On the Altar of Salvation: The Cult of the Catholic Priesthood

During the greatest moment of the Liturgy

The notion that there is God who created everything, and, in whose mercy, humanity is sustained is not just a philosophical speculation or an unproven dogma. It is an axiomatic truth that is self-evident to all rational persons. Interestingly, it is a truth that is not taught is classes and not necessarily part of the scientific curriculum, but to all minds who have the potentiality of rational thoughts, it is crystal clear that a well ordered universe such as this, with all that is in it, that could be taken out of it, multiplied, germinated and grown, cannot be a product of chance but an evidence of a supernatural wisdom that can barely be understood by ordinary, natural entities.

In solemn obedience to God's request: 
'take this all of you and eat, this is my body'

The Bible or the Qur’an or any other religious documents available to scholarship is not a prove of the existence of God. Therefore, reading the Bible through whatsoever perceived historical, geographical, cultural or biographical incompleteness is not a testimony to the notion that ‘God may not exist’ or that ‘religion is a scam’ like many ignorantly claim. The most resonating evidence of the existence of God is the presence of Man, himself!

Blessing the Altar with incense (Rev. 8:4)

Faith Practice, therefore, is man’s attempt, in his wisdom, to adore the magnificence of his Creator, whom he has come to see as the true source of life. In Faith Practice, man units himself with God in an accord that in-turn bestows on man a dignity of incomparable worth. The attempt to erase Faith Practice from the attitude of man, with the objective of elevating man, is the greatest paradox of all time. Man’s true dignity comes in his ability to do all things through Christ that strengthens him!

Bishop Ayah, blessing the people God 
entrusted into his care

Faith Practice has been part of man, billions of years since man was ‘born’ and man has always enjoyed communion with his creator through his Faith Practice. But, the most tsunamic revelations in the history of man has been the Faith Practice of the Jews, from which the Christian Faith emerged after death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – a Perfection that was formally known as man but later revealed as God in the fullness of all things.

The High Priest of the Catholic Priesthood on 
whose Blood the Altar of Salvation was erected

The beauty of the Christian Faith is in its ability to breach cultures and traditions and to unite people across the globe, creating a new force relation that has brought in millions of people across the globe into one giant umbrella of Gods’ people.

Bishops around the world, in colligation with the Pope

In the centre of this Christian Faith, that has run for the past two thousand and eighteen years, is the Catholic Church – the first practicing Christian doctrine, that lasted for over one thousand, four hundred plus years before the protestant revolution. This revolution did nothing to the foundations of the Catholic Faith but, created a new theology that was alien to the scriptures, the wisdom and the traditions that the founders of the Faith had lived through.

Rev. Blaise processing with the Book of the Gospel

That revolution gave birth to subsequent revolutions, within the protestants body. Such that today, thousands have claimed calls from God and have established churches in viral multiplicity. In fact, today in Nigeria, establishing a church is a business venture. Self-proclaimed pastors have worked on the psychology of people and have turned them into cows, milking them of their hard-earned money and time and generating ripples and ripples of noise in the name of Christ.

Fr. Ukpe, saddled with the responsibility 
of training young boys for the vocation of 
the Catholic Priesthood, for the Diocese of Uyo

In the turbulence of this menace, it is wonderful that the Catholic Church has been able to stay above the noise, preciously holding on to the very foundations on which She was established.

The Catholic Church, also known as the Holy Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with more than 1.29 billion members worldwide. As one of the oldest religious institutions on earth, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilization. Headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, the Church's doctrine is built on three major foundations: The Holy Scriptures, the Sacred Traditions and the teaching faculties of the Church.

Pope Francis, the physical head 
of the Catholic Church

The Holy Scriptures are the seventy-three books that are contained in the canon of the Holy Bible, verified as being historically correct and relevant to the Faith, capable of teaching moral lessons, identifiable source of authorship and vision, divinely inspired and approved by various councils of competent theological, spiritual, scriptural, critical and academic jurisdictions.

The Sacred Traditions refer to the religious life, experiences, devotions and pious activities drawn from Jesus, the Son of God and the source and summit of God’s revelation, not actually documented but were handed down and carried on as a way of life by the Apostles Jesus, till today.

