Christ in the Priest

St Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens

Father Benson says: “We have considered various modes in which Christ’s Friendship is made accessible to us; and have seen how it does not consist merely in an interior adherence to Him, but in an exterior recognition and an exterior welcome of Him. His Human Nature comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar; His Divine authority comes in the Human Nature of those who compose His Church, and have a right to speak in His Name. These various characteristics of His cannot be apprehended—that is to say, Friendship with Him cannot be what He means it to be—without these further modes in which He accomplishes His Presence. And here, in His Priest, is yet another mode.”

“He dwells here on earth, speaking through the lips of His Priest, so far as that priest utters the authoritative and infallible teaching of the Mystical Body of which he is a mouthpiece. He energizes here on earth, in those Divine acts of the priest which Divine Power alone can accomplish, exercising the prerogative of mercy that belongs to God only, making Himself present in His Human Nature under the forms of the Sacrament which He Himself instituted.”

“Christ is present in His Priest—present, that is, as He is present in no saint, however holy, and in no angel, however near to the Face of God. It is the priest’s supreme privilege, as well as his terrifying responsibility, to be, in those moments during which he exercises his ministry, in a sense Christ Himself. He says not, ‘May Christ absolve thee’; but ‘I absolve thee.'”

“Devotion to the priesthood, then, respect for the office, jealousy for its honour, insistence upon the high standard of those who fulfil it—these are nothing else but manifestations of that Friendship of Christ of which we are treating, and recognitions of Himself in His minister and agent. Not to lean upon the priest—(for no man is capable of bearing the full weight of another soul)—but to lean indeed upon the priesthood—this is reliance upon Christ: for as you approach the priest, understanding what it is for which you look, and discerning the man from his office, you approach that Eternal Priest who lives in him—Him who is ‘a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech’ (Ps 110:4).”

Quotations from Robert Hugh Benson, The Friendship of Christ (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912).

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