Tag Archive: priesthood


The Meaning of Man

Michelangelo,_Creation_of_Adam_03

 

Love is bitter passion,

a crucifixion is love.

No benefice to man arrives without suffering.

Elixirs, useless should not the sweat of doctors fall into them.

Gold, dross should not the fire of a smith sear it.

Verses, naught without the poet’s tears.

Gardens, barren without the winter’s frost.

How is there a wedding without the bridegroom?

How is there a Mass without the Christ?

Oh, it is of blood and Christ that all love sings!

 

Let me sing of the bridegroom and the priest.

One wraps a bed of roses round his heart,

the other round his feet.

One requires an ass to bear his tokens of love,

the other rides an ass unto his love.

The young groom cries: “I shall be one with her!”

The acolyte says: “I shall be one with all!”

The sons of a groom are honor,

sons of a priest are woe

for the Good Lord deigned one to give life

that the other may sanctify it.

 

Adam was a sinner and so are his children.

The groom needs law and the priest, mercy.

Abraham was a patriarch and so, his children.

The groom’s seed yields flesh and the priest lends spirit.

David was king and so will be his children.

The bridegroom rules his house and the priest, his flock.

Zadok was a priest and so are his children.

The bridegroom offers his blood and the priest, his cross.

Isaiah was a prophet and so, his children.

Both bridegroom and priest foreswear vows.

Eve comforted the stricken Adam and so the wife, her husband.

Mary endured the crucified Christ and so the mother of a priest.

How the wife’s marriage-bed is veiled in purpled silk,

the holy altar swaddled in gold.

 

Hear the story of the pelican.

Who, in winter lost, suffers not her children to starve.

Whose breast is pierced that they may drink her blood,

her death-throes giving life.

 

The father is a warrior, bearing the standard of sacrifice.

He is the pelican with bleeding heart.

 

The husband bleeds in his heart,

the priest, from his hands,

The husband suffers old age,

the priest lost souls.

A marriage unconsummated mourns virginity,

the priest consummates and rejoices in virginity.

For Holy Church is a woman of women

while an earthly wife shall never satisfy.

 

The lyre sings sweetly for a lover.

Chant rings out while asleep.

The marriage bed must be left for toil and work,

whereas the altar bears testimony forever.

Death dissolves husband and wife

but the love of Christ for Church is eternal.

 

A husband bleeds in his heart,

the priest, from his hands.

The husband’s cup flows with wine,

it inflames his lust.

The priest’s chalice holds blood,

it destroys his self-will.

This is the way of man, why for God made him.

Unhappy is the man who lives for himself.

Gracious a man who gives his life in sacrifice.

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One thing that really fascinated me about the movie “Avatar”, in addition to the great characters, eye-popping action scenes and awesome, prehistoric-looking beasts, was the cosmology. I found it amazing that the native people of Pandora had their own religion. As someone who used to make up fake races and religions, I appreciate the hard work this must have taken. While their faith could be likely described as somewhat animistic, the Pandora natives believed in one supreme, feminine deity.  Eywa (I ask that the blue people forgive me in advance for spelling this name wrong) was something like a Great Spirit crossed with the Christian God. I say this because of the detailed creation narrative and deity’s involvement in the planet’s fate. Also the manner in which the hero, Jake was chosen to save them, is reminiscent of an Old Testament war-saga.

Right away, I noticed that the natives had a representative for their deity, one who discerns her will. Very sensibly, this high-priestess/shaman was also female. Think about it. The supreme deity of Pandora is female; she is a she, called “The Mother”. So the high-priestess assumes a physical presence of “Mother”. In the image of Eywa, she leads and consoles. Now, her husband is not high-priest nor are male priests ever mentioned. Obviously, they do not exist- nor can they. A priest of Eywa, who is the essence of maternity; a warrior in place of the life-giver, would simply be absurd! Why? Because the deity of Pandora is female and only fit to be represented by…wait for it…females.

For a moment, let us travel back to earth with its totally separate human race and separate cosmology. According to Christianity, the supreme deity of this universe is God Almighty: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Naturally, He is the Father-God, the essence of paternity. Who is chosen as His representative to the people? Well, a man of course! A high-priest- not a priestess. In the same way, warrior cannot be mother, mother cannot be warrior. Yet, we silly humans insist on forcing our ways onto natural order by saying that women should be able to stand at the altars, assuming a physical presence of “Father.” This malarkey wouldn’t fly in Pandora…

Why? Because the humble folks of Pandora recognize their gender roles- and are happy with them. Men are great warriors and women to some degree, also. Men however, lead the war-charge. Women do an equal share of hunting but it is they who hold and teach children. It is they who pass on the old stories. The Chief may declare war but the high-priestess tells if it is divine will. There’s no pushing and shoving here. We don’t see the men of Pandora clamoring to be priests or women rallying to be “chief-ettes”. No, the natural order is set and all have made peace, cherishing each of their unique, equally-important roles.

