of being a legitimate member in the priestly order, and in regard of being a receiver from the canonical authority of the liturgical ritual. Indeed, the performance by the celebrant of the Eucharistic celebration is an act performed as handed on according to the tradition of the Church, as ordered by the Lord. Paul said it emphatically: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you…”(1 Cor. 11:23 ), thus the celebrant must always be aware that he performs an official act of the Church according to a ceremonial canonically recognized by the competent authority.
THE TEXT OF THE RITE OF ORDINATION
TO ORDAIN A PRIEST, WHAT DOES IMPLY ?
The ceremony of Ordination of a priest in the Catholic Church is performed with a formal public act, having specific features: a) A bishop of the Catholic Church presides and performs the principal segments of the Ordination rite. b) The candidate is selected through a process supervised by the Church. c) he is found qualified spiritually, doctrinally, and pastorally. d) he commits himself to be faithful to his ministry within the Catholic church through obedience to his bishop.
Basic Focal Points of the Rite of Ordination shown here in selected texts
1) The Bishop as Mediator of Priestly Ordination: “May your power, O our Lord and our God, perfect through our weak hands, and fulfill through the mediation of our humble self this spiritual ministry of the endowment of the Priesthood with which we have been entrusted through the grace of your Lordship, O Giver of spiritual endowments, Lord of all…”
2) Priesthood of the New Testament: “O Christ, the High Priest of righteousness, through the manifestation of whose appearance types and figures ceased, and the Priesthood, which through the house of Aaron served as a symbol and likeness, came to an end, and your spiritual Priesthood, absolving sins and debts, began, before you, O omnipotent Lord, we plead with supplication, pour out upon your servant mercies and blessings. Adorn him with the gifts of the Priesthood, that before your holy Altar he may worthily hallow you with gladness and cheer, and make the sacrifice of praise to your name, O Giver of spiritual talents, Lord of all . . .”
3) Priesthood Mediator of Gifts and Celebrant of Eucharist: “O Christ, exalted King, whose Priesthood has no end, who on high eternally reconciles the Hidden One on behalf of the sins of the world, join your worshipper to the rank of Priests, the mediators of peace, and confer upon him wisdom and discernment, that he may be made complete in his Priesthood, and may be pleasing to you with a sound mind in the offering of the Body and Blood, relating your Gospel to the people gloriously at the head of the bema. May he bestow Baptism to every measure of age, with pardon for every defilement. May he betroth and crown according to precept in solemn ceremony which has no equal. May he be deemed worthy to inherit delight on the day which has no tomorrow.”
4) Apostolicity and Priesthood: O Christ, the cause of peace, which came about between the depth and the height, in your Gospel you made the fog of error which hovered over the world to pass away, and sent your Apostles to every region, and they proclaimed the truth of your justice in the world; and after them you ordered the rank of Priests to absolve the people. Pour out the gift from on high upon this your guileless servant, that he may be made a Priest and overseer, and may prosper in the cultivation of the vineyard. May he appear before you undefiled in the service entrusted to him. May he perfect your Mysteries without perversion with unequaled love.
5) Priesthood as Administration of Sacraments: “Pour out your grace, O our Lord and our God, upon these your servants, and fill their hands with splendor, that they may offer the ministry of the absolving Mysteries, and consecrate the absolving womb of holy Baptism, the font from which mortal children are born unto immortality through your grace and mercies, O Giver of spiritual gifts, Lord of all . . .”
6) Priesthood as a crowned kingship: “Cause the grace of your glorious gift to blow upon the outstretched hands of him who awaits it, and give him participation in the ranks of Priests who worthily offer sacrifice. Adorn him with the glory which crowns Catholic kings, O our King, the King of Kings, Lord of all . . .”
7) Priesthood as an Official Minister in the Church: “O Christ, the High Priest of our confession, you who sanctified us through your Priesthood, consecrate your servant, elect him for your Priesthood, and fill him with your grace, that he may be made a Priest within your Church, and may hallow your Mysteries.
Or: “O Christ, who filled your Apostles with your riches and the treasure of your wisdom, in your loving-kindness fill your servant with the power of divine gifts, that he may be approved for the ministry of the holy Mysteries.”
8) Priesthood as the ministry of the Word of God and the Eucharist: “Make an outpouring of your grace to flow, O my Lord, and a flood of your gifts, upon the head of your worshippers who long for your divine endowment. Strengthen them that they may serve your holy Altar and relate your glorious sayings to your people, redeemed by your Cross and tell of your wondrous deeds to the flocks, sealed with your living and life-giving sign, O Giver of spiritual gifts, Lord of all . . .”
