THE PRIEST: WITNESS TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl
Bishop of Pittsburgh


Bishop Wuerl, at the time this article was published, was Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle.

I have chosen the idea of the priest as a witness to a kingdom not yet fully visible as the starting point for the discussion on priesthood because in both the pages of the New Testament and the writings of the Second Vatican Council the concept of witness is a clearly identifiable one and essentially tied to the priesthood. The Church is depicted as the beginning here and now of the Kingdom of God that will someday reach its fullness as the new creation that Christ will claim and present to his Father. The distinctive witness of the priest takes place on two levels. He ministers to the members of the kingdom as it will be in glory. In one sense he is a part of the struggling effort that characterizes the pilgrim people. Yet he is also a sign of the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. The priesthood thus has both a practical and eschatological dimension.

In this presentation I shall consider the priest under two aspects: sacramental and eschatological. First, the priest carries out specific works within the Church. These are designed to build up the Kingdom of God. The designation of the believer to do these works is through the Sacrament of Orders. Second, the priest, through his sacramental action, points to and effectively witnesses the Kingdom as it will be in glory. The priest's action moves beyond the temporal limits of the present, and makes what is not yet complete, visible and comprehensible.

At the same time it is necessary to note that the priesthood, not in its essential reality but in its articulation, is being redimensioned by the present, healthy emphasis on the role of the laity, in the task of bringing about the Kingdom of God. The increasing awareness of personal responsibility for the spread of the Kingdom is one of the most exciting aspects of the general renewal which was the hope, and goal of the Second Vatican Council and so much that has happened since then. While the role of the laity in the charge to bring about the Kingdom of God is not the focus of this presentation it nonetheless influences the present redimensioning of the priesthood.

CHURCH-KINGDOM: THE CONTEXT OF PRIESTHOOD

The Gospels tell us that Jesus began to preach that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Christ came from the Father to reveal to us God's plan and how the Kingdom of God has already begun to break into our world. The God who lives in inaccessible light chose to send his only Son into our world so that we might see his light and learn to walk in it unto life everlasting.

It is the gospel vision of God's plan that we, the children of the light, can so fully reflect God's glory in this life so as to make the very Kingdom of God come to be in our own time and world.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Word whom the Father sent, into the world, proclaimed the good news of reconciliation between God and his children. His preaching, confirmed by signs and wonders, reached its summit in the paschal mystery, the supreme word of the divine love with which the Father spoke to us. On the cross, Jesus showed himself to the greatest possible extent to be the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Exercising a supreme and unique priesthood by the offering of himself, he surpassed by fulfilling them all the ritual priesthoods and holocausts of the Old Testament. He bore the sins of us all on the cross. Rising from the dead and being made Lord, he reconciled us to God and laid the foundation of the people of the new covenant which is his Church.

When, therefore, we speak of the priesthood of Christ, we have before our eyes a unique and incomparable reality which includes the prophetic and royal office of the incarnate Word of God. Christ is the image of God breaking into our world to announce that to believe is to walk in the light. To walk in the light is to live in the Kingdom. To live in the Kingdom is to build the Kingdom which in its fullness is God's new creation.

To speak about the priest as the witness to the Kingdom is to talk also about the Kingdom as it comes to be. And so I would like to review briefly what the Council says about the Church. For the Church is the beginning of God's Kingdom.

Of all the Councils held so far, the Second Vatican Council concentrated most heavily on the nature and meaning of the Church. For some, it therefore deserved to be called "The Council on the Church". Two of its Most frequently quoted documents, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World are concerned with the nature and function of the Church today. Church is the all-embracing context of Christian life and witness. Any reflections on the priesthood must begin with, or at least include this fact. So I have chosen the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church to form the starting point for our brief review of the Council's teaching.

The Council takes its view of Church from the constant living tradition of the Church. That is why the pages of Lumen Gentium ring with words of the New Testament. We read that "when the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth (cf. Jn 17:4) was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church and that, consequently those who believe might have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father (cf. Eph 2:18)... Hence the universal Church is seen to be a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (n. 4).

