Friday, August 15, 2008

A Priesthood of One

In my daily Bible readings, I'm currently going through the book of Hebrews. As Hebrews could be considered one of the more weighty and controversial of the books of the New Testament in terms of its dense theological pronouncements (up there with Romans and James in my own estimation), it's certainly no small task to make one's way through it (I'm very much a one-book-at-a-time, all-the-way-through-it kind of Scriptural reader). Anywho, today I read from chapter 7, which discusses Christ as a high priest from the order of Melchizedek (in short, a non-Levitical King/Priest ordained directly by God rather than by birthright). What stood out to me was the following passage:
[23] The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, [24] but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. [25] Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
It struck me that, as Christians, we are differentiated from the Jews in that we have no need of a formal priesthood to intercede for us or provide access to God, because Christ fulfills this role wholly and perfectly in a way that the human High Priest only incompletely did for the Jews. Now, don't misread what I'm saying to be a knock at formal orders of clergy per se -- there is certainly Biblical precedent for some kind of hierarchy and dedicated Church leadership. Perhaps referring to it as a "priesthood" is part of the problem, however, given the context of these verses. Human beings yearn for human shepherding, which is comprised in part by teaching, comforting, leading, training, etc.; and I believe that is the role fulfilled by pastors, priests, deacons, bishops, and other clergy members across all denominations. But only Christ alone provides us with unfettered access to God the Father, and in a way that is far more glorious than any human ever could.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Marty said...

Very nice post, Ben. That Melchizedek is one mysterious dude. Of course, we Catholics have priests who can perform certain sacramental duties that lay people cannot. But in all cases, these are duties. These restricted duties have mostly to do with the concept of apostolic succession. Deacons and lay people can actually administer many very important sacraments. And lay people are encouraged to be involved in all the sacraments. They are essential to the mission and ministry of the Church.

One of the big exceptions, of course, is the Eucharist. The priest is not the magical enchanter who changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. But he performs, in the eyes of the Church, an essential role. It seems minor, as in a "presider", but the priest is there as a representative of the Apostles, who were commanded by Christ to engage in this memorial.

But we are also taught that we, the people are the Body of Christ. This sacrament, the symbolic part of it, is meant to show us the mystical way that this is true.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Your comment reminds me of a revelation about myself I recently had. As a protestant evangelical, I don't technically have a dog in the fight over who serves Communion at a Catholic Mass. My understanding is that there are some liberalizations ongoing that allow deacons to perform a lot of the duties of priests, partly in an effort to accommodate the shortage of priests, and partly in ever-encroaching "reform" of the liturgy. In fact, just logically speaking, if I WERE to have a dog in that particular fight, it probably ought to be on the side of the "reformers", as that would bring Catholicism incrementally closer to my own strain of Christian practice. And yet, whenever I read about liturgical reforms like this, I cringe. Moreover, whenever I hear about various efforts at "restoring the Liturgy" to its former place of prominence, I cheer a little bit inside. Now this is definitely not some crypto-Catholic inside of me, so don't get your hopes up there, but I do think that's the hard-core conservatism speaking inside me. It really is that deep in me.

The one exception to this for me is the Latin Mass. I really do think going back to that is indefensible. No offense.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Marty said...

I think a lot of the reforms, particularly those regarding increased participation in the Mass by Deacons and lay people, are good and are part of the Church's program to bring the Mass back to what it was in much earlier times. Deacons much more frequently participate in the Mass and preach during the Mass. They, of course, cannot perform the consecration of the Bread and Wine.

Deacons may perform baptisms and marriages and, in some cases, confirmations. They may also administer the anointing of the sick ("last rites"). AFAIK, the only sacraments they cannot perform are the consecrations, hearing confessions, and giving Holy Orders. Lay people may also perform some sacraments (baptism under some circumstances, and there may be other cases) and can participate more in others (e.g. distributing communion). This is all good.

I like the Latin Mass and would like to hear it said more often, but *not* as a regular thing. More as a "special devotion" that could be done for people who understand the Mass, have some understanding of Latin, and like the beauty of that way of praying.

Some other reforms (many of which are not officially sanctioned) are not my cup of tea. I think women should wear veils at Mass.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Hey, man, that's Biblical!

Believe it or not, there is a minor internal struggle within me over that. After all, I claim to be all sola scriptura, and could arguably be accused of "cafeteria Christianity" if I let my wimmins prance about uncovered in church. My gracious, lovely, and wise bride actually told me that if I, as the spiritual head of the household, demanded such of her, she would accede to it. I have not done so... yet. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't conflicted about it.

Thanks for the brief tutorial on sacramental duties. I'm sure I was taught that in Freshman religion (I probably knew as much as a young Catholic going thru confirmation, given the rigor of the courses we took each day), but have long since forgotten.

You lose bonus points for not calling it "extreme unction", though.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

I was just deferring to your expressed distaste for Latin.

I am sure your wise, beautiful, and obedient bride would acquiesce to your decision as head of the house. The question would be, as it always is with women, what would you have to give her in return? For even if she agrees with your decision, because you asked for something from her, she would ask for something from you. But, of course, it won't be a negotiated quid pro quo. You might not actually get to know what you're supposed to give back. And then it will be your fault.

I hope God understands.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Well, if what I learned in Men's Fraternity (that's a post unto itself) is true, she'd respect me more in the long run for stepping up and taking charge.

And I don't have a distaste for Latin per se. After all I took two years of it, and it's a beautiful language. AND I accept your comments about having an optional Latin service, as personally, I really love listening to, for example, Gregorian chant. I meant it strictly in the context of Latin-only for ALL Mass, which would deprive all but the tiniest fraction of a sliver of a minority of a mote of a speck of the population of the beauty of God's Word during Mass. Heck, even I'D go to an occasional Mass just to hear it in the "old fashion". VERY occasional, mind you, sorta like going to the opera of symphony. But still.

Also, while Latinate, "extreme unction" is an archaic anglicization. So nyah.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

opera "or" symphony, I meant to say.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

How did I know you'd make that "archaic anglicization" comment? There are many words even be in English if they weren't "archaic anglicizations" of what something or other was called in the Latin Rites, particularly if there are other perfectly good words for them in good old Anglo-Saxon. One of the reasons I love the KJV is because it has so many Anglo-Saxon words in it, like "smote".

But back to your wife's veil, I think she may ask you to get tonsured. She'll at least strongly hint. And male pattern baldness, from which you do not currently suffer, doesn't count.

You really need to learn a little more about music.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

My turn for oops. In the above, I meant:

"There are many words that wouldn't even be in English if they weren't "archaic anglicizations"..."

3:55 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I didn't mean that as a dig at the symphony or opera or anything. Just that I rarely attend cultural events of any sort. Which is what attending a Latin Mass would be for me -- a cultural event. That's all I meant by that.

4:11 PM  

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