Sin, Sacrifice and Priesthood
Created in God’s own image (Gen 1:27), Man is a “religious being” with a natural desire to draw near to God through religious rituals (CCC 27-28). After the fall into sin at Eden, the first sons brought religious sacrifices to God: Abel’s sacrifice of the first-born from the flock pleased God while Cain’s sacrifice from the soil was not pleasing to God. Full of sin, Cain killed his brother Abel; the first murder was motivated, in part, out of jealousy from the first sacrificial offering (Gen 4:3-8). Melchizedek, a “priest of God Most High” (a Gentile and the first mentioned “priest” in the Bible; was perhaps Shem, the son of Noah), blessed Abram for his heroic deeds with a sacrificial offering of bread and wine (Gen 14:14-20). Abram obediently prepared to sacrifice his first-born son Isaac to God, who instead commanded Abram to sacrifice a ram (Gen 22). In the earliest recorded written human experience found in the Bible, Man seeks to reconcile with God for sin through sacrifice led by priests (from Latin, presbyter, meaning “elder”, a masculine noun).
The Rejection of Sin, Sacrifice and Priesthood
The Postmodern culture is perverted, rejecting Man’s inborn aversion to sin and the hope of reconciliation with God through sacrifice and the priesthood. Influencers of culture (e.g. academics, psychologists, scientists, politicians, activists, media and corporate elites) reject age-old definitions of sin and embrace perversion (e.g. fornication, denigration of marriage, contraception, abortion, homosexual acts, pornography). Where there is no sin, there is no need for sacrifice: many men are withdrawing from manly responsibilities and self-sacrifice into sloth, self-indulgence, a perpetual adolescence of bachelorhood without commitments to a wife and children and service to society. Where there is no sin or need for sacrifice, there is no need for priesthood. The Postmodern culture rejects religious priesthood, seeking to comfort guilty consciences with secular pseudo-priests: psychologists, philosophers, pop-gurus, political messiahs and entertainment idols. Tragically, these secular pseudo-priests offer only temporary distraction, not absolution and salvation.
Jesus Christ – Divine Priest
Jesus Christ condemns sin and becomes the Perfect Sacrifice as the Divine Priest. Jesus:
- Condemns Sin and confirms the reality of Hell – As a Person of the Trinity, Jesus condemns sin in the giving of the 10 Commandments to Israel at Mt. Sinai (Ex 35) and Moses keeps the stone tablets in the Holy Ark of the Covenant (1 King 8:9; Heb 9:4). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus amplifies the description of sin in the 10 Commandments to include thoughts of lust and unrighteous anger (Matt 5:21-32). Jesus also speaks repeatedly about the punishment of Hell for unrepentant sinners (Matt 7:13-14, 25:46; Mark 9:47-48) and the Church continues to faithfully teach the reality of Hell as punishment for unrepented mortal sin (CCC 1035).
- Institutes a sacrificial system by priests of Israel – “Sacrifice is a ritual offering made to God by a priest on behalf of the people, as a sign of adoration, gratitude, supplication and communion” (CCC 2099). After the people engage in an orgy around the Golden Calf (Ex 34), God instructs Moses to establish the Levitical priesthood (Ex 40:12-16), the exclusive priesthood of Israel (Num 17:1–13, 18:1–7). In Leviticus, the definition of sins and the sacrificial economy were made explicit; the rituals of sacrifices to God, led by priests, were at the center of Jewish life.
- Prefigures His Priesthood in the Old Testament – The mysterious priest-king Melchizedek (King of Salem, which becomes Jerusalem), a priest of God the Most High, blesses Abram with offerings of bread and wine (Gen 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4). Abram follows God’s instruction to sacrifice his first-born son Isaac on Mount Moriah (renamed Mt. Zion in Jerusalem) but God instead provides a ram for sacrifice (Gen 22:1-19). These events prefigure Christ’s Priesthood in which He offers the Eucharist in the bread, wine and His Holy Sacrifice as the Lamb of God on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.
- Signals His Divine Priesthood during childhood – Mary is seen by Blessed John Paul II as the first communicant of Christ’s Eucharist, having the actual body and blood of in her womb (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 55). The Magi travel to give homage to Christ as King but also as Priest, offering myrrh, a tree resin used to anoint Levite priests (Ex 30:23-33). Mary and Joseph present Jesus, the first-born son at the Temple consistent with the Law (Ex 13:2), perhaps implying that Jesus was consecrated as priest (Luke 2:22-24). At twelve, Jesus remains in the Temple in Jerusalem, “amazing” the learned rabbis (Luke 2:47), a signal of His Divine Priesthood.
- Previews His Sacrifice in the Eucharist in the Feeding of the 5000 – Jesus feeds the 5000 with bread and then offers His Bread of Life discourse, explicitly describing the Eucharistic feast of His body and blood that gives eternal life (John 6).
- Gives the Perfect Sacrifice of Himself in the Eucharist – “At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood” (CCC 1323). By offering Himself once and for all as the unique and Perfect Sacrifice (Heb 10:14) in the Eucharist, Jesus provides the true meaning and perfection to the Old Testament sacrificial cult (cf. Heb 5:10, 6:20). His Sacrifice is commemorated and mysteriously present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church (CCC 1357, 1544) at every mass.
- Is recognized by the early Church as Divine Priest – While Jesus does not explicitly give Himself the title of “priest”, He clearly acts as the Divine Priest and is recognized as Divine Priest by the Apostles. Throughout Hebrews, Christ is seen as the Divine Priest described in various ways: as the Son of God who reigns as priest forever (Heb 7:3); as the “great priest” (Heb 10:21); the “high priest” (Heb 2:17; and in nine other places); the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14); the priestly “order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:6, 5:10, 6:20, 7:11, 7:17). The apostles of Jesus Christ affirm the continuity of His priestly action by preaching and “the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:46), following Christ’s direction to “do this in memory of Me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24).
- Perpetuates the Eucharist through Catholic priests – Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders (CCC 1539, 1544, 1547, 1554), priests act in persona Christi to re-present the unique sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church (CCC 1554, 1562).
- Calls all Men to Sacrifice and to the Priesthood – In addition to ministerial priests in Sacred Orders, all the faithful are called by Christ to be a “kingdom of priests” (1 Peter 2:5; Rev 1:6, 5:10) through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation (CCC 784). As “as priestly people” all baptized and confirmed Catholics are enabled to celebrate the liturgy (CCC 1119) and are called to live out their priesthood according to their own vocation (CCC 1546).