St. Matthew Church | Glendale Heights, Illinois

Jesus Christ: Eternal High Priest

As Catholics, we’re used to thinking of the priest as that man who says Mass on Sundays and hears our Confession. We usually forget the whole history of priesthood. This includes, of course, even the ancient pagan religions with their priests and priestesses who offered human sacrifice to appease their gods. The history of priesthood also includes the authentic priesthood of the Jewish people and their worship of the one true and living God. The Israelites had a whole tribe of priests from the family of Levi and they offered the best of their flocks in gratitude to God who had given them those gifts. The Israelites also offered sacrifices of atonement, recognizing how their gifts failed to offer perfect worship to God on account of their sins. Sacrifice was the fundamental role of the priest, both the true sacrifice of the Old Testament priests and the horrific human sacrifices of the pagan priests—both were making an offering. Neither of these types of sacrifices were perfect. The pagans could never appease their angry gods. Thankfully, the true God graciously accepted the imperfect animal sacrifices of his beloved people. This might make us think: Is there some sacrifice that would be perfect? Is there a pure victim, a holy victim, a spotless victim that we could offer to God?

The answer, thankfully, is ‘yes.’ We can offer the perfect sacrifice, because the perfect sacrifice has been given to us. It is a human sacrifice, but not one whose life has been taken. Instead, is a Body that is freely given up for you. It surpasses all the Old Testament lambs, because it is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is Jesus. He has shown himself to us to be the priest, the altar and the lamb of sacrifice. It is Christ who invites you not only to receive himself as the perfect sacrifice of love; he also invites you to join him in offering your life as a sacrifice of love. At the Last Supper on Holy Thursday he prepared for his Good Friday Sacrifice and he said, “Do this in memory of me.” Every time we go to Mass, we are called to offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father. Every time we leave Mass, we are called to give our lives in love for those around us. And if you are offering your body as a living sacrifice, you are living as a priest of Jesus Christ. Every baptized Christian has been made part of the kingdom of priests.

Then why do we need ordained priests? That Holy Order has been given to us by Christ himself. The sacrament of Holy Orders isn’t just ‘more’ of baptism; in some ways, it is completely different. The ordained priesthood is a gift to you so that you may live your baptismal priesthood. In Confession, my imperfect sacrifice to God is washed clean. At the Eucharist, Christ feeds me and strengthens me with his own sacrifice so that I can offer my life with him. The ordained priesthood is an indispensable instrument for the growth of our baptismal priesthood. Without the ordained priesthood, we do not have the Body of Christ at Mass and the forgiveness of the sins in Confession.

These gifts come to us through the sacrament of Holy Orders. The ordained bishop, and in a lesser degree the ordained priest, has been given the role to act in the person of Christ as head of the Church. When the bishop or priest says at Mass, “This is my Body,” it is not Fr. Jones who becomes present in the Eucharist. The body of Fr. Jones can’t save anyone. No, the living body of the man who is God, that is who becomes present. Jesus ordains men as priests so that he can give himself to you. We see here the inner logic of the Catholic male priesthood. Just as I as a man cannot play the part of the Blessed Mary in a living Nativity scene, so a woman cannot play the part of Jesus at Mass. She cannot say, “This is my Body” as the priest does. Her feminine body is a beautiful body; it is just not masculine. And yet no human person gave more generously, more lovingly, more perfectly of her life to Jesus than the woman we call the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Blessed Virgin Mary has the most perfect priestly soul among all the disciples of Jesus. How did she spend her life? Giving her life, her soul, her heart, her mind, her body to God. With the gift of her femininity she said, “This is my body, given to the Savior to be his home.” And the Word became flesh and dwelt within her. She made a home for him in their own land and in a foreign land. She watched him grow to be a man, first working with Joseph and then working his miracles. She loved him all along the way of the cross, until her heart was broken open as she watched his heart be pierced with a lance. She united the offering of her life to the offering of her Son, the Eternal High Priest.

I hope we learn from them to do the same, to give our life in love to the Father for others. Let’s look for gifts throughout the day to offer to our Lord. Whatever it is we have to do, let’s do it well, serving him generously and joyfully. Then when we come to Mass on Sunday those gifts will be the most important gifts we bring to the altar: our daily gifts of love. If Jesus the Eternal High Priest can change bread and wine into his Body and Blood, then he can also do the same for us. By his grace, by his power, by his love, we will become ‘other Christs’, we will become Christ himself. As St. Paul came to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

With my prayers,

Fr. Jerome