Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Christian Anthropology is Priesthood" - On the Occasion of the Ordination of St. Josemaria Escriva - March 28, 1925

We have already seen the anthropological dynamic of priesthood on Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2006. Let’s repeat that dynamic fleshing it out further.

[Note: the 50th Anniversary of ordination took place on Good Friday in 1975]

Mediation in the Old Testament: The Scapegoat:

In the Old Testament until Jesus Christ, priesthood meant mediation. The scapegoat was loaded with the sins of the Israelites and sent out into the desert.

“When he has completed the atonement rite for the sanctuary, the meeting tent and the altar, Aaron shall bring forward the live goat. Laying both hands on its head, he shall confess over it all the sinful faults and transgressions of the Israelites, and so put them on the goat’s head. He shall then have it led into the desert by an attendant. Since the goat is to carry off their iniquities to an isolated region, it must be sent away into the desert.”[1]

The mediator par excellence in the Old Testament is Moses (Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy) “who, as messenger of the word, stands between God and the people, between the cloud on the mountain and the people in the desert at the foot of the mountain, who are concerned only with their own needs..”[2] Ratzinger says that “The fact that the law has need of mediator is here an indication of its inadequacy. In the New Covenant, God acts alone: he himself fulfills the promise; there is no need for mediator. …I am reminded of Kafka’s `The Trial,' in which an accused person is referred to one intermediary after another and so realizes with increasing hopelessness the unapproachability and inaccessibility of the real judges – of the incomprehensible power in the background, which he cannot approach because he must always deal with intermediaries.”[3]

St. Paul: Shows the Transition From Old to New Testament: Extrinsic Intermediary (Moses) to Intrinsic Anthropology (Christ, the New Moses):

“(T)he priests always used to enter into the first tabernacle to perform the sacred rites; but it the second tabernacle the high priest alone entered once a year, not without blood, which he offered for his own and the people’s sins of ignorance. The Holy Spirit signified by this that the way into the Holies was not yet thrown open while the first tabernacle was still standing. This first tabernacle is a figure of the present time, inasmuch as gift and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshipper in conscience, since they refer only to food and drink and various ablutions and bodily regulations imposed until a time of reformation.”

“But when Christ appeared as high priest of the good things to come, he entered once for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hands (that is, not of this creation), nor again by virtue of blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of his own blood, into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkles ashes of a heifer sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
“And this is why he is mediator of a new covenant…”

Christ’s Priesthood is Intrinsic Anthropology:

Josef Ratzinger explains that St. Paul regards the Jewish religion as promulgated by angels. They are intermediaries, just as Moses is human mediator. The distinctiveness of Christianity does not consist in the denial of mediation, but in the Son becoming the Mediator – but in a new and unheard of way. Explicitly, Paul refers to Christ as Mediator in Heb. 8, 6: “But now he has obtained a superior ministry, in proportion as he is mediator of a superior covenant…;” Heb. 9, 16: “And this is why he is mediator of a new covenant..;” Heb. 12, 24: “Jesus, mediator of a new covenant, and to a sprinkling of blood which speaks better than Abel.”
Ratzinger asks: “What do these texts intend when they apply to Jesus the concept of mediator?”[5] He responds: “The gist of the Epistle to the Hebrews can be expressed briefly as follows: the whole cult of the Old Testament remained in the realm of σάρξ (flesh), that is, of the reality of this world; it did not extend to the properly divine realm, the realm of πνεϋμα. To that extent, it did not exceed the order of images (Heb. 10, 1) and never arrived at reality itself. The whole cult was, as it were, unable to pierce the barrier of images; it could represent, but it could not bring to perfection. Only Christ who have himself on the Cross by dying the real death of a condemned person, has no need of images. He does not rend a metaphorical veil in order to enter a metaphorical Holy of Holies; he rends the real curtain, the σαρξ, the dividing barrier that constrains our earthly existence, and passes through it to the other world to stand before the divine majesty of the living God. For the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, this realism of the Cross is the essential answer to the shadow-cult of the Old Covenant; it is a real priesthood and a real mediation with God. The first epistle to Timothy explains the word `mediator’ by adding: `Who sacrificed himself as a ransom for all;’ it, too, sees a close relationship between mediator and Cross, between mediator and priesthood.”

Christ: “The True and only Real Priest:”

“We have now reached the crucial statement: the epistle to the Hebrews understands its theology of Christ as mediator as a theology of the priesthood. That Christ is, in the full sense of the word, the mediator who rent the curtain of creaturehood, the boundary of this world, and stood before God himself means, at the same time, that he is the true and only real priest. In the epistle to the Hebrews, the concepts of priest and mediator are ultimately inseparable.”

