Jesus Christ, High Priest


The Priesthood of Jesus Christ

Since the dawn of time, there have been priests on the earth, at least in the sense of their fundamental function of being a media-tor between God and man, especially by means of offering sacri-fice.

A priest is he who is taken from among men and made their representa-tive before God (Heb 5:1). The priest is a bridge that goes in two directions: he unites God with men, and he unites men with God. It is from this essential function that the priest is called pontiff, which literally means bridge builder, as he unites the two shores of Creator and creature.

The priest is consecrated to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (Heb 5:1). Thus, the principal activity of the priest is to offer sacrifice. Without priests there is no sacrifice, and without sacrifice there is no priest. Properly speaking, then, neither the Jews (at the present time), nor the Muslims, nor the majority of Protestants have priests, because they don’t have a sacrifice. They simply have people who teach them: rabbis, imams for Muslims, preachers, or pastors, but no priests.

The priest is chosen from among men so that he might have compassion on men and might not be disgusted by human misery. The priest is a man so that he might take pity on the ignorant and the lost, inasmuch as he too is beset by weakness. On account of his weakness, the priest should offer sacrifice for his own sins, as well as for those of the people[2]. If angels were priests, they would be unable to show men mercy.

Not just any man can be a priest. He must be called by God: No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was (Heb 5:4). Accordingly, we should always pray asking for an increase of priestly and religious vocations, as Jesus Him-self taught us: The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest (Mt 9:37-38).

Jesus Christ, our Lord, is the High, Eternal, and Only Priest, because He unites in His Divine person, the Second of the Holy Trinity, the divine nature and human nature, uniting in Himself God to man, and man to God.

The principle characteristics of Jesus Christ, High Priest, are:

– He is a man like us.

– He was called by God, “by an oath,”[3] to priestly duties.

– He is consecrated with the fullness of the anointing of Divinity itself.

– He is the holy priest.

– He is the immortal priest.

– He is unique in the history of the priesthood.

A. Man

In order to be a mediator, Christ should not be more than a man nor less than a man. He should be a member of the people that He represents, so that He can serve as an intermediary, a me-diator, between God and His people. God is not a priest: Now there is no mediator when only one party is involved, and God is one (Gal 3:20). The Son of God, the Word, became man in order to be-come a priest. The end of the Incarnation is redemption, which Christ achieved by the sacrifice of the cross.

Christ had to become like His brothers in everything in order to be a merciful and faithful High Priest in all that refers to God and in order to expiate the sins of the people. He became like all men in everything except sin in order that, having been tried by suffering, He could later help those who would likewise be tried: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weak-nesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). As such, we should have an absolute and total confi-dence in Jesus Christ: So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help (Heb 4:16). He is our priest!

Saint Bonaventure adds: “In the womb of the Virgin, Christ was covered with priestly ornaments in order to be our Pontiff.”[4]

B. Called

Christ did not allot Himself the glory of the high priesthood, but rather received it from the One who said: You are my son; today I am your father (Ps 2:7). Elsewhere it is stated: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:5-6). He was declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:10).

The priest must be called because the priesthood depends on performing sacred and special functions, which are unique among all the social ones. If there were someone who exercised the priestly functions at his whim, he would not persevere in the priesthood very long. If someone were to take upon himself the priestly order without being called, he would be an intruder and a usurper. As the priest is a mediator between heaven and earth, he should be pleasing to heaven in a special way. For this reason God reserves to Himself the right to choose His priests.

C. Consecrated

He should be consecrated a priest. As we have said, Jesus Christ was consecrated a priest in the womb of the Virgin, be-cause it was there that human nature and the Person of the Word were hypostatically, that is to say, personally, united to each other. It was there that the humanity of Christ was anointed by God with the divinity of the Word. The Word was the substantial chrism, because it is the very substance of God. Upon touching the humanity of Christ, the Word consecrated and anointed Him as the One, Substantial, and Total Priest, because He is the only man who has been in personal contact with God, who intimately and totally invaded His soul and His body, making Him the priest by essence from the very instant of the Incarnation.

The priestly ordination of the ministers of Christ is a specific participation in the priesthood of Christ, by which they are given their official and public designation that confers upon them the capacities to exercise the priestly office.