Pope Francis, venerating the bones of St. Peter, the  
Apostle of Christ and the First Catholic Pope 

The Church speaks positively of both Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Traditions of having much in common. Besides forming the content of Divine Revelation, they form what is called a single Sacred Deposit of Faith. It is called ‘sacred’ because it comes from God. It is ‘a deposit’ because it has been left to the Church by Christ. It deals with Faith because it contains what the Church believes as a Church of Christ. These two together, Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Traditions, form a single deposit of Faith.

Fr. Emem Umoren, washing the feet of  
Christ's faithful, being part of the long 
held tradition of the Church,
 in imitation of Christ.

The teaching faculties of the Church refers to the Christian wisdom, which the Church teaches by divine authority, that continuously inspires the faithful of Christ, zealously, to endeavour to relate human affairs and activities with religious values in a single living synthesis. Under the direction of these values, all things are mutually connected for the glory of God and the integral development of the human person, a development that includes both corporal and spiritual well-being (JPII).

Fr. Udoma, preaching the word, as 
commanded by Jesus Christ, the High Priest

Furthermore, in the centre of the Catholic Faith and the driving force of the ecclesiastical leadership and organisation is the priesthood.

A priest is simply a minster who has the divine authority to offer sacrifice to God. The Bible has clear examples of priests and even the house of priests, the Levi, whose responsibility it was to offer sacrifice of bulls and rams to God. However, the birth, the death and the resurrection of Jesus, which is not just a religious belief but a historical fact, ended the Old Testaments priesthood and instituted in its place, a new Priesthood in which His body and His blood were now the only authentic objects of sacrifice.

Fr. Charles, Administering the Body of Christ

That night, shortly before He was betrayed, some two thousand and eighteen years ago, Jesus assembled his apostles – whom he had called and schooled for three years to minister with Him – together in the upper room, the room above the tomb of David his ancestor, and, in a means that was second to none ever since the world was created, Jesus instituted the prestigious cult of the Catholic Priesthood, giving His body and His blood as the only object of sacrifice. “…take this all of you and eat it, this is by body…take this and drink this is my blood...do this in memory of me!” That was the first Holy Mass celebrated on earth, few hours before the High Priest was executed and his blood built for man, the Altar of Salvation!

Bishop Ayah drinking the Blood of Christ

The teachings of the Church place this Priesthood in the centre of its discourse and recognize this Priesthood in two broad perspectives: The Ministerial and the Non- Ministerial Priesthood.
The Non-Ministerial Priesthood refers to the general body of God’s people, who having been baptized, died with Christ and become initiated into the family of God’s chosen people.  It should be noted that Baptism is of two dimensions: the spiritual and the physical. The physical involves the action of pouring water on the convert, while in the process, the spiritual involves the configuration of the soul of the convert to be Christ-like and assessable to Light of Grace. With this, all baptized Catholics are priests and therefore, called to evangelize - to spread the love of God, and they have a responsibility towards the preservation and propagation of the Faith.

Fr. Essien initiating a new born into 
the family of God's people

So, one may love to ask, what sacrifice does the ‘priesthood’ of the lay offer? St. Paul answers the question in Romans 12:2: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.” As the Lord Jesus offered Himself totally for the sake of man, Catholics are called to lay down their lives for Him and for one another.

The document of the second Vatican council gives a clear responsibility of the Lay priesthood, that Catholics are called to consecrate the secular, the earthy, the nitty-gritty realities of life to God (Apostolate of the Laity, VII). The Non- Ministerial priests are to be God’s secret agents in every arena of life, in places where ministerial priests and religious may never go, elevating, purifying, sanctifying, blessing. The Divine Mercy prayer puts it all: ‘Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins...’

The Ministerial priesthood, on the other hand, is a very dedicated type of priesthood that many do not understand. It is simply the original Priesthood of Christ! The Non-Ministerial priesthood is basically the priesthood of God’s people while the Ministerial Priesthood is the Priesthood of God Himself. More so, there are two degrees in the ministerial participation in the priesthood of Christ: The Episcopacy and the Presbyterate.

Fr. Ating, Administrative Vicar for the diocese 
of Uyo, calling out candidates for ordination

By the rituals of ordination, a candidate who has been successfully formed, is ordained a priest. ‘Successfully formed’ implies that the candidate has been trained academically in the required fields of Philosophy, Theology, and other content of worship. Also, the candidate has been formed in character, smitten to reflect conscientiousness, meticulousness, passion and dedication.

