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Between The Everyday and The Eternal

You don't have to be a Catholic to know that priests play an indispensable yet mysterious role in mediating the sacred and profane, of witnessing to the extraordinary in the special, yet ordinary moments of everyday life. There is a reason why a recent comprehensive study found that almost all movies that have a religious figure feature a priest. Everyone knows a priest and his role. It doesn't matter if a person is Protestant, Catholic, some other religion or no religion. "Priest" and "priesting" translate across cultures and faith traditions. These concepts speak to us the way more specialized and clinical professional backgrounds and credentials do not.

Across human cultures, through the millennia, there is something unique and powerful about the role of "priest." There is a reason why the word translates so well into so many other religious traditions, including some of the world's most ancient religions that have nothing to do with Christianity. Priests are central to the human experience. The word quite intentionally means something very different from "minister." In both a theological and sociological sense, priests bridge the space between the everyday and the eternal.

The Catholic tradition is sacramental, and full of the conviction that community life and God's grace are expressed in real actions instituted by Jesus Christ. Within the Catholic tradition, priests re-present Jesus' actions and witness to the presence of the Lord in Eucharist, in Baptism, in the Word, and in countless other ways big and small.

Without the priest, John Paul II says, there is simply no Catholic Church.
Thanks to the ministerial priesthood, the faithful are made aware of their common priesthood and they live it (cf. Eph 4, 11-12); the priest reminds them that they are the People of God and makes them able to "offer spiritual sacrifices" (cf. 1 Pt. 2,5), through which Christ himself makes us an eternal gift to the Father (cf. 1 Pt. 3,18).

Without the presence of Christ represented by the priest, the sacramental guide of the community, this would not be an ecclesial community in its fullness. (Address of John Paul II to the Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Clergy, November 23, 2001, #2)

For this reason, the Second Vatican Council recommends that "parish priests ensure that the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the center and culmination of the entire life of the Christian community" (Decr. Christus Dominus, n. 30). Without Eucharistic worship as its beating heart, the parish dries up. (Address of John Paul II to the Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Clergy, November 23, 2001, #3)

Brother priests, we want to express our appreciation to you, who are our most important collaborators in the apostolate. Your priesthood is absolutely vital. There is no substitute for it. You carry the main burden of priestly ministry through your day-to-day service of the faithful. You are ministers of the Eucharist and ministers of God's mercy in the sacrament of penance. It is you who bring comfort to people and guide them in difficult moments in their lives. We acknowledge your work and thank you once again, urging you to continue on your chosen path willingly and joyfully. No one should be discouraged as we are doing God's work; the same God who calls us, sends us and remains with us every day of our lives. We are ambassadors of Christ." (John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, #4)

The sacraments, privileged moments in communicating the divine life to man, are at the very core of priestly ministry. Priests are especially conscious of being living instruments of Christ, the Priest. Their function, in virtue of sacramental character, is that of men complying with the action of God through shared instrumental effectiveness. (The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium March 19, 1999, Chapter 3, #1)