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The essential role of the Catholic priest

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 Contents - Feb 2001AD2000 February 2001 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: New religion texts for Melbourne schools - Michael Gilchrist
Tasmanian priest to be Lismore's new bishop - AD2000 Report
Bishop Wilson of Wollongong to be the future Archbishop of Adelaide - AD2000 Report
News: The Church Around the World
New RE texts launched in Melbourne's Catholic schools - Michael Gilchrist
The finest RE texts produced to date - Anthony Cappello
Liturgy: when will the 'Statement of Conclusions' make an impact? - Michael Gilchrist
Religious persecution continues in Vietnam - AD2000 Report
The "priest shortage": natural or artificial? - Larry A. Carstens
Successful Thomas More Spring School in Wagga - Paul Sheehan
A former heroin addict's personal testimony
Archbishop Pell opens drug rehabilitation centre - Dr Joseph Santamaria
Letters: Feminist book (letter)
Letters: Church in China (letter) - Angela Martello
Letters: Limbo (letter) - John Young
Letters: Waste of resources (letter) - Shane Dore
Letters: Vocations (letter) - Mrs Irena Nagy
Letters: G.K. Chesterton (letter) - Tony Evans
Letters: 'Creating Our Future' (letter) - Mrs Jeanette Joseph
Letters: Consecrated life (letter) - Sr Mary Augustine Lane OP
Letters: New Age spirituality (letter) - Frances Grundy
Letters: Recipe for decline (letter) - K. Logan
Letters: Sermons (letter) - Bernie Lewis
Letters: Anti-Catholicism (letter) - Kevin Tighe
Letters: Christian art (letter) - Kim Portelli
Letters: Science and Christianity (letter) - Mrs Carol V. Phillips
Books: 'The Essence Of Feminism' by Kirsten Birkett - Catherine Sheehan (reviewer)
Books: 'The Sacred Liturgy', 'Discovering the Mass', by a Benedictine monk - Christopher Quinn (reviewer)
Books: 'Pope Pius XII: Architect For Peace' by Margherita Marchione - Michael Daniel (reviewer)
New patterns of religious vocations in France
Reflection: The essential role of the Catholic priest - Fr John A. Hardon SJ

By now, there must be as many definitions of the priesthood as there are dictionaries in print. But in the Catholic Church, the priest exists for one main purpose: to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass.

So true is this that, without the priesthood, there would not only be no Sacrifice of the Mass. There would be no Catholic Church. This may sound strange, even exotic. But the fact of life is that God became man in order to sacrifice Himself on the Cross by dying for the salvation of the world. Having died once on Calvary, He continues offering Himself in every Mass so totally that He would be willing to die every time that Mass is offered.

It is impossible to exaggerate this identification. The Catholic Church exists mainly that the Sacrifice of the Mass may continue to be offered from thousands of altars every day, even until the end of time. True, Jesus died only once physically. But every time that Mass is offered, He is ready and willing to die and offer His life for the salvation of the world.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of identifying Christianity with the Cross. The human race began to sin from the time of our first parents. It has continued sinning over the centuries in every part of the world. We can safely say that God would long ago have destroyed the world because of its sin, except that the Sacrifice of the Mass had been offered by now on thousands of altars through- out the world.

People may wonder why the Catholic Church so emphasises the importance of the Mass, or why Catholics are encouraged to assist at the Mass, not only once a week, but even every day. For those who have the faith, the reason is obvious.

To begin to appreciate the importance of the Catholic priesthood, we must first understand the tragedy of sin from our first parents to the present day.

The world has been spared the penalty it deserves because God became man, dying on the Cross on Calvary to redeem a sinful mankind. But His death on Calvary has been repeated, and is being repeated every time that Mass is being offered.

But then we ask the most important question: what makes the Mass possible? The Mass is possible only because Christ's death on Calvary is literally repeated in every Mass offered on Catholic altars throughout the world. This is not indulging in rhetoric. This is the literal truth! Except for the Mass, the justified anger of God would long ago have wiped out the human race because of its multitude of sins.

How we need the Mass! But there is no Mass without the priesthood. That is why Christ instituted the Sacrament of the priesthood, to ensure that His sacrifice on Calvary would be renewed and repeated in every Mass until the end of time. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Mass being offered on thousands of altars every day. Except for the Mass, I repeat, the world would long ago have been destroyed because of its sins.

That is the fundamental meaning of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Its daily oblation throughout the world ensures the appeasement of God in the face of a sin-laden world.

With acknowledgement to Inter Mirafica. Fr John A. Hardon SJ, a distinguished American Jesuit, who was a prolific writer of articles and books on the Catholic faith, died on 30 December 2000.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 14 No 1 (February 2001), p. 20

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