The ordination – done by the rituals of laying hands on the candidate by all the formally ordained priests presents and by the Bishop, who operates on a higher spiritual realm – configures the soul of the candidate and gives to him the Spirit of Christ by the special Grace of the Holy Spirit. By this ordination, the recipient is Christ in nature and in all that he does that relates to the Gospel. He operates in the divine office of a Priest, a Prophets and a King.

The ordination rituals of 
laying hands on the candidates

The rituals of ordination immediately confer on the recipient the exclusive faculties of offering sacrifice to God and forgiving sin just like Jesus Christ. “…receive the Holy spirit. Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven, those you retain, they are retained!”

Like Baptism, the ordination of a qualified candidate into the Cult of the Priesthood leaves an indelible spiritual character in the soul of the recipient for eternity and cannot be erased. While it is possible for a priest to be relieved of his pastoral duties as deemed necessary by the Bishop, where by such is done, or a priest voluntarily resigns, he cannot become a ‘lay person’ in the true sense of the words because the ordination mark is permanent in the soul of the recipient.

At the final moments of ordination:
the invocation of the Saints

For the past two thousand and eighteen years, this tradition has been preserved till today. Celibacy was not part of the priesthood. Of course, there is a biblical evidence that some of the apostles who were ordained by Christ to share in His priesthood were married. Conspicuous among them being Peter, whose mother-in-law was healed by Christ.

The Catholic Church was a thousand-year-old before it definitively took a stand in favour of celibacy in the twelfth century at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139, when a rule was approved, forbidding priests to marry. In 1563, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the tradition of celibacy.

Fr. Donald, Forgiving sin by the powers given to him 
by Jesus Christ, the High Priest (John 20:23) 

Besides the simple fact that Jesus and most of the Apostles [Paul, John, etc] preferred a celibate life and gave most of their time and energy for pastoral needs, the inspiration behind the decision of the Second Lateran Council was to offer priests more time and tranquillity to attend to the basic spiritual needs of God’s faithful away from the distractions and responsibilities of marital life.

These basic needs among others include: offering daily sacrifices to God on their behalf and on behalf of the dead, serving in the confessional, initiating new-borns and converts into the Faith, visiting the praying for the sick, administering the body and blood of Christ to the faithful, wedding men and women who have resolved, after due prep, to spend the rest of their lives together, serving as a spiritual guide, model and counsellor, burring the death and comforting the bereaved.

The Processional Line at the beginning of Liturgy

The priest, after his ordination, takes a ring, which indicates that he is a spouse of the Holy Spirit. In the same vain, all the faithful under his pastoral care, officially, become his children and him a father, hence the secular title, ‘Father.’ This title is of both spiritual, theological and material relevance. Spiritually, he operates in the divine office of God, theologically, he reserves the title of ‘God’ as His ambassador and materially, he fathers all the faithful in his parish, spiritually, physically and otherwise. These enormous responsibilities will not be executed properly if he takes ‘a woman into his trust as a wife’.

Fr. Louis, in private meditation 
before the blessed Sacrament 

In all these, Catholic Priests are not paid salaries and the Catholic church does not officially preach payment of tithe, neither do they compel member to pay tithe and threaten them with damnation of they don’t pay . Rather, the faithful are advised, as part of their corporal works of mercy to ensure the survival of the presbytery, at least on monthly basis to the strength of their capabilities.

What makes a Catholic priest most distinctive from any pastor or whatever, is the power that Christ gives him over the Holy Eucharist and over the sins of mankind. Only a priest has the power of consecration, given to him by God and by the right to the traditional occult lineage of Christ in which he belongs. At his words of consecration, what had been bread and wine cease to be bread and wine, so that only the appearances remain. What becomes present is the blood and the flesh of Jesus.

In loving memory of Fr. Martin Usen Akpan, who 
was elected into eternal life on 5th February 2018

But, perseverance in the priesthood is impossible without the Grace of God, made available through prayers. Only Priests who pray can persevere and remain as Priests without the thoughts of resignation into flamboyant, ephemeral pleasures of the flesh. The Catholic Faithful must also pray, fervently, in these days as never before, because the priests of these days face more tsunamic temptations than never before, mostly ‘money’ and ‘women’.

On the priest’s fidelity to Christ depends the salvation of more souls than we shall ever know, until eternity!

Idiongo Ebong

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