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Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is also the high priest of God. He shared that priesthood with the Apostles in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper. This makes the ordained cleric — deacon, priest or bishop — a very special man. But what are the effects of Holy Orders for the man who receives this sacrament?
As with all the sacraments, Holy Orders increases sanctifying grace and gives a sacramental grace particular to that sacrament enabling him to carry out the sacrament's purpose. It also imprints an indelible character on the soul, as do the two initial sacraments of baptism and confirmation.
The increase in sanctifying grace is necessary for all people to fulfill Christ's command given in Matthew 5:48 to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." This is important in a special way to the recipient of Holy Orders. As a priest, he must not only save his own soul but also be a Christ-like example to the souls he shepherds.
The sacramental grace of Holy Orders confers upon priests two chief supernatural powers. The first is the power to change ordinary bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Christ mandated that we receive Him in the Eucharist for the life of our soul.
The second power is the ability to forgive our sins in the sacrament of penance. This sacramental grace in priests is especially evident in the confessional. When a penitent goes to the same confessor with regularity and frequency, the priest comes to intimately know the penitent's soul. The sacramental grace he received in being ordained helps the priest to lead such souls on the journey to perfection in God described in Matthew 5:48.
A priest's sacramental grace, therefore, not only benefits the ordained man but also the lay faithful. It allows the priest, bishop or deacon to truthfully proclaim the gospel, fulfill the ministry of the Word of Truth and renew people far beyond the "bath of rebirth" in baptism.
Bishops also have a treasure in the sacramental grace of Holy Orders — the ability to govern their dioceses and present Catholic Church teachings in a manner that would benefit the souls of their flocks. This is true even if a prelate refuses this benefit.
As the Catechism notes in paragraph 1579, priests of the Latin Church are normally not allowed to marry. Giving a reason for this celibacy, the Catechism cites Christ's words from Matthew 19:12, "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven."
The Catechism further explains:
Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord," they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart, celibacy radiantly proclaims the reign of God.
Unlike priests, a man who is already married may become what's called a permanent deacon — someone who will not be transitioning to the priesthood. But if his wife dies, he cannot remarry, nor can an unmarried man ever marry after being ordained to the diaconate.
Although deacons do not have the same supernatural powers of priests, they do have a great purpose in the Church. Deacons are helpers of bishops and priests and are subject to their authority. Deacons may officiate at weddings, perform baptisms, carry Holy Communion to the confined, preside at graveside services or funerals, proclaim the Gospel at Mass, and serve in various other nonliturgical functions.
Non-Catholics who teach there is no such thing as a sacramental priesthood object to us calling our priests "father." They may cite Jesus' directive in Matthew 23:9: "And call no man father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in Heaven." People who do so are taking Our Lord's words out of context and fail to consider the totality of Sacred Scripture.
Christ tells us in Matthew to call no man father, yet God gives us the Fourth Commandment: "Honor thy father and thy mother." So either there exists a contradiction between God the Father and God the Son, or debunkers of the priesthood wrongly interpret Christ's words.
Christ wasn't finding fault with the word father, but rather teaching us that God alone is the source of all authority. In fact, the priest acts in persona Christi when fulfilling his liturgical-sacramental duties. Saint Thomas Aquinas, as quoted in paragraph 1548 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, teaches, "Christ is the source of all priesthood: The priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ."
The rebuke Jesus gave wasn't concerning the use of the word father, but of the pride of the Pharisees. If the rebuke was of the word father, no one would be right to call his male parent father.
The early Christians never interpreted these words literally. Saint Paul refers to Timothy as his "beloved son" in two of his epistles, thus presenting himself as Timothy's spiritual father. He also refers to himself as the spiritual father of his converts in 1 Corinthians 4:15.
In writing to other Christian leaders, St. John called them fathers in 1 John 2:13. Are we to believe these two great Apostles, who were promised to remember all Christ had taught them with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, would directly and blatantly disobey Christ? The objection made against our 2000-year-old practice is without merit.
As we have previously seen in another article, the priesthood is worthy of our reverence. And those men of Holy Orders are very special men with supernatural powers, as we have seen in this article.
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