Christ, the High Priest

What is a priest? He is more than just a man that dresses strangely and performs some arcane religious ritual. No, a priest is a man set apart to mediate between God and His people. A priest is one who performs sacrifice on behalf of the people, imploring God’s mercy and forgiveness.

In the Old Testament, the office of priest was reserved to one hereditary tribe: the Levites. They were responsible for the prescribed sacrifices to God on behalf of the Israelites. Unfortunately, the sacrifice of bulls, goats, and doves was insufficient to take away sin. Hence, the priests of old must continually offer sacrifice day after day, year after year. In this way, the Levitical order of priesthood has a temporary and incomplete character—one that parallels the incomplete and transient nature of the Old Covenant itself.

But we know that the Old Covenant has given way, has yielded, to a new and perfect Covenant—one ratified in the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Just as the Old Covenant is subsumed and fulfilled in the New Covenant, so too does the order of priesthood in the New – the order of Melchizedek – subsumes and fulfills the Levitical priesthood. If the Levitical priesthood is temporary and incomplete, this new order is perfect and eternal.

And it is to this new order of Melchizedek that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, belongs. He fulfills the inspired words of the Psalmist, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). St. Paul tells us that “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Christ is the high priest who stands between God and humanity. He offers a perpetual sacrifice most pleasing to the Father, a sacrifice that expiates all sin—the sacrifice of Himself. He is both Priest and Victim as St. Thomas affirms: “Christ, Himself…was not only priest, but also a perfect victim” (ST III, q. 22, a. 6, co.). By Christ’s sacrifice of Himself to the Father, “he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9).

St. Thomas commenting on Melchizedek, ascribes both the silence of Scripture on Melchizedek’s parentage and Him as “having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3), as a prefiguration of Christ’s eternal priesthood (ST III, q. 22, a. 6, ad. 3). In light of this, there needs only to be one priest—Christ is not limited by mortality as the Levites of old. He alone is sufficient. Moreover, because Christ’s offering is perfect, He needs only to offer Himself once. The one sacrifice on Cavalry is infinitely of more worth than the blood of sacrificial animals.

What about the priests that we call “Father?” Yes, he is a priest, too. But Fr. Joseph’s priesthood is a participation in the one high priesthood of Jesus Christ. Even the sacrifice that Father Joseph offers, the Holy Mass, is a participation in that one sacrifice of Christ.

But this is not limited to only the ordained. In His providence, Christ shares His great office with the Church. Just as in Baptism, we share in Christ’s Sonship, so too do we share in His priesthood. That’s right—all baptized Christians necessarily share in the common priesthood of Christ! We recognize, however, that Ordination conforms a man to Christ’s priesthood in a radical and particular way. But we must never forget our common baptismal priesthood: we all share in the responsibility of interceding for the needs of the Church, the world, and our neighbors, of offering our little sacrifices in union with Christ’s.

Br. Peter Pius Chu, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE