Friday, February 26, 2010

On the Priesthood on Ember Saturday of Lent

On Ember Saturday of Lent, priests are ordained after a long fast and vigil. It reminds me of our Lord who selected his Apostles after a long night of prayer. Blessed Ildefonso Schuster wrote: "In olden times, the faithful spent the whole of this night in prayer, singing psalms, and listening to the reading, both in Greek and in Latin, of twelve lessons from Holy Scripture." (I. Schuster, The Sacramentary: Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal, 73.) Imagine how long the vigil must have lasted: twelve readings read twice! Within this vigil, priests were ordained.

Thus, today, my mind is raised towards the priesthood and its great dignity. By putting the ordinations in the context of a fast and a long vigil, the Church indeed attests to the great dignity that the Lord confers upon those he has chosen to be priests.

St. John Chrysostom has this to say: "If anyone consider how great a thing it is that a man wrapped in flesh and blood approach that pure and blessed nature, then he will see plainly what great honor the grace of the Spirit has bestowed upon priests. It is by their agency that these rites pertaining to our dignity and salvation are performed. They who inhabit the earth, they who make their abode among men, are entrusted with the dispensation of the things of heaven! Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: Whatsoever ye shall bind upon earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose, shall be loosed. Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can bind only the body. Priests, however, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself, and transcends the very heavens. Whatever priests do here on earth, God will confirm in heaven, just as the master ratifies the decisions of his servants. Did he not give them all the powers of heaven? 'Whose sins ye shall forgive,' he says, 'they are forgiven them: whose sins ye shall retain, they are retained.' What greater power is there than this? The Father hath given all the judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven, elevated above human nature, and freed of all limitations.

Were a king to bestow such power upon one of his subjects that he permitted him to imprison anyone whome he wished and free him likewise at his discretion, such a man would be envied and respected by all. He, however, who has received from God a power which is as much greater than this as heaven is more precious than earth and souls than bodies, seems to some to have received so inconsiderable an honor that they imagine he is able to despise it. Away with such madness! It is madness indeed to despise so great a ministry, without which we could neither obtain our salvation nor the good things promised. inasmuch as no man can enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless he is born again of water and the Spirit, and since unless he eats the flesh of the Lord and drinks his blood he is excluded from eternal life - since, I say, all things are administered only by those holy hands, the hands of priests, how could any man without these priests either escape the fire of hell or obtain the crown which is intended for him?" (St. John Chrysostom, De Sacerdotio, 181-187.)

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