Highly recommended viewing: Alter Christus (29 mins)
a co-production of the Holy See’s Congregation for the Clergy (during Pope Benedict XVI’s reign)
and HM Televisión
Extract from Of Bells and Cells
© copyright 2014
This text is included at the end of the book, as an addendum (may be used with acknowledgment).
Though many men who are religious are also priests, not all priests are religious.
A priest can belong to a religious order, following the horarium [daily schedule] and the rules of his religious community, being obedient to the superior of the community. In this case he is a “religious priest.” The religious priest wears the habit of the religious order to which he belongs, and he lives in community, in a monastery or a friary.
Or, a priest can be under the orders of the bishop of a diocese and live in a rectory, or a home attached to a parish church, taking care of the parishioners. In this case he is a “secular priest” or a “diocesan priest.” The diocesan priest does not follow an horarium and the rules of a community, since he is not part of a religious community. Instead, he follows the schedule determined by the needs of the parishioners he serves. The diocesan priest wears distinctive clothing, usually black, which shows to people that he is a priest. It is beautiful when the priest wears a “cassock,” a long outfit that reaches to the floor, because it reminds us that priests are to be more like strong angels than like men.
The priesthood is a very special state of being. Through the Sacrament of Ordination, God transforms a man into a priest by giving him the power to do certain things for the salvation of souls as if he were Jesus Christ Himself. He does these things in the person of Christ, and because of this he is, as it were, “another Christ”—an alter Christus, as it is said in Latin.
These “certain things” are the Sacraments, of which there are seven. And of these, there are two, besides Baptism, that are most important for our salvation: the Eucharist and Confession. Only a priest can perform the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession.
Only a priest can do that awesome thing which is to change a little wafer of wheat and some wine in a chalice into the Body and Blood of Christ. He does so at Holy Mass. There, the priest represents Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Last Supper and in His Sacrifice when He died upon the Cross for our sins. When the priest says “Take this all of you and eat it, for This is My Body” and “Take this all of you and drink of it, for This is My Blood”, he says those words in the person of Jesus Christ. And because of the special powers a priest receives at Ordination, through him God transforms those substances of bread and wine into the Holy Eucharist, which is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. This is a very great mystery, to be adored in awe and gratitude. For the Lord said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
(Jn 6: 55-57)
Through the Holy Spirit a priest also has the power to forgive sins in the person of Christ at the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus Christ conferred this power upon priests when he said “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.” (Jn 20: 21-23)
So you can see that the priesthood is very important, and that is why we should pray for priests every day. The priesthood is a very great gift of God, without which a Christian— religious or lay—cannot attain to everything that the Good Lord desires for us. He wishes us to have peace and joy here on earth (despite all our problems), and to be as happy as we can possibly be with Him forever in Heaven (where there are no problems). For this, we must strive to do what He asked of us: to “love God above all things, with all our hearts, and all our souls, and all our minds” and love our neighbors as ourselves, and to “be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Mt. 5: 48) That is, we should strive to become saints. And we cannot become saints without continuously uprooting the little (and sometimes big) sins that crop up in our souls, and without feeding ourselves with the heavenly nourishment which is the Body and Blood of Christ, so lovingly given to us at Holy Mass by Christ Himself through his alter Christus, the priest.
Let us give thanks and praise to God, Who is so good to us!
Prayer for Priests
O Jesus, Eternal Priest, keep Your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart, where none may touch them. Keep unstained their anointed hands which daily touch Your Sacred Body. Keep unsullied their lips, daily purpled with Your Precious Blood. Keep pure and unworldly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of Your Priesthood. Let Your holy love surround them from the world’s contagion. Bless their labors with abundant fruit. May the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here, and their