Every day we present a short point that helps bring into focus the treasures of the Roman Catholic Church that comprise the great Deposit of Faith.
It is no secret that over the past thirty years fewer and fewer know their Faith and it shows with the declining number of vocations, parish participation and attendance at Holy Mass. We have the new Catechism of the Catholic Church but for the common man, the one brought up on sound bites and instant gratification, it is more of a text book and that in itself prompts them to shy away from such a tome. So what's a loyal Catholic to do in evangelizing to fellow Catholics and understand their Faith? Our answer: go back to basics - to the great Deposit of Faith. We have the Baltimore Catechism which, for unknown and ridiculous reasons, was shelved after Vatican II. We have the Holy Bible but there are so many newer versions that the Douay-Rheims and Confraternity Latin Vulgate in English versions, the ones used for so long as the official Scriptural text authorized by the Church, seem lost in a maze of new interpretations that water down the Word. This is further complicated by the fact there are so few Douay-Rheims editions in circulation though it is available on the net at
DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE. We have so many Vatican documents available at the Vatican web site and other excellent Catholic resource sites that detail Doctrine, Dogma and Canon Law. We have the traditions, and the means of grace but how do we consolidate all these sources into one where it is succinct and easy to understand? We have the perfect vehicle. It is called "My Catholic Faith", now out of print, that was compiled by Bishop Louis Laravoire Morrow and published by My Mission House. This work ties in Scriptural references, the Sacraments, Dogmas, Doctrines, Traditions, Church documents, Encyclical and Papal decrees to clearly illustrate the Faith in simple, solid and concise terms that all can understand and put into practice. We will quote from this work while adding in more recent events and persons when applicable since the book was written in the late forties during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII.
Nothing in Holy Mother Church's teaching has changed and therefore we feel confident that these daily "points of enlightenment" will help more Catholics better understand their faith, especially those who were not blessed with early formation of the faith in the home and their parish school. Regardless of where any Catholic is in his or her journey toward salvation, he or she has to recognize that the Faith they were initiated into at the Sacrament of Baptism is the most precious gift they have been given in life.
"Thou art a priest forever"
The priesthood is the highest dignity on earth. The dignity of a priest surpasses that of emperors, and even of angels. No angel can convert the bread into the Body of Christ by the mere power of his word; nor can any angel forgive sins. The priest stands between God and man. He is God's representative, God's ambassador. Therefore whatever honor we pay to the priest, we render to God Himself. Saint Francis of Assisi said that if he met an angel and a priest at the same time, he should salute the priest first. Priests, especially parish priests who assist the bishops in the care of souls, are the captains in the great army that is the Church.
Parish priests receive their orders and jurisdiction from the bishop, and are bound to
carry out his commands. In the parish the parish priest represents the bishop, and no one may, without his consent or the bishopís, exercise spiritual functions there, such as marrying, baptizing, preaching, burying, giving extreme unction, etc. All sacramental duties are the priest's alone but an ordained deacon authorized by the bishop may perform marriages, the last rites and preaching but not the Sacrament of Confession or the Holy Eucharist.
A vicar forane (called also urban and rural dean) is a parish priest having supervisory power in the name of the bishop over neighboring parishes. A vicar-general is the chief among the officers of a diocese. Parish priests of large districts have priests helping them, called curates, assistants, or associate pastors.
The duties of parish priests are many, varied, and of great responsibility.
Like all priests, they are pledged to lifelong celibacy. Daily they must recite the Breviary, the priestsí prayer book, which requires about an hourís time. On account of these heavy responsibilities all Catholics have the obligation to pray for their priests, and to help them as much as possible.
A parish priest and his curates have to visit the sick of the parish any time of the day or
night. He has to give the last sacraments to the dying, however contagious or repellent the disease. He hears confessions hour after hour. He must renounce the world with all its amusements for the love of God. As shepherd of his flock, he is responsible to God for the souls of those committed to his care. On the day of judgment, he has to render a strict account of his stewardship.
Priests who belong to a religious order have different regulations than Diocesan priests. While they are still responsible to the bishop of their see, they are also responsible to their superior at the provincial level and the general level. Priests of religious orders such as Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, Jesuits, Oblates, Servites, etc. all take three vows - the Vow of Chastity and Obedience like the Diocesan priests, but also the Vow of Poverty. This way they do not, as is normally the case, earn a stipend salary like a Diocesan priest but rather are dependent on the Order and communal property is shared with the bare minimum encouraged to practice the virtue of poverty. This is especially true of the Franciscans who were founded on that rule. Religious priests have the same requirements Diocesan priests do in regards their daily prayers, etc. and often head parishes, staff schools and other Catholic institutions.
No matter the duties of a priest, it is not something someone attains to overnight. It takes a minimum of six to seven years major seminary studies in Theology and moral theology plus philosophy and other studies in preparation for the priesthood. Religious priests undergo a period of time called Novitiate during this preparation, something Diocesan candidates do not go through. Religious also take the tonsure and the steps to the priesthood called Minor and Major Orders which we will cover in detail later on. Suffice it to say, the words of David from the Lord in Psalm 110: 4, ring true: "Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedec."
tomorrow: The Sacrament of Holy Orders