When Jesus, having died on the cross for us, rose again from the dead, he was seen to be constituted as Lord, the Christ, and as Priest forever (cf. Acts 2:36; Heb 5:6; 7:17-21) and he poured out on his disciples the Spirit promised by the Father (cf. Acts 2:23). Henceforth the Church, endowed with the gifts of her founder, is on earth the seed and the beginning of the Kingdom of God.

This Church is described as Christ's Body. "For by communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his body those brothers and sisters of his who are gathered together from every nation" (ibid., 7). And as all the members of the human body, though they are many, form one body, so also are the faithful in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:13).

As the historical Jesus took on a human body to preach the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God, and to overcome death though his own death and resurrection in order to redeem us and change us into the new creation (cf. Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17), so the risen Christ has taken unto himself a body, a mystical body, to carry on his work. The Church is the living body of Christ in the world today. It has the same task as its founder and head. The Church preaches the Good News and continues the paschal mystery until the new creation is completed.

THE CHURCH AS SACRAMENT

The first chapter of Lumen Gentium speaks of, the Church as a "kind of sacrament", as an instrument by which God reaches us. It is the continuation of Christ's effort in his incarnation to speak to us, and bring into our lives the glory of the Kingdom. "By her relation with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind. She is also an instrument for the achievement of such unity and union" (n. 1).

Furthermore, each of the individual sacraments is an expression, in one way or another, of the great sacramental mystery which is the operation of the Church. "It is through the sacraments and the exercise of the virtues that the sacred nature and organic structure of the priestly community is brought into operation" (ibid., 11)

BAPTISM: FIRST SACRAMENTAL DIFFERENTIATION

By baptism, a person is incorporated, into Christ and made a member of his body, the Church. Thus the believer, by his or her baptism, takes on the obligation to spread the Good News and celebrate the paschal mystery through which salvation is accomplished. In this sense we are a priestly people... "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Pt 2:9). The role of the believer is to carry to the world the Good News of salvation.

The sacrament of baptism is the first great differentiation in God's plan of re-creation and redemption. By baptism, some are called, chosen and set apart to be his new people, his new creation. By the waters of baptism, one is signed as an elect of God, chosen to complete what Christ has begun. Hence, the ancient conviction that baptism need not, in fact, cannot be repeated. The baptized person is already set apart and signed by God. Into our world of the old creation Christ introduces a new creation of water and the Spirit. The new creation will struggle and groan as it tries to free itself of the old person, the world of. darkness—the power of sin and selfishness—and emerge as a new world of light, freedom and love.

The first sign of the presence of God's power among us is the sacrament of baptism. This sign not only signifies that one has died to the old creation and become a part of the new but actually brings about this radical and foundational change. Each person who is baptized is incorporated into Christ, not only as a sign that Christ will some day return in glory, but as the means by which the present-day body of Christ becomes the very power of Christ working in our world.

ORDERS: SECOND SACRAMENTAL DIFFERENTIATION

To serve this community of elect, Christ set aside those who would devote their energies not only to the task that is shared by all the baptized (to preach the Good News and bring about the new creation through the celebration and living out of the paschal mystery); but also to the specific task of serving the whole Body of Christ. This service is rooted in a unique and profound conformation to Christ himself in such a way that Christ, in glory, continues to be present and to minister to his struggling pilgrim people.

Thus the Sacrament of Orders takes its place as the second great differentiation within Christ's Church. Some are ordained by God to participate more specifically in the priesthood of Christ so that they might also more specifically minister to the rest of the body. The Council points out that the Sacrament of Orders differentiates members of the community and sets them apart for specifically ministerial, priestly works. By baptism, one is distinguished from the world and made a Christian; by Orders, one is set apart for the Christian community and made a priest.

We are all aware that some have another view of Church. In some current writings by Catholic authors the faith community is undifferentiated. The Body of Christ is amorphous. This "unisacrament" Church is regarded as the only permanent entity of residual sacred mission. According to this view, designation rather than consecration enables the priest to function. Empowerment comes from the community which can reclaim its power. A permanent office of priestly power configuring the ordained priest to Christ is set aside in favour of a temporary exercise of ministry mediated solely through the individual local community. Although this concept of priesthood has attractive egalitarian overtones, it suffers from major disagreement with the Catholic tradition. The Church in ancient and living tradition sees sacred powers expressed concretely in the ordination of certain members who will thereafter act in a way singularly identified with Christ and share in his authority.

