The Dignities and Duties of the Priest

by St. Alphonsus Liguori C.SS.R.
Doctor of the Church

Nihil Obstat. Arthur J. Scanlan, S.T.D., Censor Librorum
Imprimatur. + Patritius Cardinalis Hayes, Archiepiscopus Neo-Eboracensis
Die 24 Mar., 1927


By virtue of the authority granted me by the Most Rev. Patrick Murray, Superior General of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, I hereby sanction the publication of the work entitled "DIGNITY AND DUTIES OF THE PRIEST," which is Volume XII of the complete edition in English of the works of St. Alphonsus de Liguori.

JAMES BARRON, C.SS.R., Provincial

-----------------------------Chapter Two-----------------------------
The End of the Priesthood

The Priesthood Appears to the Saints a Formidable Charge

ST. CYPRIAN said, that all those that had the true spirit of God were, when compelled to take the order of priesthood, seized with fear and trembling, as if they saw an enormous weight placed on their shoulders, by which they were in danger of being crushed to death. "I see," said St. Cyril of Alexandria, "all the Saints frightened at the sacred ministry, as at an immense charge." St. Epiphanius writes, that he found no one willing to be ordained a priest. A Council held in Carthage ordained that they that were thought worthy, and refused to be ordained, might be compelled to become priests. St. Gregory Nazianzen says: "No one rejoices when he is ordained priest."

In his life of St. Cyprian, Paul the Deacon states that when the Saint heard that his bishop intended to ordain him priest, he through humility concealed himself." It is related in the life of St. Fulgentius, that he too, fled away and hid himself. St. Athanasius also, as Sozomen relates, took flight in order to escape the priesthood. St. Ambrose, as he himself attests, resisted for a long time before he consented to be ordained. St. Gregory, even after it was made manifest by miracles that God wished him to be a priest, concealed himself under the garb of a merchant, in order to prevent his ordination. To avoid being ordained, St. Ephrem feigned madness; St. Mark cut off his thumb; St. Ammonius cut off his ears and nose, and because the people insisted on his ordination, he threatened to cut out his tongue, and thus they ceased to molest him. It is known to all, that St. Francis remained a deacon, and refused to ascend to the priesthood, because he learned by revelation, that the soul of a priest should be as pure as the water that was shown to him in a crystal vessel. The Abbot Theodore was only a deacon, but he would not exercise the duties of the Order he had received because during prayer he was shown a pillar of fire, and heard the following words: " If you have a heart as inflamed as this pillar, you may then exercise your Order." The Abbot Motues was a priest, but always refused to offer the holy Mass, saying that he had been compelled to take holy Orders, and that because he felt himself unworthy, he could not celebrate.

Formerly there were but few priests among the monks, whose lives were so austere; and the monk who aspired to the priesthood was considered to be a proud man. Hence, to try the obedience of one of his monks, St. Basil commanded him to ask in public the Order of priesthood; his compliance was regarded as an act of heroic obedience, because by his obedience in asking to be ordained priest he, as it were, declared himself to be a man filled with the spirit of pride. But how, I ask, does it happen that the Saints, who live only for God, resist their ordination through a sense of their unworthiness, and that some run blindly to the priesthood, and rest not until they attain it by lawful or unlawful means? Ah, unhappy men! says St. Bernard, to be registered among the priests of God shall be for them the same as to be enrolled on the catalogue of the damned. And why? Because such persons are generally called to the priesthood, not by God, but by relatives, by interest, or ambition. Thus they enter the house of God, not through the motive that a priest should have, but through worldly motives. Behold why the faithful are abandoned, the Church dishonored, so many souls perish, and with them such priests are also damned.

What is the End of the Priesthood

God wills that all men should be saved, but not in the same way. As in Heaven He has distinguished different degrees of glory, so on earth He has established different states of life, as so many different ways of gaining Heaven. On account of the great ends for which it has been instituted, the priesthood is of all these the most noble, the most exalted and sublime. What are these ends? Perhaps the sole ends of the priesthood are to say Mass, and to recite the Office, and then to live like seculars? No, the end for which God has instituted the priesthood has been to appoint on earth public persons to watch over the honor of His Divine majesty, and to procure the salvation of souls. For every high priest, says St. Paul, taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on them that are Ignorant and that err. To execute the office of the priesthood and to have praise. "That is," says Cardinal Hugo, "to perform the office of praising God." And Cornelius à Lapide says: "Just as it is the office of the Angels to praise God without ceasing in Heaven, so it is the office of priests to praise God without ceasing on earth."

Jesus Christ has made priests, as it were, His co-operators in procuring the honor of His eternal Father and the salvation of souls, and therefore, when He ascended into Heaven, he protested that He left them to hold his place, and to continue the work of redemption which He had undertaken and consummated. "He made them," says St. Ambrose, "the vicars of his love." And Jesus Christ Himself said to His disciples: As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you. I leave you to perform the very office for which I came into the world; that is, to make known to men the name of My Father. And addressing His eternal Father, He said: I have glortfled Thee on earth . . . I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do . . . I have manifested Thy name to the men. He then prayed for His priests: I have given them Thy word . . . Sanctify them in truth . . . As Thou hast sent Me into the world, I also have sent them. Thus, priests are placed in the world to make known to men God and His perfections, His justice and mercy, His commands, and to procure the respect, obedience, and love that He deserves. They are appointed to seek the lost sheep, and when necessary, to give their lives for them. This is the end for which Jesus Christ has come on earth, for which He has constituted priests: As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you.

