Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Mystery of the Crown of Thorns by a Passionist Father part 17.




As parents, in the order of nature, are the first dignity and authority, claiming the respectful homage of children; so the true ministers of God, are the first and highest dignity in the spiritual and supernatural order upon earth. If parents are the loving representatives and agents of God's creative fecundity, and the hand of his beneficent providence; the sacred ministers of God are the eye of his wisdom, the voice of his law, the vessels of his holiness, and the living channels of his graces to mankind. The priests of God are to human souls, what parents are to human bodies. They are our spiritual fathers. Speaking of the Christian priesthood, St. John Chrysostom says: "Consider the priestly dignity. A priest is a man upon earth; but he is elevated to the sublime rank of a divine agent. He lives and works among men, and for men; but his actions are supernatural and divine. The priestly office is not, and cannot be of human institution. The wise philosophers, and the most enlightened statesmen, the greatest generals, with the most powerful monarchs, cannot constitute an order of men, like that of the Christian priesthood. No man upon earth, no saint in heaven, no angel, no archangel, no heavenly power, no creature whatever, can institute such sublime dignity and office; that those who live in a body of flesh upon earth, may exercise a greater than an angelic ministry." (St. John Chrys.De dignit, sacerdotis Lib. 2.) It is evident, that God alone can communicate to his sacred ministers, the power of consecrating the body of his incarnate Son, and of absolving well disposed sinners from all their sins.

We are taught to measure the height of a building, from the length of its shadow. From the long and large shadow of the Jewish priesthood, we may form some imperfect idea of the sublime dignity of the Christian priesthood. In the sixth chapter of this book, we had occasion to allude to the institution of the Aaronic priesthood, when we remarked how severely God punished those ambitious men, who attempted to usurp this dignity and office. In a subsequent occasion, King Saul, by the command of God, was deprived forever of his royal dignity, because once only he attempted to offer a sacrifice, which belonged, by right, to the priestly office. When King Ozias presumed to offer incense in the sanctuary of God's temple in Jerusalem, the High Priest, Azarias, accompanied by eighty zealous priests, bravely withstood the sacrilegious king, and said to him: "It doth not belong to thee, Ozias, to burn incense to the Lord; but to the priests ... who are consecrated for this ministry." Because, however, the king in his pride and arrogance, insisted in attempting this profanation, God miraculously covered him on the spot with leprosy, when he was thrust out of the temple; and died through this loathsome and humiliating disease. (2 Paral. 26:18) The superiority of the priestly dignity, to that of earthly potentates in the spiritual and supernatural order, is shown in the Bible from the fact, that in the old law, the High Priest Samuel, by the command of God, made Saul, king; and deposed him for presuming to perform, once only, one single act of the priestly office, and on that occasion, he selected and anointed as king over Israel, the youthful David, son of Isai. (1 Kings 15 & 16) By the command of God, priests alone could minister at the altar, and offer sacrifice to him. They were constituted the teachers, interpreters and judges, of God's holy laws, for every class of persons. The people were strictly commanded to listen respectfully to their voice, as the visible angels and ambassadors of God. "For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they, (the people,) shall seek the law at his mouth; because he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts." (Malach. 2:7)

Let us see now, how our divine Lord and Master has honored the dignity, and respected the authority of the priesthood. We should beforehand observe, that he is the first source and center of all priestly dignity and power. Jesus is the supreme and eternal Pontiff, according to the order of Melchisedech; and he became man to abrogate the Aaronic priesthood of the old law, and to substitute for it a more exalted dignity, and a more extensive, and effective power. (Heb. 7 & 8) Nevertheless, he manifested on every occasion great regard for the Jewish priesthood. He honored the Jewish priesthood, by selecting from it his mother, a near relative of Elizabeth, who was of the daughters of Aaron. (Luke 1:5 & 36) His first visit upon earth, soon after his incarnation and several months before his birth, was to the house of Zachary, a priest of the house of Abia. (Lk.l:5) Hence, this holy Jewish priest learned the great mystery of the incarnation, and the arrival of the expected Messias even before Saint Joseph, the virginal spouse of his immaculate Mother. At his birth, our Lord sent a miraculous star to invite kings to his cradle; but he wished to be carried in person to the temple of Jerusalem to honor the Jewish priesthood. If our most holy Redeemer could not approve of the vicious conduct of some of the chief priests; yet he ever paid respect to their sacred office, and dignity; and exhorted his hearers and disciples to carefully distinguish the personal behavior, from the official dignity of the priests of God. The faults of a priest are personal acts; but his dignity and office are gifts and privileges of God. Our divine Savior knew and foretold that the Jewish priests had conspired against his life. He knew that they were his mortal enemies, and would be the principal authors of his greatest sufferings, deep humilations, and cruel death on the cross; nevertheless, though he refused to speak to King Herod, he readily answered, during his trial, every question of the high priest, Caiphas; and in this unworthy man, our blessed Lord respected the sacredness of the priestly dignity.

If the very shadow of Peter is honored we may justly conclude that higher honors, and greater respect will be shown for his real person. We may begin to learn the grave nature and sublime dignity of the Christian priesthood, from the length of preparation required by our divine Lord, before he consented to confer it upon man. The Eternal Son of God has assumed human nature, that he may purify, may sanctify, and elevate it to the sublime dignity of the Christian priesthood. He defers this, the most important of all his divine actions upon earth, to the very last day of his life. Who can tell the care our divine Master used; the trials he had to undergo; the patience he exercised in preparing during more than three years, his disciples and apostles for the grand dignity of the Christian priesthood? ...