The two (2) characteristics of Christ’s mediation are therefore: 1) exclusivity: “It is exclusive because it is inclusive.”[6] Christ’s is the only mediation between creature and God “because He is able to include all things in Himself, because his mediation is valid for all times and for all places. Its uniqueness lies in its universality, and its universality is the source of its uniqueness.”[7] 2) realism: “which transcends that of all other mediations, which are but processes within the image-world of creatures. Hence the realism of the Cross is the real foundation of Christ’s mediation.”[8]

Sacramental Insertion: Baptism and Orders

Adam as Priest: “From the beginning,” before the original sin, Adam was priest. Adam was never in a state of “pure nature.” This point is the burden of the two works of Henri de Lubac “Augustinianism and Modern Theology”[9] and “The Mystery of the Supernatural.”[10] It is also the burden of Benedict XVI’s “Deus Charitas Est” where eros tends not to some “natural” end in correspondence to its “nature,” but to the supernatural reality of the vision of God as a person made in the image and likeness of God.
When related to by a covenant of obedience to till the garden and name the animals, Adam obeyed. And in obeying, exercised the priestly anthropology of self-governance, self-determination and self-gift. These are the stages of intrinsic self-mediation that is priesthood, “from the beginning.” Adam was the priest of creation making an offering of the world as his possession – his flesh, through work - to God.

Adam sinned by disobedience and lost the priestly act of self mediator, and therefore, cosmic mediator. God re-enters the scene calling man to obedience, now of the self-gift of faith. The super-eminent restoration of the human person to priesthood takes place in God Himself becoming man, mastering the self of the humanity of the man Jesus of Nazareth – now laden as the scapegoat with all the sins of all men of all time (2 Cor. 5, 21) – and destroying them in the radical obedience to death, willed by the Father.

As Jesus Christ is “the true and only real Priest,” we are baptized and ordained into that one “exclusive” and “unique” priesthood in ways that are essential and irreducibly different. The priesthood of the layman and minister are not different priesthoods, but the way of insertion and sharing in it are different. The layman is mediator and relational to the world (the Church of Mary[11]) while the minister is in the service of the laity (Church of Peter[12]) to activate their distinct sharing in Christ’s priesthood. But the large concept here is that sacramentally, we – men and women - have entered into the anthropology of the intrinsic mediation, and therefore, priesthood of Christ Himself. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is that Action of Christ the Priest making the total divine gift of Himself to the Father as God-man. That priestly action that is offered to us in the Mass must become our action – in the street by our participation of Mass and receiving the Eucharist. It is the death-event of self-gift. Benedict said privately, “To speak of the Eucharist as the community meal is to cheapen it, for its price was the death of Christ. And as for the joy it heralds, it presupposes that we have entered into this mystery of death. Eucharist is ordered to eschatology, and hence it is at the heart or the theology of the Cross. This is why the Church holds fast to the sacrificial character of the Mass.”[13]

The Mass of St. Josemaria Escriva:

“When I was sixty five years old, I made marvelous discovery. I love to celebrate Holy Mass, but yesterday it cost me tremendous effort. What a struggle! I saw that the Mass is truly Opus Dei, work, as it was a work for Jesus Christ His first Mass: the Cross. I saw that the office of the priest, the celebration of the Holy Mass, is a labor to confect the Eucharist; that one experiences pain, and joy, and tiredness. I felt in my flesh the exhaustion of a divine work.

“It also cost Christ effort. His most holy humanity resisted opening its arms on the Cross, with the gesture of the eternal Priest. It never cost me so much the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice as this day when I felt that also the Mass is Opus Dei. It made me very happy, but I was undone.”

Celebrated “in the Street

After finishing the original buildings of Opus Dei in Rome in 1960, a person passing through Rome asked St. Josemaria:

- “Father, of all the chapels in this house, which do you like most?”

- “!!La Calle!!” (the street)

- “I like all the chapels of this house. But… I like the street more. It’s not simply a nice phrase to say the `our cell is the street.’ And you, Pile, my son, and so many sons and daughters more, you will have to make the prayer many times in the street. And you can do tons of good… Although, whenever we can, we do it in a church or in a chapel: before the Lord, who is really present in the tabernacle.”

Priestly Soul, Lay Mentality: “We... Priests of Our Own Existence

“We have been constituted priests of our own existence to perform each one of our actions in a spirit of obedience to the will of God” (Christ is Passing By. N. 96)

