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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 Mary’s 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:

  • That at the Last Supper, Christ literally and therefore physically changed what had been bread and wine into His Incarnate Self.

  • That at the Last Supper, Christ offered His human life to His Heavenly Father in a sacrifice that would be completed on Calvary.

  • That at the Last Supper, Christ conferred on the Apostles the twofold power of Transubstantiation and of continuing the Sacrifice of Calvary, the Mass, until the end of time.

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:

  • Eucharist as Real Presence

  • or as Holy Communion

  • or as the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Prevalent errors

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:

  • to bring the Incarnate Son of God to earth, in the Eucharist, and

  • to offer Jesus to His heavenly Father in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

By the end of the sixteenth century there were some 200 interpretations of Christ’s 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.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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