The Priesthood of Jesus
Index The Catholic Faith
Return to Level Three Topic Index
We know that one of Jesus' roles as the Savior was to be our Priest. This means that he was to offer the Father a perfect sacrifice for our sins. This is a most important part of our salvation.
Offering Sacrifices to God
The idea of offering sacrifices to God has been part of salvation history since the days of the Exodus. But it really goes all the way back to Cain and Able, the sons of Adam and Eve.
The first sacrifices mentioned in the Bible were those of these two brothers: In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil, while Abel, for his part, brought one of the best firstlings of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not (Gen. 4:3-5).
This story goes on to tell us that God had accepted Abel's offering because he had a pure heart, while Cain's heart was full of jealousy toward his brother. The Bible also tells us that Noah offered an animal on an altar to God, thanking him for having spared his family during the great flood and acknowledging God to be Lord and Creator of the earth.
The book of Leviticus, in the Old Testament, has to do with the offering of sacrifices to God; it tells us that these sacrifices were commanded by God as a way of showing sorrow for sin. Through these offerings the chosen people hoped to obtain forgiveness.
We learn from the Bible three very important things about offering sacrifices to God:
1. The gift must be offered
with a pure or sinless heart.
2. The offering is a thanksgiving to God for his blessings and protection.
3. The offering of sacrifices shows sorrow for sin and a desire for forgiveness.
These Old Testament accounts of sacrifice also remind us that three things are required for every offering:
1. a priest, that
is, someone to do the offering. In the Jewish nation God himself selected
certain men to be his priests.
2. a victim, that this, something to be offered. God told the Jews to offer certain animals, especially the Passover lamb.
3. an altar, that is somewhere for this offering to take place. For the Jewish priests the altars of sacrifice were located in the Temple.
Jesus Our Sinless High Priest
All of the Jewish sacrifices were but a preparation for the one perfect sacrifice that Jesus was to offer to God. He is called our High Priest, which means that he is the greatest priest of God. Why? Because he was sinless, the Son of God, who came down from Heaven in order to give perfect worship to the Father. The other priests were but imperfect men who could not worship God with sinless hearts.
Jesus Our Sinless Victim
Along with being the Priest of his sacrifice, Jesus was also the Victim. His altar, or place of offering, was the table of the Last Supper and the Cross of Calvary: two different places but only one Priest, one Victim, and one Sacrifice.
At the Last Supper Jesus the perfect Priest offered himself to the Father under the appearances of bread and wine. He had changed these into himself with the words, "This is my Body. . . This is my Blood." Thus the perfect Victim was being offered.
The words, ". . . to be given for you" and ". . . will be shed for you" (Luke 22:20), tells us two things: that Jesus is offering a sacrifice to God for our sakes and that this Sacrifice of the Eucharist is connected to that of this Crucifixion, which happened the next day.
On Mount Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified, the same sacrifice-offering to the Father was made. As with the Last Supper, Jesus was the Priest who offered himself. He was the Victim, but this time it was a bloody, painful offering. By his death, which the Lord offered for us, the one true sacrifice for sin was finally given to God. Unlike the animals offered by the Jewish priests, this sacrifice worked! It indeed made up for every sin and reconciled us to the Father!
How can we be sure? Because the Resurrection took place. This showed that God had accepted the sacrifice of his Son. We no longer need to wonder about it - Jesus was freed from the grip of death as the sign that we, too, are freed from death and its cause: sin. The great Saint Paul wrote about this in his letters to the Colossians and the Corinthians:
Christ has achieved reconciliation for you in his mortal body by dying, so as to present you to God holy, free of reproach and blame (Col. 1:22).
If Christ was not raised [from the dead], your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins (Cor. 15:17).
Jesus Our One Mediator
Besides the offering of sacrifice the priest had the duty of praying for his people, asking God to look upon their offering and to forgive their sins. This is called mediation, and the priest is a "go-between", or mediator.
As man Jesus is our one, perfect mediator. His wounds from the Crucifixion are no longer painful and bloody, but they are glorious reminders to the Father of his sacrifice. Also as man, he prays to the Father for us. He shows the wounds of the Crucifixion, now glorious, to the Father to remind him of his one perfect sacrifice that took away our sins. Saint Paul revealed this truth of Jesus as our mediator to his friend and fellow bishop, Saint Timothy: "God is one. One also is the mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ" (1 Tim. 2:5).
A Priest Like Melchizedek
Christ's priesthood is foretold in the Old Testament: "The Lord has sworn, and he will not change his mind: 'You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek'" (Ps. 110:4).
Who was Melchizedek and how is he connected to Jesus' priesthood? He was a king of Salem (later called Jerusalem) and a priest who offered bread and wine to God in sacrifice. Saint Paul tells us that this is why he is compared to Jesus. No one else had offered the gifts of bread and wine, before Christ. Even today, at the ordination ceremonies of Catholic priests, the verse from Psalm 110 is used as one of the prayers for the Mass.
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
Index The Catholic Faith
Return to Level Three Topic Index