The Priesthood


1. What is the difference between a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor?

The differences are vast. A Catholic priest is validly ordained by a bishop in a line from the Apostles; a Protestant pastor is not. A Catholic priest can forgive your sins in the Sacrament of Confession; Protestant pastors don't even claim to be able to do that. A Catholic priest, most of all, can draw down the Presence of Jesus Christ into what appears to be bread and wine; and Protestant pastors cannot. In fact, many of them renounce that part of Christ's teachings as heresy. The differences between Catholic priests and Protestant pastors is as great as the difference between the Catholic Church and the Reformation.

2. Why do Catholics believe Jesus established a Christian priesthood?

Because the Bible teaches it and our Tradition has delivered this doctrine to us. When the last Passover Meal was being celebrated, Jesus offered the first Mass as priest, and commanded His Apostles to do the same. Well, you can't offer the Mass without being a priest, because the Mass is partly a sacrifice, and only priests can offer that to God. So His very command "Do this in remembrance of Me" is a command to the early Apostles to act as priests. And the Bible reveals other priestly actions that the Apostles and their successors were supposed to perform: forgiving sins, principally (John 20:22-24). They were also called to teach, baptize, and anoint the sick with oil, which, while not being strictly priestly actions as such, are best performed by a priest and logically imply that Jesus would have established a priesthood to do them on a professional basis. For all these reasons, we believe Jesus established a Christian priesthood, and our Tradition confirms it by speaking from the beginning in priestly terms about the Church's leaders and their roles in the Church. They simply would not do that, if the early Christians didn't believe in a Christian priesthood. But they did. And so do we.

3. There is no priesthood. All Christians are priests.

How can there be no priesthood if every Christian is a priest? You can't have it both ways, with no priesthood but everyone a priest. But I know what you mean; you mean there is no priesthood above the faithful. And that's where you're wrong. The Bible says there are priests above the faithful, and if it calls all Christians priests in some sense, that's not incompatible with what we teach, because all can be priests in one way but some be priests in a special way. We may all offer ourselves to God and sacrifice our own desires for His, and in that sense we are all priests, but we cannot all offer the Mass or forgive sins in Confession, and in that sense we are not all priests. The Bible shows this too: for in addition to teaching that all are priests in some sense, it also says that the Church's leaders must be ordained by the laying on of hands, for the sake of the ministry, and that's a separate role. So you've got to take all of what Scripture teaches, not just part of it; yes, all are priests, but no, not all have the priestly ministry that the Catholic Church receives from the Apostles in Scripture and in Tradition. In that ministry, a priest is something special.

4. There is no mediating priesthood. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man.

Jesus is the only mediator between God and man *in redeeming us by His death*. That's why the Bible says, "There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself a ransom for all." (1 Tim. 2:5-6) The word "mediator" in this passage is connected to Jesus' dying for the sake of all men, because it's only Jesus that could be given up for our redemption. You must know that if a Catholic or Orthodox priest died for you it could never be enough to ransom your soul; only Jesus could do that because He is God, and only God has power to re-direct the course of a man's soul toward heaven. But there can be other mediators in other senses, and St. Paul knows that. He himself said there were other mediators in other senses: "Now a mediator is not a mediator of one party only, but God is one." (Gal. 3:20) "The law was added because of transgressions...and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." (Gal. 3:19) Our priests mediate between one party and another when they forgive our sins in the name of God, and they do it by His power; in fact, that shows that Jesus is the only mediator of our redemption, because a priest can't forgive your sins except by Jesus' power and by God's action. You see, grace is a gift of God, and forgiveness is a grace; therefore a priest can only dispense that forgiveness because Jesus gives it as our only mediator and redeemer. And therefore our priests are not mediators in the sense precluded by 1 Tim. 2:5, but are mediators in a sense provided by what that passage teaches.

5. The New Testament never calls pastors priests, only elders.

It would not matter if it did not, because a word doesn't have to be in the Bible to be true. The New Testament never calls God a Trinity, but that word truly captures what the Bible says God is; in the same way, the word priest accurately conveys what the New Testament teaches that pastors are supposed to be: forgivers of sins and offerers of the Mass, things which require priesthood. And anyway, you are wrong that the New Testament never calls pastors priests. St. Paul said, "[I am] a servant of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, doing the work of a priest in the good news of God." (Romans 15:16 BBE)

