The Priest as Alter Christus
Last week I wrote about how both Marriage and the Priesthood are calls to service, but what kind of service? What does the priesthood of Jesus Christ look like? The priest is ordained to be alter Christus, “another Christ,” both in celebrating the sacraments and in the way He lives His life. He is called to serve as Christ served, by laying down His life for the flock.
In his book on the priesthood, Fr. Jean Galot, S.J., writes, “If the priest is ‘another Christ’ in a special way, this is due not to a merely juridical delegation but to the figure of Christ Priest and Shepherd impressed in His soul.” In His ordination the priest is conformed to Christ as priest and shepherd, and this is why He is able to offer the Mass, to forgive sins, to bless, and to make Christ present for the people. The job of the priest is to be a middle man, or go between, to bring the people to God and to bring God to the people. It is not the priest who forgives sins, it is God who forgives sins through the priest.
There was an ancient heresy that only a holy Priest is able to offer the sacraments. Can you imagine if that was true? You would constantly be wondering, “Is this priest really holy? Am I really baptized? Are my sins really forgiven? Was that Mass valid?” No, it’s not the holiness of the priest that allows him to offer the sacraments, it is his ordination and the fact that God works through the priest.
But the priest isn’t only called to offer the sacraments; he is also called to live them. In the rite of ordination, after the gifts are brought up for the Mass, the bishop hands them to the new priests and says, “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” The priesthood is not about power, authority, and privilege. It’s about conforming our lives to Christ, and offering our lives, as He did, to bring people closer to God. None of us are perfect, and all of us fail to live up to our calling in one way or another, but, by the grace of God, may we come closer and closer to it every day.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.