THE ORDER OF MELCHISEDECH
by Michael Davies
------------------------------ Chapter I
The Catholic Priesthood
A characteristic of the heresies which have plagued the Church of Christ since her foundation is that they are frequently exaggerations of true doctrine. Thus, an exaggerated insistence upon the Divinity of Christ has led to a denial of His humanity and vice versa. A danger for those who uphold truth in the face of heresy is to react so strongly against a particular error that they minimize the valid aspect of Catholicism which the heretics had exaggerated, and thus risk falling into error themselves. Protestants laid such stress upon the universal priesthood of the faithful that they ended up by denying that there is any distinction in essence between a layman and an ordained priest. Today this error has been widely embraced by Catholic Modernists and it is hardly surprising that some traditionalists tend to react suspiciously whenever the priesthood of the laity is mentioned. As is almost invariably the case, the Catechism of the Council of Trent can be referred to for a balanced exposition of the Catholic position. The teaching of this Council is explained in its Catechism as follows:
As Sacred Scripture describes a two-fold priesthood, one internal and the other external, it will be necessary to have a distinct idea of each to enable pastors to explain the nature of the priesthood now under discussion.
Regarding the internal priesthood (interius sacerdotium), all the faithful are said to be priests, once they have been washed in the saving waters of Baptism. Especially is this name given to the just who have the Spirit of God, and who, by the help of Divine grace, have been made living members of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ: for, enlightened by faith which is enflamed by charity, they offer up spiritual sacrifices to God on the altar of their hearts. Among such sacrifices must be reckoned every good and virtuous action done for the glory of God. 1
It is also perfectly correct to state that during the Mass the faithful join with the ordained priest at the altar in offering the Divine Victim. In his sublime encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII wrote:
The fact is clear enough from the statements of some of our Predecessors and of some Doctors of the Church . . . The rites and prayers of the Mass show no less clearly that the offering of the Victim is made by the priest together with the people . . . Moreover the prayers by which the Divine Victim is offered to God are said for the most part in the plural, and they more than once indicate that the people have a part in this sacrifice as being offerers of it . . . And there is no wonder that the faithful are accorded this privilege; by reason of their Baptism Christians are in the Mystical Body and become by a common title members of Christ the Priest: by the "character" that is graven upon their souls they are appointed to the worship of God, and therefore, according to their condition, they share in the priesthood of Christ Himself.
But not only do the faithful join with the priest at the altar in offering Christ. Pope Pius XII explains that:
if the oblation whereby the faithful in this Sacrifice offer the Divine Victim to the heavenly Father is to produce its full effect, they must do something further: they must also offer themselves as victim. 2
After explaining the universal priesthood of all the faithful, the Catechism of the Council of Trent deals with the external priesthood-----sometimes termed the visible or ministerial priesthood.
The external priesthood, on the contrary, does not pertain to the faithful at large, but only to certain men who have been ordained and consecrated to God by the lawful imposition of hands and by the solemn ceremonies of holy Church, and who are thereby devoted to a particular sacred ministry. This distinction of the priesthood can be seen even in the Old Law (the Mosaic priesthood) . . . Now as the same distinction (of a twofold) priesthood may be noted in the New Law, the faithful should be cautioned that what we are now about to say concerns that external priesthood which is conferred on certain special individuals. This alone belongs to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
The office of a priest, then, is to offer sacrifice to God and to administer the Sacraments of the Church. This is proved by the very ceremonies used at his ordination. When ordaining a priest, the bishop first of all imposes hands on him, as do all the other priests who are present. Then he puts a stole on his shoulders and arranges it over his breast in the form of a cross, declaring thereby that the priest is clothed with power from on high, enabling him to carry the cross of Christ Our Lord and the sweet yoke of God's law, and to inculcate this law not only by words but also by the example of a most holy and virtuous life.
He next anoints his hands with holy oil, and then gives him the chalice with wine and the paten with a host, saying at the same time: "Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God, and to celebrate Masses, both for the living and the dead." By these words and ceremonies the priest is constituted an interpreter and mediator between God and man, which indeed must be regarded as the principal function of the priesthood.
Lastly, placing his hands a second time on the head (of the person ordained) the bishop says: "Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained" (John 20:22), thus communicating to him that Divine power of forgiving and retaining sin which was given by Our Lord to His disciples. Such, then, are the special and principal functions of the sacerdotal order. 3
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury 1533-1556. From the signed
painting by G. Fliccus in the National Portrait Gallery.