6. I have read the Catholic Bible -- it changes the word elder to priest whenever it suits its purposes.

That's because our word priest *comes from* the Greek word for elder, and can be an accurate translation of it, depending on the context. The Greek term for an elder is presbyteros; usually, it means any kind of religious leader. See, for example, 2 Chronicles 34:29. When presbyteros comes into English, it sometimes gets abbreviated to priest, since that is what the Apostles and their successors were and are; other translations leave it as presbyter, or translate it as elder. Any of those can be legitimate ways of expressing the Greek term. But regardless of those translation issues, the Catholic Church clearly respects the Biblical terms, for when we ordain our priests, we ordain them either into the episcopate (bishops), which comes from the Greek term episkopos (1 Tim. 3:1), or into the presbyterate, which comes from the Greek word for elder. And our deacons also date back to Biblical times, for the Biblical word for a deacon is diakonos (1 Tim. 3:10). Thus all three levels of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church can be found in the Biblical Church. It is in fact Protestant churches that haven't kept to the Biblical Church structure in regard to priests, deacons, and bishops, and the need for valid ordinations of them all, ordinations which should go back in a straight line to the Apostles themselves, but which in Protestant churches only go back to the 16th century at best.

7. Why are Catholic priests celibate?

Because it's a good idea recommended by Jesus and His Apostles. In Scripture, Jesus was celibate, and so were some of the Apostles, at least those that didn't have wives previously. And Jesus promised that those that give up a wife and family for the sake of the kingdom of heaven will benefit from it both in this life and in the next (Luke 18:29). In Matthew 19:12, Jesus said, "For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." A eunuch is someone without genitals, but here Jesus uses the term as an image for people who do not use their genitals, i.e. do not have sex. And he says that whoever is able to accept this for the sake of the Kingdom of God should accept it. St. Paul also recommends celibacy: "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife." (1 Cor. 7:32-33) "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I." (1 Cor. 7:8) "For I would that all men were even as I myself." (1 Cor. 7:7)

8. Why can't women be priests?

Because priests act in the person of Christ, and Christ was a male. Look at the issue this way: in the natural order, there are differences between men and women. Women assume human nature as daughters, sisters, companions of men, and mothers; men assume human nature as sons, brothers, companions of women, and fathers. In this, men are a natural image of Christ -- the Son of Man, brother of Christians, spouse of the Church, and spiritual father of His disciples (Mark 10:24, John 13:33). By ordination, Christ calls men, already natural figures of His own image, and imbues the natural image with divine grace, adding to the image a vicar-ship, making them His vicarious images. This vicar-ship is what ?in persona Christi? means -- when the priest acts in the person of Christ, it is divine grace which makes his representation of Christ a channel of the real presence and action of Christ Himself.

Women are also called to be images of the spiritual life -- images of the Church, mother of Christians and spouse of Christ, and especially to be images of that woman most blessed of all women, beloved daughter of God and elder sister to every Christian, the virgin Mary. By their religious vows and by pledges of their virginity, women can become spiritual mothers and sisters to the wider Christian community. However, they cannot be ordained. The ordained ministry is set apart to be an image of the Son of Man. And therefore, it takes its expression from the natural image already present in the human race, and by grace perfects what nature supplies.

9. Jesus taught the equality of men and women.

So does the Church. But Jesus also never ordained a woman as a priest; therefore, neither does the Church. But I think what you mean is that women are not really equal if they can't be priests; I answer that that is not true. Equality doesn't require that all functions be available to all; otherwise men must truly suffer injustice, merely because they cannot become pregnant! No, but equality requires that things of comparable value be available to all, and this is certainly true, because heaven, of infinite value, is available to all men and women who believe. And here on earth, various ministries are available to all who believe; the Spirit calls each to their various services, and the fact that He gives some people some callings and other people other callings, is no grounds for crying out that He is unjust or unfair.

10. There should be no ordination process. Whoever feels called should be allowed to preach.

That's not what the Bible teaches. "how shall they preach unless they be sent?" (Romans 10:14-15) You can't just feel the call and become a priest without ordination; you have to be sent by the Church. Moreover, St. Paul didn't tell Titus to search the cities of Crete for men who've already made themselves preachers; he said to go and ordain men for service in every city (Titus 1:5), and Paul himself ordained elders in every city he preached in (Acts 14:23), he did not think ordination was a falsehood and every man a born preacher. Some Protestants teach the idea that everyone is pre-qualified to act as a minister without being ordained; but I want to know where the Scriptural evidence is, and how they answer the obvious disproofs contained throughout Scripture every time someone is ordained. For if that is unnecessary, why was it done? And if feeling called is enough, why do we not see people getting up and starting churches unbidden in Scripture? We do not see that because that doesn't reflect the way the Biblical Church worked. In the Bible, things worked as they do in Catholicism: the Pope or his bishops delegated missionaries to spread the Gospel and start up churches by Apostolic authority, passed on through the laying on of hands; and the missionaries called for bishops to come and ordain elders in every city, or, if they themselves were bishops, they ordained elders themselves. And that's how things should work today.