The word “minister” is a broad term meaning “servant.” It’s often used to describe those who serve members of all sorts of religious congregations.
While the term “minister” is most commonly used to describe Protestant Christian leaders, it also describes Catholic priests. There are, however, aspects of the Catholic priesthood, which make it unique among all ministries.
Who may serve as a minister in Protestant groups varies from denomination to denomination, but it’s safe to say most denominations require a certain amount of education and pastoral training before one is deemed qualified to serve. There is no doubt that many Protestant ministers are well educated in Sacred Scripture and do excellent pastoral work. Some Protestant ministers are even “ordained,” which for them typically means they have been approved to serve by the leadership of their denomination. Catholic priests also receive a great deal of education and pastoral training. Catholic ordination, however, is something more than approval by Church leadership.
In the Catholic Church, the
explains: … the word “ordination” is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters [priests], or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a “sacred power” which can come only from Christ himself through his Church (
At ordination, Catholic priests are entrusted by God, though the Church, with the power to celebrate the sacraments, most notably the Holy Eucharist and confession. It’s a fact that Jesus Christ is the one true Priest. It is He who offered Himself as a sacrifice at the Last Supper and upon the cross to his Father in reparation for our sins. But Jesus wanted everyone, through all ages and in all nations, to receive the graces of this sacrifice. Thus, Jesus established the Catholic Church with her bishops and priests to serve as conduits of that grace.
Consider, then, how the Holy Eucharist celebrated by Catholic priests is nothing less than that one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—made present here and now. When you and I attend Mass, we are literally in the presence of Christ upon the cross and at the Last Supper. Without Catholic priests, we do not have Jesus Christ present upon our altars! It’s true that other ministers reenact the Last Supper, but without ordination by a Catholic bishop, these ministers cannot celebrate a valid Mass.
Fr. John Hardon, S.J., explained this well: Within the Church are men who are specially ordained as priests to consecrate and offer the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass. The Apostles were the first ordained priests, when on Holy Thursday night Christ told them to do in his memory what he had just done at the Last Supper. All priests and bishops trace their ordination to the Apostles (
Modern Catholic Dictionary).
The same cannot be said of other ministers.
In addition to celebrating the Holy Eucharist, the Lord gives Catholic priests the power to forgive sins. God entrusted this power, proper only to God himself, to the Apostles who handed it down to their successors, the bishops. The bishops, in turn, pass on this power to priests who then act in the person of Jesus Christ. Again, the same cannot be said of other ministers.
Ministers of other religious faiths may preach a great deal of truth. They may be very compassionate and do great things in the name of Jesus. They may bring people closer to Jesus Christ. But they do not share in the ordained priesthood of Jesus Christ and so cannot offer forgiveness of sins or the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist as at Mass. Certainly, those are very important differences.
Signalness is pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Strasburg, St. Michael in rural Linton and St. Mary in Hague.
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