In its Twenty-Second Session (17 September 1562) the Council of Trent gave the following account of the Institution of the Priesthood and of the Sacrifice of the Mass:
As the Apostle Paul testifies, there was no perfection under the former Testament because of the insufficiency of the Levitical priesthood. It was, therefore, necessary (according to the merciful ordination of God the Father) that another priest arise according to the order of Melchisedech, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who could perfect all who were to be sanctified and bring them to fulfillment. He, then, Our Lord and our God, was once and for all to offer Himself by His death on the altar of the Cross to God the Father, to accomplish for them an everlasting redemption. But death was not to end His priesthood. And so, at the Last Supper, on the night on which He was betrayed, in order to leave for His beloved spouse, the Church, a sacrifice that was visible, as the nature of man demands, declaring Himself constituted a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered His Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine to God the Father and He gave His Body and Blood under the same species to the Apostles to receive, making them priests of the New Testament at that time. This sacrifice was to re-present the bloody sacrifice which He accomplished on the Cross once and for all. It was to perpetuate His memory until the end of the world. Its salutary strength was to be applied for the remission of the sins that we daily commit. He ordered His Apostles and their successors in the priesthood to offer this sacrifice when He said: "Do this for a commemoration of Me," as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught (D. 938).
The teaching of Trent is reiterated on a number of occasions in the documents of Vatican II and an examination of the footnotes to the relevant passages will find numerous references to Mediator Dei, Trent and other Councils, and Patristic and Scriptural sources. 4
Some Catholic ecumenists have used a phrase in the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis) to give Protestants the impression that the Catholic Church now considers the proclamation of the word to be the most important function of a priest. In a letter published in an Evangelical Anglican journal, Father Edward Yarnold, S.J., commented that "the Second Vatican Council listed preaching first among the duties of bishops and priests." 5 What, in fact, the Decree states is that preaching is the first duty of a priest in the order of time, not in the order of importance, since people must believe before they can receive the Sacraments. The passage in question reads:
For since nobody can be saved who has not first believed, it is the first task of priests as coworkers of the bishops to preach the Gospel to all men (para. 4).
But in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church it is stated specifically that it is in the celebration of the Eucharist that priests
exercise to a supreme degree (maxime) their sacred functions; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming His mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering Himself once and for all a spotless Victim to the Father. 6
The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests itself specifies the powers conferred by the Sacrament of Order in the same terms as Trent, and cites Trent as its source in a footnote: "These men (priests) were to hold in the community of the faithful the sacred power of Order, that of offering sacrifice and forgiving sins, and were to exercise the priestly office publicly on behalf of men in the name of Christ." 7
Vatican II also repeats that the ministerial priesthood differs "essentially and not only in degree" from the common priesthood of the faithful. 8
Vatican II follows Trent in teaching that the powers given by our Lord to His Apostles at the Last Supper were permanent and meant to be transmitted to their successors by the laying on of hands. This power was to continue without interruption and has indeed been handed down without a break to our present-day bishops who are the lawful successors of the Apostles in the Church which is hierarchically structured. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church states specifically that "by the imposition of hands, they (the Apostles) passed on to their auxiliaries the gift of the Spirit which is transmitted down to our own day through episcopal consecration." 9
The fact that the power of Order is conferred by means of a sacramental ordination, the Sacrament of Order, transmitted through the ages from Christ via the Apostles and their successors down to the present-day hierarchy, is one which needs to be kept in mind continually when examining a theory popular with Protestants and Catholic Modernists.
This theory holds that apostolic succession does not mean what they refer to as the discredited "pipeline" theory, but teaching the same doctrine as the Apostles. Thus any act claiming to teach what the Apostles taught can call itself apostolic and claim to possess the apostolic succession. The statement on the Ministry published by the joint Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission is quite compatible with this theory, and clearly can be used as a means of circumventing Apostolicae Curae and making possible the recognition of Anglican Orders. This was made quite clear by Father Edward Yarnold, S.J., in a pamphlet entitled Anglican Orders-----A Way Forward?, which is discussed at some length in Chapter V. Father Yarnold is member of the joint International Commission and his pamphlet was published by the Catholic Truth Society. It is quite clear that the ecumenical establishment will be advancing this absurd hypothesis with increasing frequency and so it is examined in some detail in Appendix IV.
1. CCT, p. 330. Among the scriptural tests cited in support of this teaching are: Apoc. 1:5, 6; 1 Peter 2:5; Rom. 12:1; Ps. 50:19.
2. Mediator Dei (C.T.S. edition), paras. 90, 91, 92, and 103. Those who refer to the encyclical will find that Pope Pius XII gives a number of examples to illustrate the points made here.
3. CCT, pp. 330-332.
4. See Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47; Lumen Gentium, 10, 26, 28; Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2, 5, 13; Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, 27, 28, 31, 33.
5. The English Churchman, 17 June 1977, p. 2.
6. Lumen Gentium, para. 28.
7. Presbyterorum Ordinis, para 2.
8. Lumen Gentium, para. 10.
9. Lumen Gentium, para. 21.