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Introduction to the Priesthood Book
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
There is nothing in Catholic Christianity that is either more distinctive or more important than the priesthood. When Christ ordained the Apostles on Holy Thursday night, He promised them that they would continue in their priestly work until the end of time. While the word priest is widely used, in the Catholic Church the priest is the one who carries on the work that God became man to establish.
There is nothing, therefore, that more clearly distinguishes the Catholic Church from other religious bodies for twenty centuries than the priesthood. On Catholic terms, the priesthood was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper, when He ordained the Apostles as the first priests of Christianity. We can honestly say that the priesthood distinguishes the Catholic faith from all other religious bodies in the world. A priest is one whom Christ Himself has chosen to carry on His work until the end of time. The Catholic priest has the unique power of changing bread and wine into the living Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Catholic priest has the unique power of absolving sinners and reconciling them with an offended God.
The priesthood, therefore, is uniquely an institution that Christ Himself established when He ordained the Apostles on Holy Thursday night. Every priest in the Catholic Church traces his origin to that first ordination by Jesus at the Last Supper.
What powers did Jesus give to the priests He ordained? He gave them three unique powers that have not changed in twenty centuries. A Catholic priest has the unique power of reconciling sinners with a God from whom they have become estranged by sin. A Catholic priest has the awesome power of taking bread and wine into the Living Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ. A Catholic priest, as ordained bishop, has authority to guide and govern the people of God by the unique authority which they receive in ordination.
That is why the Catholic Church depends so absolutely on her priests. The Church exists only where there are priests validly ordained to exercise the power that Christ has given them in their priesthood. Every break in Catholic unity for two thousand years has been a departure from what Christ instituted at the Last Supper. There is only one true Church in the world, that is the church which has priests who trace their origin to the Apostles whom Christ ordained on Holy Thursday night.
In the pages (articles) that follow, we shall describe the role of priests from a variety of angles. But the fundamental issue is that the Catholic Church exists only where there are priests whose priesthood goes back to Christs words to His Apostles, Do this in commemoration of me.
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