Abolish the priesthood?

By: Fr. Roy Cimagala

SOMEONE sent me an article that was proposing for the abolition of the priesthood. The reason behind are the many clerical scandals that have been plaguing the Church for years now, mostly in the US and other countries but also—at least a few cases—in the local scene.

Of course, my immediate reaction was that while it is unfortunate to hear about these scandals, abolishing the priesthood is not the solution at all to the problem. Rather, it will make things worse.

And that is because abolishing the priesthood is practically like abolishing the Church, or worse, abolishing Christ in our life, since the priest, in spite of his unworthiness, is the sacramental representation of Christ, head of the Church.

Abolishing the priesthood is like throwing the baby together with the bath water. Yes, we have to do something about what is wrong in these scandals. It may be a long, painful process, but it is all worthwhile. But what we cannot do is to abolish the priesthood.

The priest, of course, should be constantly aware of his sacramental identity and try his best to live up to that dignity. He should be keenly aware that with his ordination he is conformed to Christ as head of the Church, and not just a member of the Church capable of participating in the one sacrifice of Christ to his Father for our salvation.

His priesthood, which is called ministerial or hierarchical, is different from the common priesthood of the lay faithful of the Church that is based on his baptismal status, not only in degree but in essence. The priest acts “in persona Christi capitis,” in the person of Christ as head of the Church.

As such, he renews in the whole course of time till the end the very sacrifice of Christ, and everything else that is oriented to that sacrifice of Christ. He makes present the whole redemptive work of Christ.

The lay faithful who have the common priesthood do not have the power to renew this sacrifice. What their priesthood empowers them is to offer their whole life as a sacrifice to God, doing so by uniting their sacrifice with the sacrifice of Christ as renewed in the Mass that is celebrated by the priest.

Of course, human as we are, the priest will always have his own share of shortcomings, weaknesses, and yes, sin. This should not surprise anyone. Even Christ was not spared of Judas, one of his original apostles. But like anybody else, and in a sense, even more than anybody else, the priest should really take extreme care of his spiritual life.

The priest should be keenly aware that the lay faithful depend on them. How he is somehow determines how the lay faithful will be. If he is faithful to his identity as another Christ head of the Church, then the lay faithful will also most likely be like Christ as they should.

But such state of affairs should not make the priest feel superior to the lay faithful, but rather should keenly feel the duty to serve them, as Christ loved and served all of us by offering his life on the cross. Like Christ, he should have the attitude of wanting to serve and not to be served. (cfr. Mt 20,28)

He should never feel privileged, assuming the mentality of entitlement or falling into the anomaly called clericalism. Rather he has to assume the mind of Christ, a servant and a willing sacrificial lamb for all of us.

He has to continually wage a personal spiritual struggle to keep his priestly identity intact. For this, he has to continually purify himself and renew his dedication frequently.

Of course, it would be most helpful if the lay faithful will also help in making the priest a priest through and through, totally living out his sacramental identity as Christ head of the Church.

Email: roycimagala@gmail.com