We goofy humans could really take a lesson from the blue people…

Last week a friend visited me. We got to talking about the Mass… and I showed her a video on Youtube of a priest consecrating the Holy Eucharist ad orientem. No, this is not the name of a famous Chinese restaurant- it means facing towards the east, towards the altar. Inadvertently, I started gushing about the priesthood, what a gift it is and how it is a profound sign of romance with God.

To begin, the Mass itself is shrouded in nuptial language and symbolism. Paul refers to the Church in his letter to the Ephesians: “And the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:31-32) The book of Revelation was originally called “Apocalypsis” from Greek, meaning “unveiling” and it describes in detail a heavenly liturgy and the sacrificial wedding feast of Christ. Christ himself used wedding imagery in his parable of the King’s banquet where those without proper garments were cast away. Most telling, one of the angels gathered around heaven’s throne in Revelation exclaims:  “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (19:9)Everything about a Mass is nuptial. When Mass bells ring, it is a summons to all, to come to this wedding feast. Wearing garments, the priest approaches the altar from the church’s central aisle, as do a bride and groom. The penitential rite asks for God’s forgiveness, so we may be cleaned of sin and given the white garments of grace. We approach the Holy Eucharist from that same aisle, bowing in humility and accepting the flesh of Christ, our Divine Spouse.

Now that this short background is given, I will speak just of the priest, because it was what I saw in the priest that brought me to such admiration. A Catholic priest is one wedded to the Church- and to Christ. The sacrament of Holy Orders unites him with God Almighty in an unseen bond of untold power. It melds his soul into the soul of the Church, which is the Holy Spirit sealed by the blood of Christ. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the consecration, ad orientem. (note: I am not going into liturgical politics here and am aware that consecration ad populum or facing the people, is wholly valid. So please do not misinterpret things)

The priest becomes closed to the world and opened to God. He stands there, partly in silence, sometimes muttering and sometimes speaking plainly. A conversation is happening there, a dialogue so hidden that we dare not pry, we don’t ask “Father what were you saying back there?” It is a conversation so tender that the very heart of Christ seems manifest before us. We perceive Calvary and we gasp at the horror- and sheer beauty of it.

While an epic scene unfolds, the priest becomes less like a stuffy celibate and every minute more like an enraptured spouse. He leans close, whispers sweet nothings to God, his Beloved and gazes into the space between heaven and earth. The man without a wife and family experiences the greatest of intimacies. In amorous poetry matching the Biblical Song of Songs, the soul makes love to God. Here, the priest seems to say: “My Dearest, My Only, I am here…I worship you… I love you. Stay with me and never leave!” The priest becomes as John, the Beloved who leaned upon Our Lord’s breast and who, captured by love, ceased to worry.

Someone who relinquished what is so natural and so goodly for every human man suddenly realizes why. In that moment, nothing is worth more than God. Nothing beckons and calls but God alone. The priest realizes only he can approach the altar, only he may caress the sacred host or raise the precious chalice. Only he can place his head on the breast of Christ, place his hand into His saving wounds and draw out the sacrifice which is mankind’s salvation. What a gift! What profound intimacy and divine love! All the mercy, long-suffering and tenderness of God revealed here!

 

ad orientem

 

Our only proper reaction is to shrink back, bend low and weep as did the Israelites when smoldering clouds wreathed the mountain of Sinai. We can say, “Jesus Christ, my Lord and God, have mercy!” One thing we absolutely cannot do is ignore it, shrug or say in prideful impatience: “What is going on? Will he hurry up?” Even non-Catholic and non-Christian persons cannot pretend that something mysterious is not happening. Whether one adores or despises the priest, he can’t look away; he can’t help but be moved on some level. God is at work in the hands of a priest. He declares His love through the whispers of a priest. He uses lowly men, both wicked and saintly men, doubtful and confident men, ugly and wondrous men, selfish and loving men. Yes, God, who created the entire Universe in ages primordial, chooses mere man that He may draw all men to Himself.

Women in the priesthood, there are theological reasons why this is not possible and as a woman, I don’t feel slighted in the least. God made men to be priests in order to teach men love and sacrifice which women learn naturally. Because men express the fallen nature so clearly, He wanted to raise them up. We all know women make better counselors, teachers and helpers, but God says “I am doing something different, look what I can do for men who are weaker in these areas for my own glory” The fact a man can be celibate, loyal, faithful and wholeheartedly dedicated to God is an even greater surprise then for women to do so and He is a God of surprises!

What is more likely to make you say “wow” a dog that can play fetch or a cat that can play fetch? You know what I’m saying?