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No Eucharist Without the Priesthood
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Among the maxims of Pope John XXIII was the exclamation of St. Augustine, O wonderful the dignity of priests; in whose hands the Son of God is made flesh as in the womb of the Virgin.
It is this truth of our faith that over the centuries has sustained the Catholic Church in her loyalty to Christ and His teaching. It is also this mystery of faith which lies somewhere near the bottom of the crisis through which the Church is now passing, especially in the academically sophisticated western world.
What is the Eucharist?
In the solemn language of the Council of Trent, the Eucharist is Jesus Christ. Once the words of consecration are pronounced by the priest, what had been bread and wine cease to be bread and wine. Their substance becomes the whole Christ (totus Christus).
Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who became incarnate in Marys womb at Nazareth, was born in a stable at Bethlehem, died on the cross in Jerusalem, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven - this same identical Jesus Christ, with all that makes Christ, Christ - is now contained under the appearances of bread and wine. The substance of bread and wine are changed into the whole Jesus Christ, God and man, with all the substance and properties that belong to a human body and soul.
What is the priesthood?
The priesthood is the sacrament which Christ instituted at the Last Supper.
Everything in the priesthood depends on these facts of our faith:
We say correctly that on Holy Thursday night Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. That is true, but it is true only because, at the Last Supper, Christ instituted the priesthood without which there would be no Eucharist:
Over the centuries, the single most devastating error to plague the Church primarily as Catholic Christianity has been the denial of subtle doubt about the basic dignity of the priesthood. What is this basic dignity? It is the awesome power that Jesus gave the Apostles and, through them, to bishops and priests:
By the end of the sixteenth century there were some 200 interpretations of Christs words, This is my Body this is my Blood. Those interpretations have multiplied beyond number in our day. They are also an index of catholicity. They show how close to or distant from the Church founded by the Savior is any church or denomination.
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