The 1971 Synod of Bishops identified the very structure of the Church, its skeleton, its framework, as that ministerial office identified with the apostles. "The Church which he had declared would be built on Peter, Christ founded on the apostles. In them are already manifested two aspects of the Church: in the group of the twelve apostles there are already fellowship in the Spirit and the origin of the hierarchical ministry. For that reason, the New Testament speaks of the Church as founded on the apostles. This was concisely expressed by ancient tradition: 'the Church from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God’" (Ministerial Priesthood, I, 3).

Yet this "setting apart" or "differentiation" is not meant to divide or establish a class system within Christ's Body. It is meant to facilitate the life and function of the body. The priest is no more separated from the lay person than the lay person is separated from the world in which he or she lives. The common priesthood of the faithful, conferred in baptism, is interrelated to the ministerial priesthood because each, in its own special way, is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ, and each is unintelligible without the other.

It is clear from the New Testament writings that an apostle and a community of faithful united with one another belong to the original, inalienable structure of the Church. It is equally clear from other writings of the Apostolic period that the twelve apostles not only had helpers in their ministry but also passed on to them the duty of perfecting and consolidating the work begun by themselves. They charged them to attend to the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit placed them, to shepherd the Church of God, They appointed such men and made provision that when these men should die other appointed men should take up their ministry.

Christ's work was to initiate the Kingdom. The Church is to complete that task. The believer, by virtue of baptism, becomes a member of the Church and is empowered to carry on the ministry of Christ... to the world. The priest, by virtue of ordination is configured to Christ in a unique way to facilitate the work of the whole Church. The priest is empowered to nourish, mould and direct the priestly people in their common goal of bringing about the new creation.

"Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated. Each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, moulds and rules the priestly people. Acting in the person of Christ, he brings about the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people" (Lumen Gentium, 10).

The Council goes on to speak of the various structures within the Church and explains in some detail the work of those in Sacred Orders: bishops, priests and deacons. One particularly pointed reference states:

"Although priests do not possess the highest degree of the priesthood, and although they are dependent on the bishops in the exercise of their power, they are nevertheless united with the bishops in the sacerdotal dignity. By the power of the sacrament of orders, and the image of Christ, the eternal High Priest (Heb 5:1-10; 7:24; 9:11-28), they are consecrated to preach the gospel, shepherd the faithful and celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament. Partakers of the function of Christ the sole Mediator (1 Tim 2:5) on their level of ministry, they announce the divine word to all" (ibid., 26).

The synod points out that "this essential structure of the Church—consisting of a flock and of pastors (cf. 1 Pt 5:1-4)—according to the tradition of the Church was always and remains the norm. Precisely as a result of this structure, the Church can never remain closed in on herself and is always subject to Christ as her origin and head" (Ministerial Priesthood, 1, 4).

WORKS OF THE PRIEST

The priest therefore has a unique relationship to the Church. He has a particular role in the Church because of his vocation and ordination. He has been called to serve the people of God in it specified manner. He has been charged and empowered to build up the entire Body of Christ. In this sense, he is the power of Christ in glory manifesting itself in the body of Christ in time. The purpose of this power is the goal of Christ himself—to energize and help realize his Kingdom in time and space.

Let us look briefly at the three specific functions listed in Lumen Gentium as the task of the priest, specifically as ordained priest. He is to "1. Preach the gospel; 2. shepherd the faithful; 3. celebrate divine worship" (Lumen Gentium, 28). Let us also keep in mind that each one of these functions has an eschatological dimension. We make up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ so that his Kingdom may come to be in our world. Hence, the one called to be an efficacious sign of the Kingdom of God must always be in some way the living representation of the glory that is not yet complete in our world,

1. TO PREACH THE GOSPEL

The first task of the priest is to preach !he gospel. Surely each believer—disciple—is obliged to preach the Gospel! What distinguishes the priest's role is that he participates in the priestly office of authenticating the proclamation as truly the witness and message of the Church. The priest officially proclaims the word of God as it is held in continuity with the apostles. He is the spokesman for the living tradition that, guided by the Holy Spirit, presents and applies for us today the word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.

