Tuesday, September 13, 2005

some highlights of the ordination and thoughts on the priesthood

As I have said, the ordination was a profound joy. One of the greatest things was having so many people whom I love there for me. The ordination was on Friday evening at 7:00. During the liturgy, I would characterize my feeling and temperment as a consciousness of being the object of deep love. My father chanted the Litany, with the invocation of saints (Mary, Joseph, John Baptist, Peter, Paul, George, Augustine, King Charles, John Donne, Constance and the Martyrs of Memphis, Benedict and Scholastica, all the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Monks, Hermits, and all the holy Cloud of Witnesses) as I lay prostrate before the altar. My mother and grandmother placed on me a stole and chasuble.

Saturday morning I said my first mass (of the Holy Spirit), with a group of about fifteen or so friends and family, with Deacon Thorpus (a sometime commentor here) serving. Also on Saturday, I gave my grandmother, who is ill, Unction, and I baptized four of my cousins. Sunday I celebrated and preached at both of the parish Eucharists, with Deacon Grubbs serving at the 11:00 Eucharist. Then I flew out Sunday afternoon, arriving home exhausted. Monday I slept till noon.

Some have asked for some thoughts on the priesthood. First, I believe in the "priesthood of all believers". Now before you shreak and faint, I also believe in a sacrificing ministerial priesthood. But the ministerial priesthood I see as a priesthood for the priests, i.e. the (ordained) priest is there to serve the (baptized) priest, and to equip him by means of ritual sacrifice for his work of helping to save the unbaptized world, again through offering the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart in union with the one perfect and sufficient oblation of the Lord Jesus. Blessed Michael Ramsey notes that in Mark chapter 3, the apostles are described as having been called from among a larger group of those called by Jesus. And those 12 were called for two things: 1) to be with Jesus, and 2) to be sent. ("He appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out...") I see the ministerial priesthood as being for the equiping of the saints, the members of the Church, all those called by the Lord Jesus. Equiping them for their work of saving and sanctifying the world by their union, through the Holy Spirit, with the Lord Jesus in his singular and salvific sacrifice to the Father.

Lastly, I see the priests as being tools, more or less inanimate (or animated -- qua priest -- only by the High Priesthood of the Lord Jesus) tools in the hand of the Church. Ronald Knox (in a post below, taken from Pontifications) gets at the heart of this when he talks about the ordinand lying on the floor during the Litany: lying, as it were, prone, inert, more as an object than as an active agency, than as a man. The priests hands have become hands at the disposal of the Church. Annointed hands to be utilized by all the faithful, hands that offer the Holy Sacrifice, hands to be raised in Absolution and Benediction. Hands, in short, to serve in sanctifying the Church, and equiping the saints for proclaiming, to the unbaptized, the gospel of our Lord, and him crucified.


koenigsfreunde said...

Again, congrats, Father WB, and may you have a long and blessed ministry. May the prayers of Paul, John Calvin, Martin Luther and Karl Barth (=:)accompany you in your preaching the gospel and your serving the sacraments.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Father. texanglican

J-Tron said...

Many warm congratulations on your ordination! And wonderful thoughts on the priesthood. I'm going to let them sit with me for a bit, but I think I'm in agreement.

One nitpicky question... Does the priesthood of all believers include men and women? If so, is there any difference in your opinion in the way that the ordained priest relates to the priesthood of the lay man as opposed to the priesthood of the lay woman?

Thorpus said...

A question about the terminology "priest". Why use that instead of presbyter or pastor or elder? I've heard 'priest' variously defined as one who sacrifices and as one who stands inbetween God and the people. Most Protestants (especially Lutherans) reject the title 'priest' for the latter reason, arguing that no one need stand intermediary between God and His people. The cult of the saints is rejected on similar grounds. Roman Catholicism, of course, emphasizes the sacrifice of the mass and that the priest is one who offers that sacrifice. WB, you lean in this direction, of course.

But is there more? It seems to me the theological identity of the priesthood in the Old Testament was not only related to sacrifice but also to the keeping and honoring of holy things, the preservation of proper worship, a pastoral role (e.g. Eli and Hannah), a prophetic role, later the custodian of the revealed scriptures (e.g. under Josiah), and the role of representing the people to God (e.g. Aaron's breastplate) and pronouncing His blessing upon the people.

Does all this apply to Christain priests today? Should one function like sacrifice take priority over others? I'm still hashing all this out myself.

Of course, the office of the priesthood and pastor today, across the spectrum of Christianity, contains all these things and more. What I'm asking about is not an empirical description of what that office does today, but a theological reflection on the definition of the identity of 'priest' and some hint at what priority that identity should take for priests/pastors today.

father wb said...

Thank you all for your congratulations and prayers. They mean a lot to me. They really do.

JT -- as to your question: yes, of course the priesthood of the baptized includes both men and women. As always, our paradigm and model is the Gospel, in which our Lord Jesus chose many (men and women) as disciples, and from among the many, separated out twelve men "to be with him and to be sent out..." I don't know why he chose only men, though I have some thoughts on the matter, but the fact remains that he did choose only men.

Priests in their humanward relation are icons of God, of the sacrifice of the Son to the Father. They are therefore appropriately (in my mind) only men, i.e. not because God is male, but because God reveals himself eternally as Father and Son (and Spirit), that is, he reveals himself as gendered (though in his essence, we know, he is not). And because his revelation (at least in Scripture) in some sense IS him -- efficit quod figuras -- we are constrained in our language about him by his language about himself. We are analogously constrained sacramentally, only our being bound by Scripture is elaborated and shaped by Tradition, which is universal and consistent regarding the point at hand.