9) Priesthood as Receiver of Spiritual Gifts: “With the glorious light of the Priesthood, O my Lord, which causes pure souls to shine mystically, and through the medium of virgin oil openly sheds forth the rays of its brilliance in ready lamps, giving its beams indivisibly on behalf of the common profit, light the soul of your servant, O my Lord, who kneels bent before you. Make him worthy by your grace to become a rich recipient of your grace, and like a polished pearl may he receive your light wonderfully, and may he with authority make it to break forth upon others. Grant him to minister priestly functions with care, and to become spotlessly familiar with matters of the Mysteries, O Giver of gifts, Lord of all . . .”
Then the Archdeacon intones: Peace be with us.
10) The Main Invocation: “that the grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon them.”
(And the Bishop recites this laying-on of hands, his right hand placed upon the head of the candidate, and says softly:)
“Our good God and merciful King, repeat, whose mercies are rich and whose compassion is overflowing, you, my Lord, in your ineffable loving-kindness, have appointed us mediators of your divine gifts, that we may give in your name the talents of spiritual ministry to the servants of your holy Mysteries, according, O my Lord, to the apostolic succession, which has been given to us through ordination to the ecclesiastical ministry. We now offer before you these your servants, that they may be made approved Presbyters in your holy Church.
And we all pray for them, (repeat,) that the grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon them, and may perfect and complete them for the work of the ministry of the Priesthood which they apply themselves to, through the grace and mercies of your Only-begotten, for to you, to him, and to the Holy Spirit we will lift up glory, honor, confession, and worship, now, always, and forever and ever, (And he signs over the heads of the candidates, and they respond, amen. Then the Archdeacon says), Lift up your eyes to the exalted heights, and beseech mercies from the compassionate God for N. and N. the Deacons, who are appointed and ordered Presbyters for the Church of God to which they have been set apart. Pray for them.
(Then the Bishop recites softly this Prayer for the Presbyters, his right hand placed upon their heads, and his left stretched out:)
“O Lord God of Hosts, the Omnipotent One, repeat, Maker of heaven and earth and all that is in them, who chose for your holy Church, and raised up in her, Prophets, Apostles, Teachers, and Priests, for the perfection of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for the building up of the ecclesiastical body, now then, O great God of Hosts, King of all worlds, consider now these your servants, and make for them a holy election by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Grant them, by an opening of their mouth, the word of truth, and approve them for the Priesthood, O Lord God of Hosts, that they may place their hands upon the sick and they may be healed, and may serve your holy Altar with a pure heart and a good conscience, offering to you the oblations of Prayer and sacrifices of thanksgiving in your holy Church. May they consecrate, through the power of your gift, the absolving bosom for the spiritual birth of those who are called by your grace to the fellowship of the adoption of sons of your Lordship. May they pardon your people and adorn with deeds of righteousness the children of the holy catholic Church, to the glory of your holy name. May they have boldness in the new world on account of this pure ministry which they fulfill before you, and may they stand in Paradise before the fearful judgment-seat of your greatness, through the grace and mercies of your Only-begotten, for to you, to him, and to the Holy Spirit we will lift up glory, honor, confession, and worship, now, always, and forever and ever.”
(And he makes the sign of the Cross over the heads of the candidates, and they respond, Amen. Then he commands them to kneel upon the earth, and then stand. And the Bishop takes the Gultha which is laid upon the shoulder of each one of them, clothing each with it. Then he lifts up the stole which is on each one’s shoulder and places it upon his breast. Then the Bishop takes the worshipful book of the Gospel, and places it in the hands of him who has received ordination. And he signs his forehead with the thumb of his right hand with the sign of the Cross and says:)
” N. is set apart, consecrated, perfected, and completed for the work of the ecclesiastical Presbyterate and Aaronic Priesthood, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit forever. And he kisses him upon his head.”
The Character of Priesthood: It means an elevation of the faithful, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to a permanent existential status, making him a dedicated Minister of the Lord, a qualified close collaborator with the Bishop: in the humanitarian acts of mercy, in the work of forgiveness of sins, in teaching the doctrine of the Kingdom of God, in the ministry of sacraments, most of all in the celebration of the Eucharist.
A Character with Three Dimensions:
a) An ontological dependency of the priest in his relation to Christ the eternal High Priest, expressed as faithfulness to his call and mandate.
b) An ecclesiological dependency of the priest in regard to the Church, expressed as canonical observance of the communion within the ecclesial hierarchy.
c) A committed dedication in the ministry of the People of God, particularly on the parochial level, expressed in humanitarian acts of mercy, in the teaching of the Doctrine of Faith, in the administration of the Sacraments, and in the performance of a leading role in the liturgical acts piety and community devotions.