The priest must then testify not only to the person of Jesus but to the content of his revelation. As a witness to the content of the faith, his principal characteristics are two: to proclaim it in its entirety and to testify to it as it is received. Each priest shares a special responsibility of preaching the whole word of God and interpreting it according to the faith of the Universal Church. Individual personal experience of itself is not the norm for the teaching, worship and application of the law of the Church. 'The teaching, liturgy and law of the Universal Church is normative for the individual believer. In this the priest reflects the action of Christ. Jesus, speaking of his role as the incarnate witness of the Father, says that he does nothing on his own authority but only what he has been taught by the Father. The witness absorbs the message, the truth, but always remains subject to it, obedient before it. The message is not his to change, alter, or distort. The witness is to pass on the knowledge and, therefore, the light and life of the kingdom—through his testimony. Christ in the Incarnation, by assuming our nature, adopted a method by which the presence of God could be made known to us. Each witness to Christ participates in that mission and its limitations. The official witness to the teaching of Christ shares in the authoritative and authentic proclamation of the word of God.

The Son of God used human words, signs and institutions to reach us with his news of the Father. Human words, signs and structures must continue the work of Christ's revelation. Even with the limitations that human words, signs and structures imply, they remain the vehicle by which the message is passed on. Therefore, the official witness's testimony must reflect the witness as given by the Church, particularly in its teaching office. This extends even to the wording of the living tradition or the handing on of the Good News when the wording is specifically confirmed by the faith of the Church and its teaching office.

Eschatological aspect of the word

The eschatological aspect of the priest's teaching witness is that he shares in Christ's effort to have the truth of God break into this world. The truth is what makes us free—what makes us whole—what gives us life. To know Christ is to know God and to know God is to live forever. The power of God's word bursts into human history as the truth—not just one more truth. The truth of revelation is the truth that saves. No matter how greatly it contradicts the wisdom of this world, the truth of revelation is the truth. The priest who participates in that revealing action brings into the world of error, doubt, confusion, opinion and conjecture—salvific truth.

Although the pedagogy of faith demands that people be gradually initiated into the Christian life, the Church must nevertheless always proclaim to the world the Gospel in its entirety. The proclamation of the word of God is the announcement in the power of the Spirit of the wonders performed by God. It is the continued calling to share the paschal mystery. It constantly acts as a leaven in concrete human history. It is the action of God in which the power of the Holy Spirit brings the Church together.

In this sense the priest is the eschatological sign of the fullness of the revelation in Christ Jesus. What began as a revelation in the person of Jesus Christ will be completed only as we enter into the presence of the Lamb on the throne. It is the role of the priest to proclaim with authority the revelation that contradicts the wisdom of this world and opens up to the believer the kingdom of light in which we find life eternal.

2. SHEPHERD THE FAITHFUL

The second function of the priest is to lead or shepherd the faithful. Another way of saying this is to point out that the priest is to facilitate the building of Christian community among those he serves. Today this takes on a special meaning because it is precisely in the area of building community that much of the redimensioning of priesthood is taking place. No longer is the priest or religious the sole person responsible for carrying out all the many tasks that manifest, coordinate and activate parish community life. With the emergence of numerous lay ministries and the development of lay involvement in the life of the parish, much of the work of the parish priest is less "hands on" and more "supervisory" and "empowering". Where once the priest was expected to direct, coordinate, or, at least, be present for almost every activity that was carried out in the name of the Church, now it is increasingly recognized that the responsibility and work of building the parish community and helping it function is shared by many. With increased parish staff, paid and volunteer, the work of the priest is being redirected. In many parishes, it is assumed that the parish provides staff competent and large enough to free the pastor from administrative duties and the consuming concerns of financial stability. In parishes that once enjoyed the luxury of two, three or even four priests, it is new realized that one priest is sufficient provided the lay members of the parish assume duties involving, for example, marriage preparation, sacramental preparation, CCD instruction, home visitation and a host of other tasks once the preserve only of the priest.