While the priest in his humanward relation is an icon of Father and Son, so in his Godward relation he is a representative of the Bride of Christ, the Church, on which God pours out his grace and the very substance of his Son. The priest is, in a sense, therefore in his Godward relation, feminine. But one cannot conclude from this that we can ordain women -- precisely because it is in his Godward relation that the priest is feminine; his femininity, in other words, is only visible to God.

You might put it this way: God can (and does) ordain women -- namely, through Baptism -- as they are called as much as we are all called to offer the quotidian sacrifice. But we (that is, we creatures) can ordain only men, because we are ordaining icons of Father and Son. And these gender predicates have sacramental significance (i.e. we cannot say, as some try to say, that they are unimportant), because they are God's own word about himself. And that Word has always been heard by the Church (among other ways) in her making men priests. But in their Godward relation, ministerial priests do what all the baptized do: receive God's grace. They do it sacramentally, and ritually, but that doing of it only serves the REALLY important doing of it: in the sanctification of the Church, which is the seed of God's salvation germinating in the barren womb of the sinful world.

I understand that this view of things is a "gender essentialist" view, and I know that many on "the other side" resist such a view as oppressive. But I just cannot see the Economy of Salvation as assumptive of anything but gender essentialist categories about such things. I'm sorry, but I've tried and I just cannot. Men, as such, matter. Just so women, as such, matter. Why? Because made them as such and said that his men and women creatures were "good" as such.

father wb said...

Thorpus --

Yes, I agree with you. Its just that priest-as-offerer-of-sacrifice is what resonates most with me. Those are the terms within which I see the Christian priesthood, and even the ministry of all Christians. It is, partially, just about my personal piety. To put in in very Catholic terms: I have a strong devotion to our Lord's passion. My theological thinking is therefore constrained most by that devotion. But of course, that is by no means to disparage, nor even just to downplay, other aspects of ministry and priesthood. The priest is also pastor, prophet, absolver, blesser, etc. etc. But if one wants MY thoughts on the priesthood, one is going to get something about offering sacrifice.

Final disclaimer: I repudiate lutheran understandings of ministry that preclude a sacrificing, mediating, Christian priesthood. (I also call upon our Lady as Mediatrix and Coredemptrix. I'll explain myself later, perhaps.)

DDX said...

WB, is the mediation to which you refer between God and man (the people)? Paul did say in 1 Timothy 2:5 "...there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." I wonder if he meant "at least one" or "only one." Does that apply?

What interests me most in Paul's statement is that decades after His ascension, Jesus remains a "man." Could it be that He willingly sacrificed His pre-Bethlehemic estate to become "one of us" and remain so forever? That would certainly raise the bar on offering "sacrifice." If that's how it is, perhaps taking on flesh and blood was a greater sacrifice than offering it up.

I don't know about that or the priesthood. But whatever the role of priest is supposed to be, Jesus gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. One person (man or woman) can not be all of those with much good effect. Thorpus raises a good question..."what priority" since Christianity has long since abandoned that functional structure considered the clergy a "one man band." Who promoted that historically, the clergy or laity? DDX

father wb said...

DDX -- Yes & yes. There is only one mediator, one great High Priest. What I find so compelling are St. Paul's assertions regarding the life of Christ. It is no longer St. Paul who lives, but Christ who lives in him. For St. Paul, to live IS Christ. Why? Because St. Paul doesn't live with his own life any more. The life with which he lives is the divine life of Christ, the great High Priest, the offerer of the one, perfect, sufficient oblation and satisfaction. When Paul walks around, walking is animated by the life of Christ Crucified. For such a one it isn't POSSIBLE to proclaim anything but Christ Jesus, and him crucified. That is the Christian priesthood: the living proclamation of the very real life of Jesus IN OURSELVES. And the reality of Jesus means just that: the reality of Jesus -- crucified, risen, glorified.

And yes, I believe that Jesus's becoming flesh was an offering, namely God's offering to us. God gave to his creation his own substance by becoming what he made, by becoming meat. But then that very divine meat -- offered to us in Jesus's presence among us -- is offered again to the Father on the cross. That is most poignantly shown, I think, in John's gospel, with all the talk about Jesus being "lifted up." The divine initiatives are almost visible in John. Jesus comes *down* out of heaven, walks around, teaches, heals, and is then lifted *up* and ascends back into heaven from whence he came. But he takes with him the meat he assumed at the outset. But he also left with us recourse to that meat. "Take, eat: this is my meat. You make it too, in memory of me." What meat is "this"? His. In all that it, in fact, is. The flesh that the Son of God himself BECAME, and offered to the Father. An offering that the Father accepts. If, therefore, we do what Jesus commanded us to do, we offer (and receive) his own flesh, really and truly. The flesh that we offer is therefore the flesh offered (and accepted) for our sin.

And I do believe that the priesthood is one order within the Church, and that its primary purpose is to equip the saints for THEIR ministry. Equip them with what? With the only thing that matters: with the acceptable sacrifice of Christ's flesh broken, and his blood poured out.

But yes, they are to be called elders too. And perhaps that is the locus of their identity as givers of blessing. Pastors, too; and sharers in teaching and governance. But all to what end? So that at THE END, the whole Church may be brought in immaculate purity to the nuptial chamber of the Bridegroom, may be made one flesh with him, bearing in mind that the oneness of that (his) sacrificed flesh is acceptable to the Father.

The Church is all of those functional things: Apostolic, Evangelical, Pastoral, Prophetic, Magisterial. And certain of her members are called particularly to those ministries.

Jesus said...

Eat my meat.