The Highest Dignity on Earth

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The meeting of Abraham and Melchizadek - by RUBENS, Pieter Pauwel - from National Gallery of Art, Washington
"Though art a Priest forever according to the Order of Melchizadek"


What is a Priest?

by Saint Joseph Cafasso

Who is this Man who in the World is called an Ecclesiastic, a Priest?
Who is this Personage whom some Bless and others Curse?
Who is he whom the Whole World talks about and criticizes, and who is the Subject of Discussion by all pens and all tongues?
What is the Significance of that name which resounds in every Corner of the World?
What is a Priest?

In order to define clearly what he is, I shall avail myself of the distinctions that Saint Bernard made concerning Ecclesiastics and shall consider him in his Nature, in his Person, in his Habits.

Quid in natura, quis in persona, qualis in moribus!

yellowdot.gif (100 bytes) In his Nature he is a Man like others.
yellowdot.gif (100 bytes) In his Person, his Dignity is above that of all other Men in the World.
yellowdot.gif (100 bytes) In his Conduct and Habits, he should be a Man totally different from all others, as he is by his Dignity and Office.

These are the Three Points which I propose for your consideration.


The Highest Dignity on Earth

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"Thou art a Priest forever"

The Priesthood is the Highest Dignity on Earth. The Dignity of a Priest surpasses that of Emperors, and even of Angels. No Angel can Convert the Bread into the Body of Christ by the mere Power of his Word; nor can any Angel Forgive Sins. The Priest stands between God and Man. He is God's Representative, God's Ambassador. Therefore whatever Honor we pay to the Priest, we render to God Himself. Saint Francis of Assisi said that if he met an Angel and a Priest at the same time, he should Salute the Priest First. Priests, especially Parish Priests who assist the Bishops in the Care of Souls, are the Captains in the Great Army that is the Church.

Parish Priests receive their Orders and Jurisdiction from the Bishop, and are bound to carry out his Commands. In the Parish the Parish Priest represents the Bishop, and no one may, without his consent or the Bishop's, exercise Spiritual Functions there, such as Marrying, Baptizing, Preaching, Burying, giving Extreme Unction, etc. All Sacramental duties are the Priest's alone, but an Ordained Deacon authorized by the Bishop may perform Marriages, the Last Rites and Preaching, but not the Sacrament of Confession or the Holy Eucharist.

A Vicar Forane (called also Urban and Rural Dean) is a Parish Priest having Supervisory Power in the name of the Bishop over Neighboring Parishes. A Vicar-General is the Chief among the Officers of a Diocese. Parish Priests of large districts have Priests helping them, called Curates, Assistants, or Associate Pastors.

The Duties of Parish Priests are many, varied, and of Great Responsibility. Like all Priests, they are Pledged to lifelong Celibacy. Daily they must Recite the Breviary, the Priestsí Prayer Book, which requires about an Hour's Time. On account of these heavy responsibilities all Catholics have the Obligation to Pray for their Priests, and to help them as much as possible.

A Parish Priest and his Curates have to Visit the Sick of the Parish any time of the Day or Night. He has to give the Last Sacraments to the Dying, however Contagious or Repellent the Disease. He hears Confessions Hour after Hour. He must Renounce the World with all its Amusements, for the Love of God. As Shepherd of his Flock, he is Responsible to God for the Souls of those committed to his care. On the Day of Judgment, he has to Render a Strict Account of his Stewardship.

Priests who belong to a Religious Order have different Regulations than Diocesan Priests. While they are still Responsible to the Bishop of their See, they are also Responsible to their Superior at the Provincial Level and the General Level. Priests of Religious Orders such as Redemptorists, Dominicans, Benedictines, Franciscans, Jesuits, Oblates, Servites, etc. all take Three (3) Vows - the Vow of Chastity and Obedience like the Diocesan Priests, but also the Vow of Poverty. This way they do not, as is normally the case, earn a Stipend Salary like a Diocesan Priest but rather are dependent on the Order and Communal Property is shared with the bare minimum encouraged to Practice the Virtue of Poverty. This is especially true of the Franciscans who were founded on that Rule. Religious Priests have the same Requirements Diocesan Priestss do in regards their Daily Prayers, etc. and often Head Parishes, Staff Schools and other Catholic Institutions.

No matter the Duties of a Priest, it is not something someone attains to overnight. It takes a minimum of Six to Seven Years Major Seminary Studies in Theology and Moral Theology plus Philosophy and other Studies in preparation for the Priesthood. Religious Priests undergo a Period of Time called Novitiate during this preparation, something Diocesan Candidates do not go through. Religious also take the Tonsure and the Steps to the Priesthood called Minor and Major Orders. Suffice it to say, the Words of David from the Lord in Psalm 110:4, ring true: "Thou art a Priest forever, according to the Order of Melchizadek".