In this view the priest becomes much more the supervisor of the various ministries carried on under his direction and less the direct, omnipresent, sole minister in the Church. This has two immediate effects: it frees the priest to carry on his sacramental ministry in a way and with an intensity that perhaps time did not always permit; it challenges the priest and his parishioners to review how the priest exercises his pastoral authority within the parish. The ministry of supervision, if it is to be realistically discharged, involves the use of authority. While authority is not a fashionable word today, there is an increased recognition that it is something that has a real place in the Church, as it has within all society, human or divine. It is more a question of how authority is exercised than should it be used. Authority within the Church exists to gather together and lead the Christian community in the way of the Lord. Since the priest is to function as Christ by gathering together, forming and leading the community, he exercises also a share in the authority of Christ, the head of the Church. This authority comes to the priest from Christ, through the Church in the action of ordination as a helper to the bishop. Its principal object is the unity and wellbeing of the whole Church.

Eschatological aspect of authority

The eschatological significance of priestly authority is found in the power of Christ himself. He not only spoke with authority but he acted with signs and miracles that brought into this world some of the power of God himself. Christ did not use his power to enhance his own position but to point to the truth of what he had to say, so that that truth could establish a community of believers.

The authority the priest has in building community derives from Christ's mission to make of this world a kingdom of believers. Such a community will be a manifestation of Christ’s glory. Priestly authority does not belong to the priest as his own; it is a manifestation of the power of the Lord by which the priest is an ambassador of Christ in the eschatological work of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20).

"If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:17-19).

The priest assists the conversion of human freedom to God. The role model for such authority is Christ himself who, while exhibiting the power of God to bring together in faith a community of disciples, chose to use that power to enable the disciples to carry on the task of building the Kingdom of God. The priest's power or authority to build the community of faith is a spiritual leadership to proclaim and preserve the integrity of the truth, gather the faithful to worship in spirit and in truth, and reconcile that community with God.

The eschatological dimension of this authority is the free acceptance in this life of the will and plan of God. When the kingdom is fully revealed in its glory, that plan will be evident. The genuflection of the human will in this clouded world is but a sign of the full blending of the human will with the will of Christ in the brightness of the kingdom.

The whole priestly mission is dedicated to that new humanity which Christ, the conqueror of death, raises up in the world through the Spirit. This humanity takes its origin "not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn 1:13).

3. TO CELEBRATE THE SACRED MYSTERIES

The third specific work of the priest is to celebrate the sacred mysteries. He is to preside at the Eucharist through which the believer participates in the paschal mystery. It is in this function that the priest most clearly makes present in time and space the eternal reality of the kingdom of Christ in glory. It is precisely as he acts in the person of Christ that the priest breaks through the bonds that confine this temporal order and, in a unique and transcendent way, acts in the name, the power and the presence of Christ himself.

Eschatological aspect of Eucharist

The eschatological significance of Eucharistic celebration rests on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and is intimately connected with the unique sacramental presence of Christ in the ordained priest.

Traditionally, the priest has been called "the dispenser of the mysteries of God". Whatever else the priest is, he is the source of sacramental contact with Christ. The framework within which the Christian reaches God is a sacramental one. It is the priest who "makes Christ the Saviour... sacramentally present..." (Ministerial Priesthood, I, 4). The 1971 Synod lists two sacraments particularly dependent on the priest. In his function of "remitting sin and celebrating the Eucharist", (ibid.) the priest brings the redeeming Christ into the lives of the faithful. In doing so the priest builds the community. By bringing human life into contact with the divine life, the priest performs the first essential function that leads to the establishment of God's Kingdom among us.

The contribution of the 1971 Synod to this matter is its reminder that the liturgy, the centre of priestly function, is a part of the overall witness of the priest—just as Calvary, though the apex of Christ's redeeming, was part of his overall saving mission. No priest can claim his witness to be complete if his priestly ministration consists only in celebrating liturgy, just as no priest can claim to be faithfully extending Christ's Kingdom without celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy.