Principal Duties of the Priest

Jesus came into the world for no other purpose than to light up the fire of Divine love. I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled. And the priest must labor during his whole life, and with his whole strength, not to acquire riches, honors, and worldly goods, but to inspire all with the love of God. "Therefore," says the author of the Imperfect Work, "has Christ sent us not that we may do what is to our profit, but what is for the glory of God. True love does not seek its own advantage, but it wishes in all things only what is the good pleasure of the person loved."

In the Book of Leviticus the Lord says to His priests: I have separated you from other people, that you should be Mine. Mark the words that you should be Mine; that you may be employed in My praises, devoted to My service, and to My love: "The co-operators and dispensers of My Sacraments," says St. Peter Damian. "Mine," says St. Ambrose, "that you may be the guides and the rulers of the flock of Christ." "Mine," for, according to the same Doctor, the minister of the altar belongs not to himself, but to God.

The Lord separates His priests from the rest of his people in order to unite them entirely to Himself. Is it a small thing unto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from all the people, and joined you to Himself. If, said the Redeemer, any man minister unto Me, let him follow Me. Let him follow Me. He should follow Jesus Christ by shunning the world, by assisting souls, by promoting the love of God, and extirpating vice. The reproaches of them that reproached thee have fallen upon Me. The priest, who is a true follower of Jesus Christ, regards injuries done to God as offered to himself. Seculars, devoted to the world, cannot render to God the veneration and the gratitude that are due to Him: hence, says a learned author, Father Frassen, it has been necessary to select certain persons, that by the fulfilment of their peculiar office and obligations they may give due honor to the Lord. In every government ministers are appointed to enforce the observance of the laws, to remove scandals, to repress the seditious, and to defend the honor of the king. For all these ends the Lord has constituted priests the officers of His court. Hence St. Paul has said: "Let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God." Ministers of state always endeavor to procure the respect due to their sovereign, and to extend his glories; they always speak of him in terms of praise, and should they bear a word against their master, with what zeal do they reprove the author of it? They study to gratify his inclinations, and even expose their life in order to please him.

Is it thus that priests act for God? It is certain that they are His ministers of state: by them are managed all the interests of His glory. Through them sins should be removed from the world: this is the end for which Jesus Christ has died. Crucified, that the body of sin may be destroyed. But on the day of judgment how can the Judge acknowledge as His true minister the priest who, instead of preventing the sins of others, is the first to conspire against Jesus Christ? What would you say of ministers who should neglect to attend to the interests of their sovereign and should refuse to assist him when he stood ill need of their aid? But what would you say if these ministers also spoke against their master, and endeavored to deprive him of his throne by entering into an alliance with his enemies? Priests are the ambassadors of God, says the Apostle: For Christ we are ambassadors. They are His co-adjutors in procuring the salvation of souls: For we are God's co-adjutors. For this end Jesus Christ gave them the Holy Ghost, that they might save souls by remitting their sins. He breathed on them, and He said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them. Hence the theologian Habert has written that the essence of the priesthood consists in seeking ardently to procure first the glory of God, and then the salvation of souls."

The business, then, of every priest is to attend, not to the things of the world, but to the things of God: He is ordained in the things thai appertain to God. Hence St. Silvester ordained that for ecclesiastics the days of the week should be called Feriæ, or vacant or free days; and he says: "It is every day that the priest, free from earthly occupations, should occupy himself entirely with God." By this he meant that we, who are ordained priests, should seek nothing but God and the salvation of souls, an office which St. Denis called " the most Divine of all the Divine offices." St. Antonine says that the meaning of sacerdos is sacra docens, one that teaches sacred things. And Honorius of Autun says that presbyter signifies præbens iter, one that shows the way. Hence St. Ambrose calls priests "the guides and rectors of Ihe flock of Christ." And St. Peter calls ecclesiastics a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people. A people destined to acquire not riches, but souls. St. Ambrose calls the sacerdotal office "an office that should acquire not money, but souls." Even the Gentiles wished their priests to attend only to the worship of their gods, and therefore they would not permit them to hold the office of secular magistrates.

Hence, speaking of priests, St. Gregory says, with tears, it is our duty to abandon all earthly business in order to attend to the things of God, but we do the very contrary, "for we desert the cause of God and devote all our care to the things of the earth." After being appointed by God to attend only to the advancement of His glory, Moses spent his time in settling the disputes of the people. Jethro rebuked him for his conduct, saying: Thou art spent with foolish labor . . . Be thou to the people in the things that pertain to God. But what would Jethro say if he saw our priests employed in mercantile affairs, acting as the servants of seculars, or occupied in arranging marriages, but forgetful of the works of God; if, in a word, he saw them seeking, as St. Prosper says, "to advance in wealth, but not in virtue, and to acquire greater honors, but not greater sanctity!" "Oh! what an abuse," exclaims Father John d 'Avila, "to make Heaven subordinate to earth!" "What a misery," says St. Gregory, "to see so many priests seeking, not the merits of virtue, but the goods of this life!" Hence, says St. Isidore of Pelusium, in the very works of their ministry they regard not the glory of God, but the reward annexed to them. [Many other things that might be added to this chapter are omitted because they are contained in the following chapter, which treats of the offices of a priest.]

Related Page: Special Prayer for Priests