What does the Catholic Church teach about the Need for Priesthood?
The human race has always experienced the need of priests, that is, of men who, by the office lawfully entrusted to them, are mediators between God and humanity;
- whose entire duty in life embraces those activities which pertain to the eternal Godhead, and
- who offer prayers, remedies, and sacrifices in the name of society, which is obliged in very fact to cherish religion publicly,
- to acknowledge God as the Supreme Lord and first beginning,
- to propose Him as its last end,
- to offer Him immortal thanks, and
- to offer Him propitiation.
In fact, among all peoples, whose customs are known, provided they are not compelled to act against the most sacred laws of nature, attendants of sacred affairs are found, although very often they serve vain superstitions, and likewise wherever men profess some religion and wherever they erect altars, far from lacking priests, they venerate them with special honors.
Yet, when divine revelation shone forth, the sacerdotal office was distinguished by greater dignity; this dignity, indeed, in a hidden manner Melchisedech, priest and king [cf. Gen. 14:18], foretells, whose example Paul the Apostle refers [cf. Heb. 5:10; 6:20; 7:1-11, 15, to the person and priesthood of Jesus Christ.
But if the attendant of sacred things, according to the famous definition of the same Paul, is a man “taken from amongst men,” yet “ordained for men in the things that pertain to God” [Heb. 5:1], his office surely looks not to human and transitory things, however much they seem worthy of regard and praise, but to divine and eternal things. . . .
In the sacred writings of the Old Testament, when the priesthood was established by the norms which Moses, influenced by the instigation and urging of God, had promulgated, special functions, duties, and rites were attributed to it. . . .
The priesthood of the Old Testament derived its majesty and glory from nothing other than the fact that it foretold that priesthood of the New and eternal Testament given by Jesus Christ, namely, that established by the blood of the true God and of the true man.
The Apostle of the Gentiles treating summarily and briefly of the greatness dignity, and office of the Christian priesthood expresses his opinion in these words, as it were, in a nutshell: “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God [1 Cor. 4:1]
The Need and the Office, of the Priesthood, From the Encyclical, “Ad catholic) Sacerdotii,” December 20, 1935
Denzinger, Sources of Catholic Dogma: 2274
Photo by Catholic Church (England and Wales)