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Catholic priesthood

What is a priest? What are its origins and history?

What is the priesthood?

If we talk about the definition of the priesthood, this is one of the three priestly orders of the Catholic Church, by which the deacon receives the dignity and attributions proper to the presbyter, or priest.

"Holy Orders is the sacrament by which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: it is, therefore, the sacrament of the apostolic ministry. It comprises three degrees: the episcopate, the presbyterate and the diaconate."

The priesthood "goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation or institution by the community, for it confers the gift of the Holy Spirit that allows the exercise of a 'sacred power' that can only come from Christ, through his Church."  Catechism, 1536-1538

The sacrament of Orders comprises three degrees:

Diaconate Presbyterate Episcopate

Origin and history

The chosen people were constituted by God as "a kingdom of priests and a consecrated nation". But within the people of Israel, God chose one of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, for the liturgical service.

Instituted to announce the word of God and to reestablish communion with God through sacrifices and prayer, this priesthood of the Old Covenant was incapable of accomplishing salvation. Therefore, it needed to repeat the sacrifices without ceasing, and could not attain a definitive sanctification, since it could only be achieved by the sacrifice of Christ.

Even so, the liturgy of the Church sees in the priesthood of Aaron
and in the service of the Levites, and in the institution of the seventy "elders", prefigurations of the ordained ministry of the New Covenant.

All the prefigurations of the priesthood of the Old Covenant find their fulfillment in Christ Jesus, "the only mediator between God and man".

Christ's redemptive sacrifice is unique. And for this reason it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. The same is true of Christ's unique priesthood: "it is made present by the sacrament of the ministerial priesthood."  cf. Catechism, 1539-1545

Candle Icon

Why is the priesthood important?

The Church, throughout history, has performed a human service in every sector of culture. Through the Catholic priesthood, it has spread to all nations and has made religion, morality, science, art and industry flourish to the full. Both priests, and especially members of religious orders, have guided the faithful to the light of Christian morality and education throughout the ages.

The Eucharist is the apex of the whole sacramental order. It is the nourishment of the whole spiritual life and the summit toward which all the activity of the Church is directed. The Blessed Sacrament is the inexhaustible source of graces; from it flows all the power of Christ present in the Church and in the interior of every Christian. The Eucharist is the Sacrament from which all the other Sacraments flow and to which they are directed.

"Love is not extinguished in the heart of the priest. Charity, drunk at its purest source, exercised in imitation of God and Christ, no less than any authentic love, is demanding and concrete, widens the priest's horizon to infinity, broadens his sense of responsibility - an index of a mature personality - and educates in him, as an expression of a higher and wider paternity, a fullness and delicacy of sentiments which enrich him in a superabundant measure" (SC, 55). In a word: "Celibacy, by elevating man integrally, contributes effectively to his perfection" (SC, 55).

St. Paul VI

Common Priesthood of the Baptized

The Church as a whole participates in the priesthood of Christ. All the baptized have been consecrated as a spiritual house and holy priesthood by the regeneration and anointing of the Holy Spirit.

We all possess a priestly anointing that makes us sharers in a priesthood we call common, which indelibly destines us to divine worship. A priesthood that we actualize and exercise in the reception of the sacraments, in the practice of the virtues and in divine worship. Each of the members of the People of God is called with the same force to be a witness of Christ with words and to order the city of men according to the saving designs.

Ministerial priesthood

By the will of Christ there exists in the Church a ministerial priesthood that forms and directs the priestly people. Through him, Christ becomes present and active among men in a qualified way. He builds up the Body of Christ through the ministry of the sacraments, especially through the celebration of the Eucharist.

The charism of the priesthood comes from Christ himself and is transmitted through the imposition of the hands of the bishop and the sacrament of Holy Orders. In this way, the priest is consecrated and configured as a minister of Christ. At certain moments, the priest becomes an instrument of Christ's grace.

To be a Christian - and in a particular way to be a priest, remembering also that all the baptized participate in the royal priesthood - is to be continually at the Cross.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer

Priesthood and celibacy

Celibacy, in its generic sense, is the condition of one who by choice does not marry. Priestly celibacy is when this choice is made in exchange for total dedication to religious services through priestly ordination. There are concepts related to priestly celibacy, chastity, virginity and virginal vocation.

"All ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are ordinarily chosen from among believing men who live as celibates and who have the will to keep celibacy 'for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven' (Mt 19:12).

Called to consecrate themselves totally to the Lord and to his 'things' (1 Cor 7:32), they give themselves entirely to God and to mankind. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the minister of the Church is consecrated; accepted with a joyful heart, it radiantly proclaims the Kingdom of God" (Catechism, 1579).

Priesthood icon

Pope St. John Paul II in 1979 stated:

"Every priest commits himself to celibacy with full awareness and freedom, with several years of preparation, deep reflection and assiduous prayer. Only after he has come to the firm conviction that Christ grants him this 'gift', for the good of the Church and for the service of others. Only then does he commit himself to observe it for the rest of his life".

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict years later stated:

"The ministerial priesthood, through ordination, calls for full configuration to Christ. Respecting the different Eastern praxis and tradition, it is necessary to emphasize the profound meaning of priestly celibacy, (...) in which the dedication that conforms it to Christ and the exclusive offering of oneself for the Kingdom of God finds a particular expression. The fact that Christ himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission up to the sacrifice of the cross in a state of virginity constitutes a sure point of reference for understanding the meaning that this has in the tradition of the Latin Church. Therefore, it is not enough to understand priestly celibacy in merely functional terms. In reality, it represents a special conformity to the lifestyle of Christ himself."

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, today, continues to affirm:

"Personally, I believe that celibacy is a gift to the Church. Secondly I say that I do not agree with allowing optional celibacy, no." Interview, 27-01-2019

More about the priesthood and the work of CARF

The Centro Academico Romano Foundation, CARF, acts as a link between thousands of generous souls, willing to contribute financially with scholarships for priests and seminarians from all over the world to receive a solid theological, human and spiritual preparation.

The priesthood calls all Christians to reflect on the need to propose the means to ensure that no vocation is lost.

Each academic year (September-June)

+800

bishops from five continents

They request places and study grants for their candidates in the different faculties.