Though not listed in the calendar of the universal church, the feast of Jesus Christ Supreme and Eternal Priest, introduced in Spain in 1973, is observed in numerous countries and dioceses.
The New Testament reserves the use of the term priest to Christ and the people of God, a royal priesthood, and does not apply it to ministers of the church.
The letter to the Hebrews regards Christ’s sacrifice as unique and definitive, in contrast to the priestly sacrifices of the Old Covenant. “In the same way, it was not Christ, who glorified himself in becoming high priest but rather the one who said to him: ‘You are my son; this day I have begotten you;” and just as he says in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” The same letter adds that Christ came as the high priest of the good things that have come to be.
All who are baptized are incorporated into Christ Prophet, Priest and King. Our life is priestly to the extent that our lives are an oblation to the Father. It is also suitable today to reflect on what our Constitutions say about our missionary priests: “Configured through the Sacrament of Orders with Christ the Priest, whose person represent mainly in the celebration of the Eucharist, share his death and life, so that living with men we awaken in others the remembrance of the presence of the Lord” (CC# 83).
Today’s liturgy focuses on the mystery of Christ, mediator and pontiff of the New Covenant, who draws from the faithful ministers and stewards of his mysteries. The opening prayer asks: “To those who through Baptism and Confirmation are made sharers in His priesthood [of Christ the Supreme and Eternal Priest] grant us the grace always to surrender our lives to Him to the service of others.” The Preface offers a synthesis of the priesthood of Jesus: “With the offering of his body on the cross, he fulfilled the sacrifices of the Old Law, and offering himself to you for our salvation, made himself victim, priest and altar.”
The first reading from the prophet Isaiah speaks of the redemptive death of the Suffering Servant from the perspective of Psalm 39. The second reading from Hebrews assures us that the priesthood of Christ will not pass. The Gospel reading from Luke speaks of the institution of the new Passover and the New Covenant.
The Liturgy of the Hours reiterate these themes, and a fragment of the Pius XII’s Mediator Dei graces the Office of Readings.
In his Autobiography, Claret does not give the title of Supreme and Eternal Priest to Jesus, but interprets his own priesthood as a consecration: “A thousand times over I would offer myself to his service. I wanted to become a priest so that I could dedicate myself to his service day and night. I remember telling Him, ‘Humanly speaking, I see no hope, but you have the power to make it happen, if you will.’ Then, with total confidence, I would leave it all in God’s hands, trust Him to do whatever and to be done” (Aut 40).
Our Constitutions refer to this title of the priesthood of Christ, speaking of how priests of our Congregation represent Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist: “Conformed through the Sacrament of Orders to Christ the Priest, in whose person they act, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, they should share in his death and life in such a way that they awaken in others the remembrance of the Lord’s presence” (CC# 83)
The General Plan of Formation emphasizes that the immediate preparation for the order of priesthood must deepen the candidate’s awareness of being conformed to Christ the Priest, as the expression of our Claretian vocation, in order to go forth resolved always to act in the name of Christ and on behalf of the Church” (PGF 456). The missionary priest is conformed to Christ the priest by the Sacrament of Orders, and our Constitutions emphasize conformity to Jesus the evangelizer, prophet of the Kingdom (cf. CC 82) and Christ the Shepherd (cf. CC 84).
The Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, while referring to the definitive priesthood of Christ and the conciliar decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, does not speak of priests as conformed to Christ the Priest. Rather, it speaks repeatedly of the priest’s fundamental relationship with Christ the Head and Shepherd. Reasons for the moderate use of priestly terminology are obvious. The priesthood of the New Covenant is distinctly different from the priesthood of the Old Testament, let alone priesthoods of other religions. Use of the same term can be confusing. On the other hand, the New Testament reserves priestly terminology to Christ and to the Christian community as a whole. It never applies it to the apostles or ministers of the community.
Apart from terminology, what matters is conformity to Christ, who laid down his life, once and for all, in total obedience to the Father as the unique sacrifice. Paul himself speaks of his own priesthood as a libation in the cause of the Gospel (cf. Phil 2:17).
- BOCOS MERINO, A., Our ministerial renewal in several. Claretian priests, Madrid 1984.
- JOHN PAUL II., Pastores dabo vobis, Rome 1992.
- CLARETIAN MISSIONARIES. Our Project of Missionary Life. Comment to the Constitutions, t. III, Rome 1994.
- VANHOYE, A., Old Priests, New Priest according to the New Testament, Salamanca 1984.