D. Holy

Holiness adorns Christ the Priest in an essential way: It was fit-ting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separat-ed from sinners, higher than the heavens (Heb 7:26).

He was holy, just as the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary: the child to be born will be called holy (Lk 1:35).

He was innocent, as He could say to His enemies: Can any of you charge me with sin? (Jn 8:46).

He was immaculate, that is, free from original and personal sin, uncontaminated: He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sac-rifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people (Heb 7:27).

E. Immortal

Jesus the Priest will never die again, because He is immortal and His priesthood is eternal. All priests, from all hierarchies and from all religions, have had to renew themselves unceasingly. Je-sus Christ does not, because He will never die again. He died once in order to consummate the sacrifice of the cross. After the Res-urrection, by means of His priests, He continues offering the same sacrifice. The priesthood instituted by human law is mortal, but the one instituted by divine law is immortal. Christ is a priest according to the second manner, not by a law expressed in a com-mandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed (Heb 7:16). Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him (Rom 6:9), and he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away (Heb 7:24).

F. Unique

He is unique, because He is a priest after the likeness of Melchize-dek (Heb 7:15). In another place, the Father says to Him, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:6). Like the King of Salem, Jesus Christ is both King and Priest at the same time. Like Melchizedek, who had no genealogy, Christ had no father according to human genealogy, and no mother according to divine genealogy: Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever (Heb 7:3). Like Melchizedek, Christ is the King of Justice, because He is God, and, as priest, He came to establish justice between God and men, paying what we owed in justice to the Eternal Father. Like Melchizedek, He offered bread and wine at the Last Supper, and He continues offering them at every Mass.

Jesus Christ is the new priest because He cancels the priest-hood of the Old Testament, but He does not continue it, that is, He does not simply take its place or jump into its lineage. Indeed, rather than continue it, He interrupts it entirely; He revokes the Levitical priesthood and gives it up for abolition.

Just as the Priest is new, so too are the sacrifice and the Cov-enant that He seals with new blood. New are the reconciliation and the redemption which now are not simple figures but rather the reality, full of a splendor that no one can ever destroy. As Saint Irenaeus said, Jesus Christ “by bringing Himself . . . brought all [possible] novelty.”[5]

The priests of the New Testament are not substitutes for Jesus Christ; they neither succeed Him nor multiply His priesthood. Rather, they are His representatives; that is, they make Christ pre-sent because they act in persona Christi. No one in the Church can succeed Christ, because it is impossible to succeed Him and, fur-thermore, unnecessary, given that His priesthood is eternal, living (cf. Heb 7:25), without interruption (cf. Heb 7:3), without crannies or cracks, fissures or fractures. The priests of the New Testament are the successors of the Apostles, but not of Christ. Not even the Pope is the successor of Christ; he is the successor of Saint Peter, but he is only the Vicar of Christ.

The sheep too are only Christ’s. Upon entrusting His flock to Saint Peter, our Lord tells Peter three times: Feed my lambs. . . . Tend my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep (Jn 21:15-17). In the Catholic Church, the faithful as well as the pastors are only Christ’s; it was for them that He poured out His blood.

We find that the New Testament priests:

– are taken from among men,

– are called by God to represent men in their relations with God,

– are consecrated and anointed with holy chrism,

– must be holy, according to the law of their vocations,

– possess a priestly character that is in some way immortal, since it is inerasable, are “according to Melchizedek,” as they are the prolonga-tion of the person and priesthood of Christ. They are His repre-sentatives on the earth,[6]  as they minister in the person of Christ. They are the apple of God’s eyes, those for whom He has the most affection: Whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye (Zech 2:12).

[1]  Based loosely on I. Gomá, Jesucristo Redentor (Barcelona 1933) 163-201.

[2] Cf. Heb 5:2-3 (All Biblical citations use the New American Bible unless otherwise noted). 

[3] Cf. Ps 110:4; Heb 7:21. 

[4] Tom. 9, 672.  

[5] Adversus haereses, IV, 34, 1.  

[6] Cfr. Saint Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., III, q. 22, a. 4; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1548.  



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