By connecting his sacramental powers with his community-building, the Synod places an emphasis on the priest's particular quality as the bearer of divine life which makes human community possible. It is in the powerful yet mysterious conversion of human life into divine life that the new citizens of God's Kingdom are created, nourished and brought to maturity.

PERMANENCE OF PRIESTHOOD

One of the corollaries that follows on the Council's doctrine on the priesthood as a participation in the ministry of Christ is its view on the permanence of the priesthood. This is reiterated in the 1971 Synod which sees in the "laying on of hands" the communication of a "gift of the Holy Spirit that cannot be lost" (Ministerial Priesthood, 1, 4). The priest through Orders is "configured" to Christ. The priest is made one with Christ and his mission. As the mission is ongoing, the priest's part in the eschatological work of reconciliation is continuous. As that mission is yet to be completed, the priest's commission must be permanent.

Ordination is an eschatological sign of the finality of Christ's Kingdom. It is the Church's conviction that all are actively to bring about the triumph of God's Kingdom through their own conversion. This conversion includes the will and the mind. The priest's free giving of himself prefigures the day when in Christ's Kingdom all will freely give themselves to Christ in a manner that will admit of no reversal. In his acceptance of priestly order, the priest assists the conversion of human freedom to God by stepping forward into the world of union with Christ in grace and faith. This world mirrored faintly now will one day burst out in full glory when Christ's reconciliation is complete.

A NEW BEING

Since the priest is configured to Christ in order sacramentally to make present in a unique manner the Christ of glory, the priesthood is a permanent part of the priest's being. How this comes to pass is not explained. But the traditional manner of expressing the lifelong permanence of the reality is repeated and confirmed. A priestly character is in some way introduced into the life and being of the priest.

The priesthood is not just for this stage of the development of the Kingdom. It exists also to reflect the permanent and transcendent union of Christ with his Kingdom. It is a sign of the fulfilment of the Kingdom. In this sense, the eschatological nature of the priesthood touches every aspect of the priest's life and work. When the Church speaks of permanence in the priesthood under this eschatological aspect, it sees the priest as both an ontological and functional reality. The priest is configured to Christ in a manner that affects his very being. The unique union of the priest with Christ exists for the specific purpose of relating the fullness of the Kingdom to the present pilgrim Church. Through it, the permanent salvific presence of Christ is prefigured and made present.

SUMMARY

The above is a brief sketch of an important element of the Church's teaching on the priesthood, both as a sign and a means of the presence of God's Kingdom among us. In outline, those points are:

1) The Church is the sacrament of God's presence among us. That presence is only in its initial stages. The Kingdom of God will not be fully realized until the Church, the Body of Christ, is fully united to Christ in glory.

2) The Church, the beginning of the Kingdom of God among us, is intimately related to the Christ of glory in such a way that the glory of the risen Lord is manifested in this pilgrim Church.

3) It is the task of the priest not only to be a sign that points to that Kingdom and its fulfilment in glory but also an effective agent of the transformation of this world into that Kingdom.

4) Certain actions of the priest are specifically directed to this eschatological, sacramental function. These include:

5) To preach with authority the revealed Word of God in such a way as to make present the revelation that is Jesus Christ;

6) To build up the community of believers by exercising a leadership role in such a way that the power of Christ to unify, heal and sanctify is made present;

7) To celebrate the sacred mysteries through which the Christ of the Passion and Resurrection is made really and truly present in our time and world. It is precisely in the effecting of the paschal mystery that the priesthood touches its greatest eschatological challenge. For somehow through that saving action effected by the priest, we are brought into union with the risen Christ in a life that will be changed but never taken away.

If all of this seems at times difficult to comprehend, I think it is true to say that it is so precisely because we still see with human eyes and therefore with very limited vision—with the eyes of faith—something that will become completely visible only when we have passed from this world to the life where we shall see with the eyes of presence.

 
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 May 1987, page 16

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