The Power of the Priesthood
I’ve written in praise of the Catholic priesthood occasionally in the past, but I came across a passage in the book of Wisdom recently which highlights once again the august nature of this calling.
One of the great themes of this book is that while God punishes both Israel’s enemies and Israel itself, He punishes the former severely while applying similar but lesser punishments to Israel in order to teach His great mercy. In chapter 18, the sacred author recounts both the unstoppable death of the Egyptian first-born on the night of the Passover and the plague visited upon Israel when the people murmured against Moses and Aaron in the desert. In contrast to the Egyptian situation, the death of God’s people was able to be stopped by their priests:
The experience of death touched also the righteous, and a plague came upon the multitude in the desert, but the wrath did not long continue. For a blameless man was quick to act as their champion; he brought forward the shield of his ministry, prayer and propitiation by incense; he withstood the anger and put an end to the disaster, showing that he was thy servant.
He conquered the wrath not by strength of body, and not by force of arms, but by his word he subdued the punisher, appealing to the oaths and covenants given to our fathers. For when the dead had already fallen on one another in heaps, he intervened and held back the wrath, and cut off its way to the living.
For upon his long robe the whole world was depicted, and the glories of the fathers were engraved on the four rows of stones, and thy majesty on the diadem upon his head. To these the destroyer yielded, these he feared; for merely to test the wrath was enough. (Wis 18:20-25)
This is a remarkable testimony to the power of the priesthood, that not even the avenging angel sent by God would dare to transgress the limits fixed by God’s priests.
The Catholic priesthood has this same power in a more perfect form, for all things are fulfilled in Christ. While Aaron foreshadows the priesthood of Jesus Christ, Catholic priests participate in that priesthood and act in persona Christi. And while Aaron was able to stave off physical death, the Catholic priest has power over spiritual life for all eternity: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:19; 18:18)
While no good angel wishes to gainsay the priest, the fallen angels must of necessity bow before him. We have a great treasure here, an awesome gift which we too seldom acknowledge. May our priests be ever mindful of their dignity and power, secure in the knowledge that when they say to evil, "You have no dominion here," they speak in the power of Christ. Before the word and sacrament of the priest, evil has no choice: it must, at that very instant, cease to work its death.
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