Many years ago, my good friend, Father James Tierney, of Catechism and Newman Centre fame, forecast the attack on the Catholic Priesthood, which has now well and truly come to pass. I am referring to the attack by Church members themselves on the nature and necessity of the priesthood.
Like good doctors in their field, we must diagnose the cause for today's lack of appreciation of the priesthood as being of the essence of the Church. My reason for writing on this subject is the widespread idea that the priesthood is simply another 'role' among the many, just a different ministry, no more or less important than any other. Incidentally, there are only two official lay ministries in the Church: acolyte and lector.
Our diagnosis leads us to the discovery that there is a misunderstanding of the nature of grace, and, consequently, a huge silence about it. To understand the priesthood, we need to know about grace. Grace is as essential to Church members as air is to lungs.
Grace (gratia, a free gift) is an ocean full of various riches from God, but simplicity and brevity require that we define it here as that free gift of God by which, forgiving sin, He comes to dwell in the soul of the person with the necessary dispositions. God's grace was first lost in the First Sin, and by anyone who commits mortal sin, that is, completely turns away from God. Now, sin is a refusal to love God or neighbour and can be repaired only by God's love making up for it. That infinite act of Divine Love was made when God Incarnate died on the Cross. That act is the source, or outlet on earth, of God's forgiveness and the gift of Himself to us - grace.
It is clear, then, that the central act and source of Christianity is the act of love of God the Son dying on the Cross. That is where all grace comes from. Now, that grace was for all men of all times and nations, and so the act which produced it had to be not only remembered, but continued, so that human beings, who experience through the senses first, would be able to have visible contact with that very act of saving love. That act of love was a priestly act of Sacrifice, offered by Christ the High Priest. It could be continued in the world only by those taken up into His Priesthood, which happens through the Sacrament of Order. The Mass, of course, is the action of Christ continuing His saving act of love, and so it is the source of Divine Life, grace, on earth. So the matter is clear: no priest, no Mass; no Mass, no grace; no grace, no Church.
There are plenty of examples today of people who should know better telling us that we have to make arrangements for a Church with no priests, but make virtually no arrangements for encouraging priestly vocations. (Closing things down is not the Holy Spirit's way!) The Catholic Church without the Mass and Priesthood ceases to be the Pillar and Ground of Truth, preserving Revelation and the means of Salvation given us by the historic Incarnate Son of God, and becomes just another vague denomination upholding an amorphous hero all but lost in the mists of time.
By the restoration of sacrifice and prayer in family life, Magisterium-centred teaching in schools, seminaries based on the instructions of the Second Vatican Council, Christ-minded priests devoutly and obediently celebrating Mass, we shall see men inspired to the priesthood, and the shortage, if such really exists, will soon end.
May God forgive those who insult Jesus Christ by putting down the essential role of His Priesthood.