The office of Apostle has been handed down by the laying on of hands since the Lord Jesus originally consecrated His chosen Twelve. A man becomes a priest when a bishop lays his hands on him and says the prayer of consecration. What does it mean when this happens?
A priest is consecrated by the grace of Christ the High Priest. Christ is a priest by virtue of His holy humanity, because it is only by being human that He has a relationship with the eternal Father that includes being a part of creation. A priest offers sacrifice in order to reach across the great divide between heaven and earth. Of course, this sacrifice of the incarnate High Priest Jesus Christ is the infinite offering of the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit (the Uncreated divine love). But Christ’s offering is only a priestly sacrifice because it is made by a creature (albeit the unique creature who is Personally also the Creator). In other words, only creatures need priests; only creatures can be priests. The priest’s office is to connect creation with the Creator. (I learned all this from Bl. Columba Marmion’s book on the priesthood.)
So Christ the God-man is a priest. He stands at the center of creation and gives it beautiful order; He makes it fitting and good: He offers His gift to God to express the gratitude, submission, adoration, and glorification that the creature owes the Creator, and His gift is the infinite divine love, offered from a pure and upright human heart.
The priest makes the relationship between creature and Creator visible by standing at the altar and offering sacrifice to God in the sight of the people. Then he gives what is sacred to the people. Christ did this perfectly by offering the Holy Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and giving Holy Communion. The Holy Priesthood in the Church is the continuation of this until the end of time.
So the ultimate goal of the consecration of a priest is the Holy Mass. The pattern that is to be unfolded according to the wisdom of God for His glory and the well-being of creation is for everyone to come to the altar of God to assist the priest in the Holy Sacrifice. The Holy Mass, with the priest standing at the altar in the place of Christ and the people gathered around him in praise and worship of the Triune Majesty, is the image of creation perfectly fulfilled and consummated. Everything that God has made possesses an inherent movement towards this consummation which is expressed in the Holy Mass. May it please God: When history is over, what we see under a veil at Mass will be fulfilled in heaven; we will be filled with peace and joy by glorifying God forever through Christ our High Priest.
To attain this goal the Church must preach the Gospel, and the priest first and foremost must preach, as the Prayer of Consecration says: With the same loving care you gave companions to your Son’s apostles to help in teaching the faith: they preached the gospel to the whole world. Preaching is clearly necessary for two reasons:
1. In order for people to come to Holy Mass regularly, they need to know that there is one God, Who is the loving Father that Christ has taught us about, that the Lord Jesus is God made man, that He instituted the holy sacrifice and all the sacraments. People need to be taught all the things they need to know in order 1) to get in the habit of coming to Mass and 2) to hope for the heaven that the Mass promises.
2. Even if people regularly come to Mass, they may not be participating in the Holy Sacrifice in such a way as will get them to heaven. The gathering of the people around the holy altar with the priest has to be pure and true, which means that the souls of everyone present have to be cleansed and purified. The only way for this to happen is by virtue of the Blood of Christ, which cleanses souls through the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. Baptized sinners have to confess their sins and turn to God, and they are much more likely to do so if the priest preaches the truth and exhorts his people to penance and the practice of virtue.
So here we have the story of my life: the Lord has chosen and consecrated me to say Mass at the appointed times (in Upper Marlboro, Md., for the time being) and to baptize, hear Confessions, and administer all the sacred things. I have to be tireless and generous in doing this, as the Lord Jesus Himself was. (Though I need to take care of myself and the dignity of the priesthood, too.) Also, I have to preach: preach to the people in the parish who do not come to Mass, and preach to the people who do.
It is easier to see how I am supposed to preach to the people who do come to Mass, since they listen to what I say when it comes time for the homily. In a way, I guess, I am preaching to everyone when I do this, since the doors are open, everyone knows that our building is a Catholic church, and the Mass times are clearly posted. Obviously, I have to stick to the teaching of the Church in my homilies.
I preach to everyone in the parish boundaries by being at my post, wearing my cassock and clerical clothes, coming out of the house and doing the things that a priest would reasonably be expected to do. I think I can hope to make my way to heaven by dutifully doing these things for the rest of my life at whatever assignment I have.
In the hopes, however, that some of the people who do not come to church might read what I write here, I am undertaking to publish some occasional essays on the internet. Even if no one ever reads these, my attempts to write out the things that I think about will certainly do me some good. And it will get me out of the house to my favorite watering hole. Here you have the first installment of my little blog. The good Lord knows how many more are to come. May He be glorified in every word and work; may we all come home to Him when everything is said and done!