After a priestly ordination, it is common for friends, family, and the faithful to express their well-wishes to the newly ordained priest. One of the well-wishes goes thus: “God bless your ministry.” Although this expression is often spoken with genuine intentions, it can lead to a misunderstanding regarding the ownership and nature of the priestly ministry. This article seeks to clarify the true meaning of the priestly ministry and emphasize that it does not belong to the individual but is a divine commission bestowed by God.
To begin with, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #1545), drawing upon the Epistle to the Hebrews (8:4) and the theological insights of the angelic doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, reveals that only Christ is the true priest, and others are His ministers. This concise statement elucidates the central truth that the ordained priesthood is a share in Christ’s own priesthood, as beautifully expressed in his magnum opus, the “Summa Theologiae III, q.22, a.4.” Aquinas explores the sacramental character of Holy Orders, highlighting the priest’s role as a minister, acting in the person of Christ during the administration of the sacraments. Thus, the ordained priest’s authority is derived from Christ, and the ministry is a reflection of Christ’s continued presence in the Church.
It is essential to note that the institution of the Catholic Priesthood dates back to Christ Himself, who established it at the Last Supper when He ordained His apostles to continue His mission on Earth. As the “Great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14), Christ’s priesthood is unique and eternal, while the ordained priests participate in His priesthood by virtue of their ordination, as eloquently expressed in the following documents: “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) #10, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis) #2, Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) #1548, Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of Order (Sacramentum Ordinis), all expressing the sacramental grace bestowed upon priests that enables them to be ministers of Christ, in order to act “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ).
That the expression “God bless your ministry” has probably made some ordained ministers feel that the ministry is their personal property cannot be overstated; little wonder the concept of “private ministries” or “adoration ministries” which some priests handle as their personal property is the order of the day, such that it becomes a very big problem when their superiors or bishops attempt to transfer or ask that they discontinue from such “private ministry”, to the extent that even the ignorant lay faithful also fight and protest on behalf of those priests who “own” the “private ministry” because they too understood it as the property or “birthright” of the priest. Dear priests, a lot needs to be done on our part to educate the faithful that the ministry is not ours but belongs to our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, the eternal and unique high Priest, whose priesthood we share.
In place of saying: “God bless your ministry” as though it belongs to the individual, I suggest we use other related expressions, like: “God bless your vocation”, etc, in the sense of one’s noble effort in responding to God’s call. Dear friends in Christ, let us continue to pray for our priests as they collaborate with Christ in shepherding the flock, preaching the Gospel, and administering the sacraments.
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© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Loreto, Vila Medeiros, São Paulo, Brazil
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