“Once he realizes that God has decided from all eternity to grant certain graces to certain people at the intercession of their priest, he may have more incentive not to get tired of praying for his faithful. God loves the prayer of the shepherd for his sheep.”
1. The vocation of the ministerial priest
In order to describe the role of prayer in the life of a Catholic priest, we need to recall first his unique vocation. Unlike the priests in pagan religions and even in the Old Testament, he is not a priest in his own right. In the New Testament the only Priest is Jesus Christ. Moreover, Jesus is not only Priest but also King and Prophet; the ministerial priest, however, only participates in these three offices of Christ. Finally, we need to clarify that here we speak only about the ministerial priesthood whose task is to actualize the royal and prophetic priesthood of all the members of the Church. Just like the mission of Jesus Christ, the role of the ministerial priest is defined by this threefold office. It is not a job, nor is it simply a sacred function. While every priest needs—almost daily—some time away from priestly activities in order to relax and replenish his energies, he can never take a vacation from his priesthood just as it is beyond his power to divest himself of his own identity. Catholics know that even a laicized priest remains a priest “ontologically” and he can be saved only as a faithful or repentant priest.
St. Paul condenses his priestly vocation into one complex sentence as he explains the grace given to him by God “to be a minister (leitourgos) of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the
priestly ministry (hierourgounta) of the Gospel of God so that the offering up (prosphora) of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:16).1 The priesthood of all Christians is to offer their “own bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, their spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). Paul’s vocation, on the other hand, and in some way every ministerial priest’s, is to actualize this self-offering of the Christian people, their spiritual worship, by gathering them into one body (shepherding), enkindling their faith by the word of the Gospel (prophetic office), and uniting their gift of self to the one perfect sacrifice of Christ (priesthood in the strict sense: sacramental ministry).
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1 Vatican II applies Paul’s understanding of his own apostolic mission to that of the ministerial priests in Presbyterorum ordinis 3, 2.