***The following post was written by now Fr. Joshua Duncan on an old site for the Jefferson City Seminarians, which has since been migrated to this site and taken down.***
Recently on my Facebook page, I wished all the “Spiritual Fathers” a Happy Fathers day because of all the wonderful work they do for all of us. I was met with a comment that suggested the misunderstanding of what it means to be a priest.
“Having been raised Catholic, I must say that the idea of having to go to a “priest” as a mediator between God is false doctrine. As believers in Christ we are all priests.”
Initially I took this statement as a question about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, however, after rereading it a couple times I felt as though I should take a broader look rather than focus specifically on the sacrament – after all it wasn’t really mentioned.
Through many other comments, the implicit question of “Sola Scriptura” was also raised, so I felt as though this could also be addressed in my response to the above comment.
Here’s what I ended up presenting in what is known as a “Facebook Note” (similar to a blog post, but much less formal).
“In persona Christi capitas”
The first thing we need to unravel more is what exactly the term “priest” is…
The term “priest” means “one who presides over a sacrifice and offers that sacrifice and prayers to God on behalf of believers.”
-Back in the OT, the men of the tribe of Levi were called “priests” (they offered sacrifices of bulls and goats to God again and again)… however the sacrifices of these men were not sufficient to forgive the sins of the people, which is why Christ came.
-“Catholic priests offer the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, wherein he died two thousand years ago and rose from the dead. Catholics believe that the Mass is the perpetuation in time of the one eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”
(Above are either direct quotes or a summary take from “To Save A Thousand Souls” by Fr. Brett A. Brannen)
–Basically, what the above is saying is that though the sacred power bestowed upon the Catholic priest, the priest helps to perpetuate, in time, the eternal sacrifice of Christ, here on this earth. – This is during what is known as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. (Also another reason why Catholics call their “service” Mass, not Church. Church is a building, or a common community of people.)
–In Catholic theology, Saint Thomas Aquinas expresses, “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.” Thus, Catholic clergy share in the one, unique, Priesthood of Christ. –Similar to #1545 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
-By virtue of his ordination and the sacred power entrusted to him, a priest acts “in persona Christi capitas”, in the person of Christ, the head [of the church].
-In conjunction with celebrating the Holy Mass, priests also are held with carrying out the other Sacraments instituted by Christ.
-Priests also pray with and for the people of God. This phrase is where many can get hung up with the fact that “Oh I don’t need a priest to pray for me, I can pray myself or with some friends.” While this statement can be necessarily true, in the context of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments, the priest is the one offering up the prayers for the people or acting “in persona Christi capitas” where prescribed.
-Priests preach the Gospel of Christ. Another one where some get hung up on… It is very true that it is our Christian duty to all be preachers of the Gospel of Christ – whether it be by word or action. The one thing you have to look at on a deeper level is that this very fact does not make a priest a priest. It is however an important component, especially when preaching the Gospel at Mass, but as you very well know, Deacons are also able to preach the Gospel at Mass. We all preach the Gospel in some way in our own lives – within a Bible study context, living out our Christian lives, etc. You just have to go back and look at the first statement I posted, the definition of a priest.
Now I realize that there are many other topics of priests’ “sacred powers” (coming from Christ Himself) that many people have trouble with understanding… the most popular being the forgiveness of sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation… but the main point to take away from this is that every person has their place in the Body of Christ. Some of us are called to be apart of that community participating in Mass, while others are called to the priesthood.
In regards to “spiritual fatherhood”, there are many places where St. Paul himself refers to others as his children. See 1Cor 4:14, Gal 4:19, Eph 6:1, Col 3:20. St. John also refers to his children in 1John 2:1, 2:12, 2:18, 3:7, 3:18, 5:21.
Another important point discussed was the fact that Catholics do believe in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. (It is important to know the difference between “Tradition” vs. “tradition” -which I’m not going to get into). Only believing in “Sola Scriptura” poses many problems, sometimes even dangerous problems. I am going to include a few links of some websites I found very helpful, mainly because I don’t want to “recreate the wheel”, or try and restate something that is already stated in a helpful way.
What Catholics Believe about Sacred Scripture:
“As with other doctrine, too often non-Catholics never take the time to read what the Catholic Church truly teaches about the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. They have only too often accepted uncritically what her antagonists say she teaches. The following, therefore, is a selection from the most up-to-date reliable source—the Catechism of the Catholic Church—on what the Catholic Church teaches on Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, the Deposit of Faith and the authority behind how Scripture is to be interpreted.”
The Practical Problems With Sola Scriptura:
“Simply stated, the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”) teaches that every teaching in Christian theology (everything pertaining to “faith and practice”) must be able to be derived from Scripture alone. This is expressed by the Reformation slogan Quod non est biblicum, non est theologicum (“What is not biblical is not theological,” cf. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, Richard A. Muller, Baker, 1985).”
Searching for Authority:
“Only the Catholic Church truly represented visible and doctrinal unity. The alternative to Catholicism was doctrinal chaos and no unity. The Reformers had decided according to their own judgement which parts of the Catholic faith to keep and which to reject; their followers continued the process of revising, and then the results were codified as revealed truth. The authority of the Catholic Church was simply replaced by the authority of Luther or Calvin. In the liberal denominations the fall was even worse; the principle of revealed truth was replaced by theological pluralism, the absolute belief that there are no absolute truths. Yet in both, the Church’s authority was replaced by the individual’s, and the visible church became nothing more than a collection of individuals.”
Logic and Foundations of Protestantism:
“But when I got down to making a serious attempt to explore the implications of this rock-bottom dogma of the Reformers, I could not avoid the conclusion that it was rationally indefensible. This is demonstrated in the following eight steps, which embody nothing more than simple, commonsense logic, and a couple of indisputable, empirically observable facts about the Bible:”
…Never underestimate the seemingly intimidating power of the Catholic Catechism! For which if there is a question, then there is an answer…sometimes it just might require digging. And there’s always the ever knowledgeable priests in our midst, or those who are learned in the faith who can help explain! It’s better to question and get answers than to remain indifferent and ignorant.
Peace & God Bless!
…and if you were interested how the rest of the comments/conversations went, we further discussed the concepts of purgatory, working out salvation, and still-to-be discussed in great length is the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the all-famous question, “Why do we have to tell our sins to a priest? I just tell mine straight to God and that works for me.”
To Be Continued…