Since the anthropology of the human person is as image of God (and not ‘pure nature”), and Christ is the prototypical image of God as God-man (Col. 1, 15), then, it is impossible to be fully human without the full exercise of priesthood. To be man is to be priest. Hence, the founder of Opus Dei enjoined his sons and daughters to have what he called a “priestly soul” and fully “lay mentality.” Priestly soul is mastery of self. Lay mentality is freedom to dominate self to be gift and with the consequent peace and joy that results from it – because then the self has achieved the state of imaging the Son as pure relation to the Father. And, as seen above in the post on March 1 (Ash Wednesday), the freedom of self mastery is the attitude that Paul VI declared to be “secularity.” This is the profound reason why a religious state of life, celibacy, or the taking of vows is not necessary for identity with Christ which is holiness. Rather, holiness is achieved in living out the Christological anthropology of self-mastery, self-gift on the occasion and development of ordinary secular work and family relations. The world, then, becomes the place, occasion and object in the most ordinary and trivial things of this priestly anthropology that mediates between self and God. Ultimately, we are priests and executives of priesthood in our own secular and domestic existence insofar as we serve. In fact, we create the true secularity of the world by this exercise of freedom in service. As John Paul II wrote: “It is not by chance that the Gospel of John contains no account of the institution of the Eucharist, but instead relates the `washing of feet’ (cf. Jn. 13, 1-20): by bending down to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus explains the meaning of the Eucharist unequivocally.”[15]

St. Josemaria said: “I want all of my children, both priests and laymen, to engrave firmly in your minds and hearts something that cannot be considered in any way merely external but which is, on the contrary, the hinge and the foundation of our divine vocation.

“In everything and always we must have – both priests and laymen – truly priestly soul and fully lay mentality, so that we understand and exercise in our personal life that liberty which we enjoy in the setting of the Church and in temporal things, considering ourselves at the same time citizens of the city of God (cf. Eph. 2, 19) and of the city of man.”

The Priestly Soul is the Lay Mentality

“We have been called by God to do Opus Dei on earth, being each one Opus Dei. For that reason, if the work of Opus Dei is eminently lay and, at the same time, the priesthood informs everything with its spirit; if the work of the layman and that of the priest complement one another and mutually make one another more effective, it is a requirement of our vocation that in all the faithful of the Work there is manifested also this intimate union between the two elements, in such a way that each one of us has a truly priestly soul and a fully lay mentality.”

“Without forgetting that the sacrament of Orders differs essentially from the sacraments of Baptism and of Confirmation [in the way they share in Christ’s priesthood], and that the power of Order is of divine origin [“hierarchy” = holy origin – the sacramental imposing of hands from the Apostles down to us], all the faithful of the Work can and should have priestly soul. What virtues do good priests live which you should not also live, dearest daughters and sons, as a requirement of the divine vocation, of your calling to Opus Dei?”

The Priestly Soul of Women

Alvaro del Portillo: “All of us, therefore, need to have a priestly soul: this applies equally to priests and laity – including, of course, women. How our Father kept on insisting with his daughters on this point! Even on the last day of his earthly life he reminded you once again that you have a priestly soul. There is no doubt that it was God’s will that our Father should mention it to you on the very morning of his passing to heaven, jjust as it was his will that the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross should be born in one of your Centers one 14th of February. Don’t you see in all these circumstances a sign of divine Providence that you should engrave on your hearts this fundamental feature of our spirit? Look at the Blessed Virgin, whom the Church invokes as Mediatrix of all graces and Mother of priests. Contemplate her at the foot of the Cross, fully identified with her Son. What greater example can there be of a priestly soul in a woman?

“A priestly soul involves having the same sentiments as Christ the Priest. It means seeking to fulfill God’s will at every moment, offering our entire life to God the Father, in union with Christ, in order to co-redeem with him, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit. We must be determined to spend our entire lives in this priestly manner, and to `offer our existence and all our actions to God every day.’ All the works of men take place on a sort of altar; and each one of you, in that union of contemplative souls which makes up your day, in some way says `his Mass,’ which lasts for twenty-four hours, until the following Mass, which lasts another twenty-four hours, and so on until the end of our lives.” When the Sacrifice of Calvary is renewed, Christ offers himself on the altar together with the members of his Mystical Body. There it is that all our works take on eternal value. It is the sublime moment when the priestly soul can pour itself forth in floods of adoration, of thanksgiving, of atonement and of petition, and give itself over entirely to God the Father, in union with the Sacrifice of Christ, while within itself it renews `our’ Mass, Jesus.”

[1] Leviticus 16, 20-22.
[2] J Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 276.
[3] Ibid. 270.
[4] St. Paul, Heb. 9, 18-20.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Principles…, “ op. cit. 270.
[6] Ibid. 271.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Herder and Herder (1969)
[10] Herder and Herder (1967).
[11] Cfi. John Paul II, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” ftn. 55.
[12] Ibid.
[13] J. Ratzinger, “Feast of Faith,” Ignatius (1986) 65.
[14] Pilar Urbano, “Él Hombre de Villa Tevere,” Plaza y Janes, Editores S.A. (1994) 186.
[15] John Paul II, “Mane Nobiscum Domine” #28.
[16] Josemaria Escriva, Letter, 2-II-1945, no. 1.
[17] Alvaro del Portillo, Letter, Jan. 9, 1993 7-8.

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