mercoledì 28 marzo 2018

Sacerdos alter Christus

During the Chrism Mass a proper preface is used, which illustrates the mystery we are celebrating: “The priesthood of Christ and the ministry of priests.” It is a newly composed preface, maybe the longest one in the Roman Missal, full of theology and spirituality. It is subdivided into four sections.

The first one speaks of Christ’s priesthood: “By the anointing of the Holy Spirit you made your Only Begotten Son High Priest of the new and eternal covenant, and by your wondrous design were pleased to decree that his one Priesthood should continue in the Church.” From this section we learn that Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the new testament. He has become so through the anointing of the Holy Spirit: Jesus has never been anointed with oil, like the priests of the old testament; but, as he says in today’s gospel, the Spirit of the Lord is upon him and he has anointed him. This is a new priesthood, which replaces the old one, and is unique: while in the old testament there were many priests, now there is only one Priest, Jesus Christ. And it is an everlasting priesthood. The letter to the Hebrews says, “[Christ], because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away” (Heb 7:24). That is why, after Jesus’ ascension, this priesthood continues not only in heaven but even in the Church.

The second section of the preface reminds us of the two ways of sharing in the priesthood of Christ in the Church: “Christ not only adorns with royal priesthood the people he has made his own, but with a brother’s kindness he also chooses men to become sharers in his sacred ministry through the laying on of hands.” First of all, in the Church all the baptized participate in the priesthood of Christ. As the second reading tells us, we are a priestly people. This priesthood shared by all Christians is called “common priesthood” of the faithful. But, besides this common priesthood, there is another participation in the one priesthood of Christ, essentially different from that of the faithful. It is the “ministerial or hierarchical priesthood,” that Christ gives to some of the faithful through the laying on of hands. This second participation in the priesthood of Christ is not a form of power, but is in the service of the common priesthood of the faithful. That is why it is called “ministerial.”

In the third section we find the main tasks of priests: “They are to renew in his name the sacrifice of human redemption, to set before your children the paschal banquet, to lead your holy people in charity, to nourish them with the word and strengthen them with the Sacraments.” In a time when it would seem that a priest is above all a social operator, the preface reminds us of the specific functions of a priest. First of all, he has to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice and distribute among the faithful the bread consecrated by himself. There is a special connection between a priest and the Eucharist: the ministerial priesthood has been instituted for it. Then he has to pasture the flock entrusted to him with the word of God, the sacraments and charity.

The final section points out that priesthood is not a profession like others; a priest cannot limit himself to do his job; he has to live what he does: “As they give up their lives for you and for the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they strive to be conformed to the image of Christ himself and offer you a constant witness of faith and love.” Priests should never forget that they act not on their own initiative, but in the name and on behalf of Christ. They should identify themselves with him. Sacerdos alter Christus, a priest is another Christ. So, he has to be like him. Let us pray that priests may forget themselves and really be and behave like Christ.