This most High God, this great Lord of heaven and earth, is satisfied with a stable at his birth; he contents himself to love and work like an humble mechanic, in the carpenter's shop of his adopted father. During the three years of his apostolic life through Palestine, he cheerfully embraces every opportunity of practising poverty, and of exercising his cherished virtue of humility, and self-abasement. But when the memorable evening arrived, on which Jesus intends to raise men to the sacred dignity of the Christian priesthood He cannot consent to go to a stable or a shop, or even to an ordinary house. He will use one of the most magnificent halls that can be procured in the royal city of Jerusalem. Our divine Lord desires to perform his first ordination in a richly carpeted hall, in order that, through the unusual magnificence of the place, the apostles may begin to perceive how sublime is the dignity to which they are going to be raised on that ever memorable night. On this occasion our Savior procured "A dining room furnished." (Mk.l6:15) Adorned with green boughs and fresh flowers and splendidly lighted. (A Lapide ibid) It was on this solemn occasion, that our blessed Lord celebrated his first High Mass, at which he consecrated bread and wine; and by the most wonderful prodigy changed them into the substance of his Sacred Body and Blood. It was at this grand High Mass, that the twelve apostles were raised to the sublime dignity of the Christian priesthood; when they received from our divine Savior, the power of offering the same Sacrifice, of consecrating, as he did, and of ordaining other priests who should continue to offer daily, this divine and august Sacrifice to the end of the world.

These great truths we learn from the first three Evangelists, and from St. Paul, who says: "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said: Take ye, and eat; this is my body, which shall be delivered for you, do this for the commemoration of me. In like manner also, the chalice ... Saying, this chalice is the new testament in my blood, this do ye, as often as you shall drink it, for the commemoration of me, for as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this chalice you shall show the death of the Lord until he come." (Cor. 11:23) "Immensa infinita Sacerdotis dignitas," (exclaims St. Ephraim De Sacerdotio) From the example and doctrine of this great Apostle of the Gentiles, we learn that this sublime dignity, power and office of the Christian priesthood, was through the Apostles of our Lord, communicated to other men. In fact

St. Paul was not present with our Lord in the supper room. His conversion took place three years after. But he tells us that he and other bishops and priests, offered the same sacrifice like the rest of the apostles. "The chalice of benedictions which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?And the bread which we break is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? (Cor. 10:16.) And in another place he says: "We have an altar, whereof they have no power to eat, who serve the tabernacle " (Heb. 13:10) The continuation of the Christian priesthood is essential to the Church of Jesus Christ, wherein, according to the repeated commands of our Lord, the holy sacrifice must be offered daily, and Sacraments must be administered to men, to the end of time. "Do ye this, our Lord said, in commemoration of me." ... "For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord until he come." From other Epistles of the holy Apostle we learn that bishops, priests, and deacons, were instituted wherever Christians were established. He wrote to Titus, whom he consecrated bishop, "for this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldst ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee." (Tit. 1:5) "Ingens et divina dignitas," says Dionysius (De Eccles. H. Cap. 3) We must now return to our divine Lord, who has other honors and privileges in store for his sacred ministers. Besides the sublime power of order, through which he conferred on his priests the divine prerogatives of consecrating his sacred Body and Blood, he communicated to them the most extensive jurisdiction over the souls of men.

In the person of St. Peter our divine Lord conferred the sublime and extensive power over the souls of men to the Pope, the supreme visible head of the Church. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give thee the keys of the kindom of Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosened also in heaven." (Mt. 16:18) This grand promise was fulfilled by our Savior after his glorious resurrection, when he commanded Peter to feed his sheep and lambs. (Jn. 19:15) To the rest of the Apostles, and to all the bishops and priests of his Church, our Lord said: Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosened also in heaven." (Mt. 18:18)

After his resurrection, our Divine Master confirmed this power and more fully explained its object. "As the Father hath sent me, so I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them, and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained," (Jn 20:23) Here is the divine commission, stamped by the broad seal of heaven, by virtue of which the pastors of Christ's holy Church absolve repenting sinners, after their humble and sincere confession.

St. John Chrysostom says: "The Eternal Father has given all power to his Son, who says, 'All power is given to me in heaven and earth.' (Mt. 28:18) But I see that the same power is communicated to his priests by God the Son .. .These sacred ministers possess now more power than Almighty God has ever been willing to grant to his angels or archangels in heaven." (Lib. 3 de Sacerd. Cap 3) St. Bernard styles priests the parents of Jesus Christ, "Parentes Christi." St. Augustine exclaims: "Oh, truly venerable dignity, in whose hands the Son of God is incarnate. The most blessed Mother of Jesus opened heaven, and brought the eternal Son of God once only in her virginal womb; but the priest brings him upon the altar in every Mass. In the womb of Mary the Son of God was passible and mortal; but in the hand of the priest, he is immortal and impassible." These are the words of St. Bernardine of Sienna. All this is amply sufficient to show, how highly our most holy and divine Master has honored the dignity of the priesthood, in the old and new testament. Our duty is to imitate his example.

We must now proceed to consider, how our divine Lord has honored and respected civil authority.